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Lawrence Thomas v. Cumberland County

August 30, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Simandle, Chief Judge:



This matter is before the Court on three motions in limine filed by Defendant Corrections Officer Martinez [Docket Items 141, 142, & 145], and one motion in limine filed by Plaintiff Lawrence Thomas [Docket Item 140].*fn1


Plaintiff's sole remaining claim in this action is that Defendant Martinez, a corrections officer who was present at a fight where Plaintiff was injured by other inmates, incited the fight and/or failed to protect Plaintiff from the other inmates, thereby violating his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights, protected under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

On June 4, 2008, Plaintiff entered Cumberland County Correctional Facility on a failure to appear warrant but, as of the date of his injuries, Plaintiff had not been convicted of his alleged crime or violation. Plaintiff was therefore a pretrial detainee at the time of his injuries. On July 27, 2008, the fight and Plaintiff's ensuing injuries occurred. Plaintiff and a group of inmates engaged in an argument in which Plaintiff was accused of stealing food from other inmates. The argument began on the mezzanine level of the unit between Plaintiff (an African American individual) and several Hispanic inmates.

Defendant Martinez was present on the mezzanine before the attack occurred, and was among the crowd of angry inmates. Plaintiff claims that Defendant Martinez then said something to incite a fight. There are numerous accounts of what Martinez said, including: "[i]f you guys don't fight or break it up, I'm going to lock everybody down," Thomas Dep. 78:14--15; "Fuck this shit, if you guys ain't going to fight, break it up or I'm going to lock the whole damn pod down," Thomas Dep. 62:23--63:2; and "[i]f you ain't going to fight sit down and break it up," Chasmer Dep. 18:11--15.

According to Plaintiff and other witnesses, the crowd did not disperse after Defendant's statement, but rather it increased the temperature of the dispute. Plaintiff then claims he decided he needed to seek the protection of the other officer present in the unit (Officer Wilde, previously dismissed from this action), who was downstairs from Plaintiff at the time of Defendant's allegedly inciting statement. So Plaintiff made his way downstairs. When he reached the bottom of the stairs, testimony differs as to where he headed next; some witnesses stated that Plaintiff made his way, in a confrontational manner, toward another inmate who had been yelling up the stairs at him (inmate Santiago); Plaintiff testified that he merely attempted to get close to Officer Wilde. Regardless, Thomas's path was blocked when he reached the bottom of the stairs, so he attempted to get around the crowd, whereupon he was struck by inmate Santiago and another inmate (Cruz), and he sustained his injuries.

Defendant Martinez physically restrained Santiago shortly after the first blow was struck, but Cruz continued to strike Plaintiff, after which Defendant Martinez yelled for everyone on the unit to lock down, and the fight ceased.


A. Plaintiff's Motion

In his motion, Plaintiff seeks to exclude (1) any reference to or evidence of Plaintiff's prior arrests, misdemeanor convictions, and felony convictions older than ten years, and past incarcerations in the detention facility; (2) any reference to Plaintiff as a "thief"; (3) any reference to or evidence of Plaintiff's methadone treatment or prior drug addiction; and (4) the testimony of Defendant's liability expert witness because the expert opinion will not aid a jury as contemplated by Fed. R. Evid. 702, and it is otherwise a net opinion.

1. Evidence of prior methadone treatment Plaintiff seeks to exclude any evidence of Plaintiff's prior drug addiction or methadone treatment. Defendant does not object to this request. Accordingly, the Court grants Plaintiff's motion as to this request.

2. Reference to prior convictions Plaintiff seeks to exclude evidence of Plaintiff's prior criminal history. Plaintiff's conviction history is no where listed comprehensively for the Court. Plaintiff represents that he was convicted of two separate felonies (subject to imprisonment for more than one year) for drug possession in the late 1990s. He was released from prison for these two convictions on March 21, 2002, though he was returned to custody on a parole violation on September 14, 2002 and released from custody again a little over a year later on October 3, 2003. Additionally, he was arrested for weapons possession in the 1970s, shoplifting in 2006, and failure to appear in 2008 for which he was detained at Cumberland County Correctional Facility during the events at issue in this case and subsequently convicted.

Plaintiff seeks an order barring the introduction of any evidence or testimony, even through cross examination, of these past convictions or arrests. Plaintiff argues that none of the prior convictions are admissible under Fed. R. Evid. 609, or are "relevant" to any question of fact under Fed. R. Evid. 401 and 402, plus Plaintiff argues that even if they are minimally ...

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