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Jackson v. City of Pittsburgh

August 13, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nora Barry Fischer United States District Court

Judge Nora Barry Fischer



This is a civil rights case brought by Plaintiff, Charles Jackson, against Defendants, the City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and officers Timothy Kreger, Mark Goob, James Joyce and Gregory Woodhall, arising from the officers' arrest of Plaintiff on November 2, 2001 and the subsequent incarceration of him after a traffic stop in the Homewood section of Pittsburgh.*fn1 This case is set for a trifurcated jury trial on Plaintiff's § 1983 claims, commencing with jury selection on August 23, 2010. The matters to be tried are: first, Plaintiff's § 1983 claims asserting that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated by the defendant officers for allegedly conducting an unreasonable search of his vehicle, unlawfully arresting him, and using excessive force against him while effectuating his arrest; second, Plaintiff's Monell claim against the City of Pittsburgh; and, third, Plaintiff's claims for damages. Presently before the Court are Defendants' motion in limine seeking to preclude the testimony of James E. Baranowski*fn2 as an expert witness at trial (Docket No. 126), their brief in support of same (Docket No. 127), Plaintiff's brief in opposition and response (Docket No. 145, 149) as well as Baranowski's expert report (Docket No. 76) and subsequently submitted affidavits (Docket Nos. 87-5, 87-6, 151).

The Court heard oral argument from counsel as to Defendants' Motion during the Pretrial Conference on June 16, 2010 (Docket No. 164, 168) and a Daubert hearing*fn3 was held during which Baranowski was examined on August 2, 2010 (Docket No. 190). Plaintiff's counsel withdrew a request for further argument on the motion subsequent to the Daubert hearing but the Court permitted supplemental briefing. (Text Order 8/6/10). Defendants filed their supplemental brief on August 10, 2010 (Docket No. 195) and Plaintiff filed his supplement brief on August 11, 2010 (Docket No. 197). Defendants' Motion is now fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion [126] is granted, in part and denied, in part. Baranowski will be permitted to testify as an expert on certain issues at trial; however, his testimony will be limited as set forth below.


Plaintiff's proffer of Baranowski's testimony consists of his Report (Docket No. 76), his subsequently submitted affidavits (Docket Nos. 87-5, 87-6, 151) and his testimony at the Daubert hearing on August 2, 2010.

A. Baranowski's Qualifications

Baranowski is a former police officer and is proffered by Plaintiff as an expert in the use of force by the police officers against Plaintiff in this case. (Docket No. 76). Baranowski was a member of the Pennsylvania State Police from 1986 through 2003, and a supervisor since 1992. (Docket No. 76-16; Docket No. 151 at ¶ 1). He attained the ranks of patrol commander, station commander and special projects supervisor. (Docket No. 151 at ¶ 1). In these roles, he has had extensive field experience in police actions, including traffic stops, drug raids, undercover work, street busts and saturation patrols. (Id.). He has also acted as a private consultant on police use of force, and police procedures cases, has trained various police departments in Southwestern Pennsylvania in use of force, force justification, officer safety, defensive tactics, and other topics, and has taught these subjects at the Municipal Police Officer's Education and Training Commission, Penn State University, Westmoreland Community College, California University of Pennsylvania and Indiana University of Pennsylvania. (Id.).

Baranowski's consulting experience is largely related to accident reconstruction and, indeed, he fashions himself a "Collision Reconstruction Specialist" on his letterhead and website. However, he testified that he has been retained as an expert in six use of force cases, and has submitted expert reports in those cases, although he has yet to testify or be qualified as an expert in any of such case because those matters have settled.

B. Baranowski's Opinions

In support of his opinions, Baranowski reviewed the Pittsburgh Office of Municipal Investigation Report as to the incident, the Office of Municipal Investigation ("OMI") statements of Plaintiff and the Defendant officers, the officers' respective personnel files, and the relevant police reports. (Docket No. 76). He also reviewed the relevant Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Orders and Policies, and testified that he considered additional sources that he did not cite in his report, including: the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc. ("CALEA") standards and certain provisions of the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code and Crimes Code. (Id.). He further testified that he did not review the Defendant officers' arrest records or traffic incident reports, or the City of Pittsburgh Narcotics Officers' Handbook.

i. Traffic Stop

Baranowski offers a number of opinions regarding the initial traffic stop wherein the four police officers stopped Jackson for the traffic violation of making a turn without using a signal. (Id.). He first opines that because the officers were assigned to the Narcotics Bureau, they should "not be routinely conducting traffic stops, which is primarily a patrol function." (Id.). Baranowski believes that making traffic stops is a "poor use" and/or not a "productive use" of the Narcotics Officers' time. (Docket No. 76; Docket No. 151 at ¶ 3). However, he admitted while testifying that he did not review the City's Narcotics Officers' Handbook to determine if making such stops was a part of the officers' duties.

In addition, Baranowski maintains that conducting traffic stops in plain clothes and an unmarked vehicle, as the officers did in this case, is "unsafe and should only be done in exceptional cases." (Docket No. 76). In his view, plain clothes traffic stops have long been discouraged because they "create[ ] problems" and he insists that "most departments have a policy of allowing only officers in uniform [to] conduct traffic stops for minor violations." (Id.). He testified that he was not aware if the City of Pittsburgh had such a policy, but his opinion was based on his prior experience and the CALEA standards, which discourage the practice of using unmarked vehicles to conduct traffic stops.

He also believes that making traffic stops could expose the officers' identities to potential investigation targets, therefore, limiting their ability to make undercover buys and to operate in a covert manner. (Id.). He testified that, based on his experience, random traffic stops were counterproductive because of how undercover officers are typically used in the field. Undercover officers attempt to infiltrate a local drug organization and make drug purchases in a specific area, and then, after making a number of buys, they move to another area to work in order to avoid exposing their identities as police officers. In his view, hundreds of traffic stops of this kind would need to be conducted in order to make a significant drug arrest.

Baranowski explained that there are safety issues with the stops as well. In his report, he stated that "stops by persons dressed in the manner that narcotic officers would dress to conduct covert investigations could incite violent reactions from persons involved in the drug culture believing that the officers were going to 'rip them off'. This is why all officers are clearly identified as police officers during [a] raid, using various methods of identification including, raid jackets, uniformed police officers and marked police cars." (Id.). He explained that these opinions are rooted in "common sense" and his experience. In support of his safety concerns, he testified that he recalled a number of cases during former Governor Bob Casey's tenure where police impersonators pulled over a number of women and committed rapes. He recalled that the practice of using unmarked cars was discouraged within the state police at that time. As to this case, he did not recall Jackson's statement to OMI that when he was pulled over, he "figured [the car] was a plainclothes police car." However, he commented that Jackson's statement indicates that Jackson was only "assuming" that the car was an undercover vehicle.

Baranowski suggests that the officers in this case could have radioed for a uniformed officer in a marked car to make the stop for them, rather than making the stop themselves. (Id.). But, he testified that he was not aware of how the City staffed its officers in the zone where the traffic stop occurred and had no idea if any such uniformed officers were available at the time of the stop at issue in this case.

In his report, Baranowski comments that the officers were "trolling" for drug arrests. He testified similarly. He bases this opinion on his interpretation of Detective Goob's OMI statement that "it's common for us to stop people for any violation, any and all violations, we stop people for, you know." (Id.). Baranowski believes that traffic stops like the one in this case would not yield a high quantity of drug seizures, without good information. He suggests that the officers were "profiling," or targeting a specific type of vehicle and/or driver prior to making the traffic stops, but testified that he was assuming that a profile was used. He further explained that while the use of a profile is common in law enforcement and not necessarily illegal,*fn4 the use of certain profiles, including racial profiles, have been found unconstitutional by the courts. He admitted in both his report and while testifying that he had not reviewed the traffic arrest records for any of the officers and that this type of information would be helpful to determine the success rate of the profiling and/or these types of traffic stops. Indeed, he commented in his report that "it would be interesting to review the traffic arrests of the officers involved in this incident, to determine whether or not it can be substantiated that these officers always enforce the traffic laws as indicated." (Id.).

ii. Initial Encounter

As to the initial encounter with police after the traffic stop was effectuated, Baranowski accepts Jackson's statement to OMI that he invoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and made no statements to police. (Docket No. 76). He then explains that "[u]nder the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code, municipal police officers do not have the authority to take a Pennsylvania resident into custody for minor traffic violations." (Id.). He admitted that a non-Pennsylvania resident without a license could be detained for traffic violations. He also opined that an officer cannot cite a person for a "violation of suspended drivers license" until information regarding the person's driving record received from PennDot is verified and a certified copy of the driving history is obtained. (Id.). He testified that PennDot is not operational 24 hours per day. In his view, and given the time of the incident in this case (around 9:00 p.m. or 10:00 p.m.), the officers "would not have been able to obtain these documents immediately and, therefore, the argument can be made that Mr. Jackson would have been free to leave the area." (Id.). Baranowski testified that the officers should have permitted Jackson to drive away and, if the officers sometime thereafter received verification from PennDot that Jackson's license was suspended, sent him a citation for driving with a suspended license in the mail.

Baranowski also commented on the merit of the charges against Jackson. In his report, he claims that "no evidence of a crime was ever discovered." (Id.). In his affidavit, Baranowski states that "Jackson was stopped for a minor traffic violation and ultimately convicted of a minor traffic violation" and that the other charges against him, including the disorderly conduct charge, were dismissed. (Docket No. 151 at ¶ 5). He then "assumes" that the charges were "without merit." (Id.). He posits that the officers "could not prove" that Jackson was operating a vehicle without a license and should not have assumed that his license was suspended. (Id.).

iii. Plaintiff's Request to Move Car/ Defendants' Tow Policy Violation

Baranowski next accepts Jackson's statement that he later asked to be permitted to move his car off the roadway, so that it would not have to be towed. (Docket No. 76). Baranowski believes that this request "could have easily been granted." (Id.). He explains that there were several parking lots and cross streets in close proximity to the location of the traffic stop where the vehicle could have been moved and that, if the officers did not believe that Jackson should be permitted to move the car, he (Jackson) should have been permitted to contact his father or another family member to move the car or he could have requested that one of the police officers move the car. (Id.). Baranowski opines that there was "no reason to tow the vehicle" because it was registered in Ohio and "there was no proof that Mr. Jackson didn't have a valid license." (Id.). Finally, Baranowski concludes that the denial of Jackson's request to have his car moved rather than towed was a violation of Pittsburgh Bureau of Police regulations, Order #41-4, sections 1.1, 5.1 and 8.1. (Id.).

In his affidavit, Baranowski further states that the City regulations do not grant the officers any discretion when towing vehicles, but give detained drivers like Jackson discretion to request that his car be moved to an area rather than be towed. (Docket No. 151 at ¶ 6).

iv. Custodial Inventory Search

As to the custodial inventory, Baranowski states that a "custodial inventory is completed for the purpose of protecting and securing items of value inside the vehicle for the owner and to protect the police department and police officer from claims of malfeasance." (Docket No. 76). He also notes that for a custodial inventory to be valid, "there must be a written policy" of the police department requiring same and that the results of the search must be properly documented. (Id.). Baranowski concludes that "in no circumstances can a custodial inventory be used in lieu of a search warrant or consent to search the vehicle for evidence." (Id.).

v. Use of Force

Baranowski testified that the force used by the officers in this case was unnecessary and unwarranted and this opinion was based on his personal experience in such situations, his experience teaching, and his consideration of the City's Use of Force policy, the Continuum of Control and the CALEA standards. He testified that the City's Use of Force policy is in accord with the CALEA standards, although the City is not accredited by CALEA.

Baranowski admitted that many of the underlying facts are disputed in this case. But, he testified that he considered the "totality of the circumstances" and all of the evidence presented to him. Where necessary, he "married up" the facts, i.e., accepted certain facts and rejected others. He explained that he needed to weigh the facts in order to fully evaluate the case and that this was a practice/procedure that he typically used when conducting an internal evaluation of use of force cases when he was with the state police. He also considered the credibility of the parties, particularly Jackson's former involvement with law enforcement and the number of excessive force complaints filed against Detective Kreger when he was with the City Police Department. However, Baranowski testified that he did not wholly adopt Jackson's version of this encounter, but adopted some facts from the officers' version as well.

Turning to his opinions, Baranowski accepts the facts that during the custodial inventory of Jackson's car, Jackson asserted a desire to leave, that Jackson approached Detective Kreger, who was located at the driver's door, that Detective Kreger sensed Jackson approaching him, turned to confront him, and then, a confrontation occurred. (Id.).

First, Baranowski opined that, contrary to the officers' testimony, he did not believe that Jackson approached Detective Kreger aggressively, menacingly, or with any evil intent. In his report, he explained that "[i]t is hard to imagine that anyone, but especially someone who like Mr. Jackson has had previous contact with police officers would approach a police officer in a menacing manner, while three other officers were standing by." (Docket No. 76). He also felt that "[i]t is a foregone conclusion that Mr. Jackson would not be successful in attacking Detective Kreger in these circumstances." (Id.). In Baranowski's opinion, "[i]t is far more likely that Mr. Jackson approached Detective Kreger to obtain something out of his car or his house keys and Detective Kreger overreacted, setting into motion the use of force in this matter." (Id.). He offers a number of additional assertions regarding this encounter:

"In any event, there is no reason for Mr. Jackson to attack Detective Kreger, Jackson was not under arrest and had already invoked his right to leave."

"Mr. Jackson for all intent and purpose is out of there, but he stops to attack Kreger?" "If Jackson is so incensed over the towing of his vehicle, why does he not attack one of the other ...

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