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Noah Barber v. Officer Stephen Sheppleman and Officer William Carey

March 28, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Elizabeth T. Hey, M.J.


In this civil rights suit, Noah Barber alleges that Stephen Sheppleman, a police officer from the City of Chester Police Department, and William Carey, Jr., a police officer from the Marcus Hook Police Department,*fn1 arrested him without probable cause, maliciously prosecuted him, and subjected him to excessive force after a confrontation on July 26, 2008. At the time, both officers were off-duty. Currently, Defendants Sheppleman and Carey seek to preclude any evidence of lawsuits or settlements in other matters and seek to preclude evidence of citizen complaints and disciplinary actions against them. Plaintiff has responded.


As alleged in the Complaint, in the early morning of July 26, 2008, Barber, Janet Hess, and David Oddi were riding in a car driven by Jamie Ippoliti. Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 12-13. A vehicle pulled up next to Ms. Ippoliti's vehicle at a stop light, and the two individuals in that car, later identified as Officers Sheppleman and Carey, began making sexually derisive remarks to Ms. Ippolitti and Ms. Hess. Id. at ¶¶ 14-15. Mr. Barber responded by asking what the two had said to Ms. Ippolitti and Ms. Hess. Ms. Ippoliti pulled her car into the Woodlyn Shopping Center followed by Officers Sheppleman and Carey. Id. at ¶ 17. Officer Sheppleman attempted to open the rear passenger door where Mr. Barber was sitting and, when unable, began kicking the door causing damage. Id. at ¶ 18-19.

When Mr. Barber exited the car, Officer Sheppleman punched him in the face while Officer Carey pulled a gun and pointed it at Mr. Barber. When Mr. Barber was hit, the others in Ms. Ippoliti's car got out, at which point Officer Carey pointed his gun at them. Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 21-22. Officer Carey called 911 and stated that "a black male with a handgun was causing a disturbance in the Woodlyn Shopping Center." Id. at ¶ 23.

Officer Sheppleman then grabbed Mr. Barber, threw him face-down to the ground and handcuffed him. He then kicked Mr. Barber while he was on the ground in handcuffs. Doc. 1 at ¶ 24. When officers from Ridley Township arrived, they took Mr. Barber into custody. He was charged with simple assault, harassment, and terroristic threats. Mr. Barber was incarcerated for three days until released on bail. Id. at ¶ 26. On June 25, 2009, all charges against Mr. Barber were dropped. Id. at ¶ 28.

Plaintiff brought this civil rights suit on July 23, 2010.*fn2 Presently before the court are defense motions to preclude introduction of evidence of lawsuits or settlements in other matters see Doc. 51, and citizens' complaints and disciplinary actions. See Doc. 53. Plaintiff has responded to each of these motions. See Docs. 58 & 59.


In a civil case, "[e]vidence of a person's character or a trait of character is not admissible for the purpose of proving action in conformity therewith on a particular occasion." Fed.R.Evid. 404(a). However, Rule 404(b) provides in pertinent part that:

Evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show action in conformity therewith. It may, however, be admissible for other purposes, such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident. . . .

Fed.R.Evid. 404(b). The Third Circuit has enunciated a four-prong test to determine the admissibility of Rule 404(b) evidence:

(1) the evidence must have a proper purpose under Rule 404(b); (2) it must be relevant under Rule 402; (3) its probative value must outweigh its prejudicial effect under Rule 403; and (4) the [district] court must charge the jury to consider the evidence only for the limited purpose for which it was admitted.

Becker v. ARCO Chem. Co., 207 F.3d 176, 189 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing J & R Ice Cream Corp. v. Cal. Smoothie Licensing Corp., 31 F.3d 1259, 1268 (3d Cir. 1994)). Even when the evidence is found to be relevant and fits a proper Rule 404(b) purpose, "the proponent must clearly articulate how that evidence fits into a chain of logical inferences, no link of which may be the inference that the defendant has the propensity to commit the crime charged." Becker, 207 F.3d at 191 (quoting United States v. Morley, 199 F.3d 129, 133 (3d Cir.1999)) (additional citations omitted).

Moreover, under Rule 404(b) an officer's disciplinary record is not admissible "if offered to prove a disposition to violence on the part of [the defendant] Officer," but may be admissible to show an officer's intent to use violence." West v. City of Philadelphia, No. 86-7487, 1988 WL 21955, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 29, 1988); see also Whichard v. Baylor, No. 01-148, 2004 WL 1490360, at *1-2 (E.D. Pa. Jul. 1, 2004) (excluding evidence of prior bad acts by prison officials for the purpose of proving that officials intended to cause harm in the case because "[t]he risk is too high that the jury, regardless of how well instructed, would conclude that, because these officers had used improper force on a prisoner before, they were more ...

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