893 F.2d 1004 (8th Cir. 1990), 88-2540, Reynolds v. City of Little Rock

Docket Nº:88-2540.
Citation:893 F.2d 1004
Party Name:Reather REYNOLDS, as Administratrix of the Estate of John Willie Reeves, deceased, and in her own behalf, Appellant, v. CITY OF LITTLE ROCK; Walter E.
Case Date:January 12, 1990
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

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893 F.2d 1004 (8th Cir. 1990)

Reather REYNOLDS, as Administratrix of the Estate of John

Willie Reeves, deceased, and in her own behalf, Appellant,


CITY OF LITTLE ROCK; Walter E. "Sonny" Simpson; E.H. "Doc"

Hale; Lieutenant Joe Thomas; and Sergeant Brad Furlow of

the Little Rock Police Department, each and all in their

official and personal capacities; Lottie L. Shackleford;

J.W. "Buddy" Benafield; Sharon Priest; Tom Milton;

Charles Bussey; Thomas Prince; and F.G. "Buddy" Villines,

individually and in their personal and official capacity as

elected members of the Little Rock City Board of Directors, Appellees.

No. 88-2540.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

January 12, 1990

Submitted June 15, 1989.

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Perlesta A. Hollingsworth, Little Rock, Ark., for appellant.

Ms. Victra L. Fewell, Little Rock, Ark., for appellees.

Before ARNOLD, Circuit Judge, ROSS, Senior Circuit Judge, and CAMBRIDGE, [*] District Judge.

ARNOLD, Circuit Judge.

John Willie Reeves, a mentally disturbed black man, was killed by gunfire from several members of the Little Rock Police Department as he advanced toward a police officer waving a pocket knife. Reather Reynolds, as administratrix of Reeves's estate, brought this action under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 against the City of Little Rock, members of the City Board of Directors, and members of the Little Rock Police Department. Reynolds's complaint alleged that the police officers used excessive force in shooting Reeves, and that the City had fostered this alleged constitutional deprivation by failing to enforce adequate standards for the use of deadly force. The jury found for the defendants. On appeal, Reynolds urges that the District Court erred in excluding certain evidence and in commenting on the testimony of Reynolds's expert witness. We affirm the District Court on these issues.

Reynolds further argues that the City Attorney's use of peremptory strikes to remove the two black members of the venire constituted purposeful discrimination prohibited by Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986). We agree that a state actor may not exercise peremptory challenges with the intent to exclude black people from the jury, whether in a criminal or a civil trial. We conclude that Batson applies to the conduct of a governmental litigant in a civil trial, and so we vacate the District Court's judgment insofar as it incorporates the City's position that it need not account for the exercise of its peremptories in a civil trial. On remand, the District Court should conduct further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.


On the evening of October 9, 1984, police officers arrived at an auto parts store to investigate a burglar alarm. An attendant at a nearby service station told the officers that someone had pulled a knife. The officers then spotted John Willie Reeves, the man described by the attendant, and pursued him. Reeves fled, periodically waving a pocket knife at the officers. One officer determined at the time that Reeves was irrational and apparently mentally ill. The police, at this time numbering up to eight officers, finally surrounded Reeves, who continued to wave his knife, telling the police to get away. As one officer approached Reeves to subdue him, Reeves advanced, wildly swinging his knife. Several officers opened fire with revolvers and a shotgun, killing Reeves instantly.

At trial, Reynolds argued that the police use of deadly force in this situation was an unconstitutional deprivation of Reeves's rights, under the theory of deliberate indifference, see, e.g., Herrera v. Valentine, 653 F.2d 1220, 1229 (8th Cir.1981). Reynolds further claimed that the City was liable for this constitutional tort through its failure to enforce adequate standards for the use of deadly force, citing Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 105 S.Ct. 2427, 85 L.Ed.2d 791 (1985). At trial, Reynolds

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sought to introduce Little Rock Police Department investigative files on previous incidents of the use of deadly force. The District Court sustained the City's objection to the admission of the files, on the ground that the files were mostly hearsay and irrelevant.

Reynolds's expert witness, Dr. James Fyfe, testified at length about the literature on and developing standards for the use of deadly force. After overruling a City objection to Dr. Fyfe's testimony, the Court commented:

THE COURT: Well, let's get down to the meat in the coconut. [Dr. Fyfe has] been sitting here the entire trial and has heard it all, so let's get down to this case and get his opinion on the handling of this particular case ... What I'm interested in hearing from this witness, as far as the jury is concerned, is what he thinks that the police department did wrong in this case. That's what we're trying to get to here.

Tr. 276. On direct examination, Dr. Fyfe proceeded to testify about emerging national standards of police use of force, when the Court interjected:

THE COURT: What standards are we talking about here? I mean, what particular standards are you talking about? This witness has been qualified as an expert and, you know, when you talk about standards as far as the standards in machine manufacturing, there are organizations that put out standards. I mean, he was very vague about standards but what--he's been qualified as an expert. What I'd like to do rather than talking about some vague standards, which as I understand his testimony, consists of everything from decisions of the Supreme Court on down to things that have been promulgated by the FBI Academy, by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. But what I would like for you to do and what I think is proper is to get down to this case and let's have him tell what--where in his opinion the police did not handle this properly. I mean, he's been qualified. His qualifications have been admitted as an expert. But, now, we're talking about some kind of vague standards. We're talking about abstractions and standards that haven't been really identified. We don't know what they are. But let's get down to his opinion about what happened in this case. That's the issue.

Tr. 279-80. At this point, counsel for Reynolds requested a bench conference, at which counsel objected to the District Court's comments in the presence of the jury concerning Dr. Fyfe's testimony.

After a three-day trial, the six-member jury returned a verdict for the defendants. The jury had been given five interrogatories, the first of which asked:

Do you find from a preponderance of the evidence that the officers of the Little Rock Police Department used excessive force in attempting to effect the arrest of Willie Reeves, which proximately resulted in his death?


The remaining four interrogatories probed the liability of the City and each of three police officers for negligent supervision of the officers firing the fatal shots. The jury found no liability for each of the defendants.

After the selection of the jury, counsel for Reynolds noted that all the blacks on the jury panel had been struck, including two excused by the City's peremptory challenges. The District Court offered the City's counsel an opportunity to explain those challenges, but the City's counsel stood firm on the position that the City was under no obligation to justify its exercise of peremptory strikes in a civil case.


We turn first to Reynolds's objection to the District Court's exclusion of LRPD investigative files on previous instances of deadly force. All parties agree that, in general, evidence of prior incidents of deadly force may be necessary to prove the existence of a policy or custom of unconstitutional conduct. Such evidence, however, is circumscribed by the normal

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evidentiary rules concerning relevance and hearsay.

In this case it is not necessary to consider whether the District Court properly excluded the investigative files. Such evidence, if admitted, would tend to show only that the City was negligent in training its officers, and might therefore be liable under Monell v. New York City Dep't of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978), and Oklahoma v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 105 S.Ct. 2427, 85 L.Ed.2d 791 (1985), for any constitutional violation committed against John Willie Reeves. The necessary predicate for liability of the City and individual supervisors, however, is a finding that the LRPD officers who shot Reeves used excessive force under the circumstances. The jury specifically rejected this allegation in answering Interrogatory No. 1....

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