Evans-Reid v. District of Columbia, 00-CV-1083.

Decision Date12 July 2007
Docket NumberNo. 00-CV-1083.,00-CV-1083.
Citation930 A.2d 930
PartiesFaunett EVANS-REID, Appellant, v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Appellees.
CourtD.C. Court of Appeals

Kenneth Shepherd for appellant.

Michael F. Wasserman, Assistant Attorney General at the time of oral argument, with whom Robert J. Spagnoletti, Attorney General at the time the brief was filed, and Edward E. Schwab, Deputy Solicitor General, were on the brief, for appellees.

Before RUIZ, Associate Judge, and NEBEKER and TERRY,* Senior Judges.

RUIZ, Associate Judge:

This case arises from a shooting by a Metropolitan Police Department officer in the course of an investigatory stop of a vehicle, which, tragically, resulted in the death of a fourteen-year-old boy. The child's mother, Faunett Evans-Reid, filed a complaint for damages against the officer and the District of Columbia claiming negligence and assault and battery. On appeal, she challenges the trial court's entry of judgment as a matter of law dismissing her complaint. Appellant also contends that the trial court abused its discretion in excluding expert testimony and certain police reports. After reviewing the record and the parties' arguments, we conclude that the trial court's challenged evidentiary rulings were not an abuse of discretion and agree with the trial court that the evidence presented by appellant did not, as a matter of law, provide a sufficient basis from which the jury could have found that the officer's use of deadly force was unreasonable and returned a verdict in her favor. Therefore, we affirm the entry of judgment for appellees.

I. BACKGROUND

On May 21, 1995, at approximately 7:00 p.m., fourteen-year-old Sean Evans was riding in the front passenger seat of a red Mazda that was being driven with the rear hatch-back door open. Upon reaching the intersection of Riggs Road and Chillum Place, N.E., the vehicle made a left turn on a red light. Two Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD") Officers, Officer Mark Green and Officer David Mosely, were separately patrolling the area at the time. They followed the red Mazda but did not give any direction to the driver to pull over. Officer Green, riding a motorcycle, followed the vehicle from behind, while Officer Mosely, who was driving a squad car, took another route to cut it off. After Officer Green followed the Mazda for less than two blocks, the car voluntarily came to a stop and parked at the curb. Officer Green stopped behind the Mazda, from where he observed that the front-seat passenger was making movements which caused the officer to suspect that a weapon was being concealed. Shortly thereafter, Officer Mosely came from the other direction and parked on the opposite side of the street. As both officers approached the vehicle, Officer Green used a verbal signal to indicate to Officer Mosely his suspicion that there might be a gun in the car. Officer Green approached the passenger's side of the vehicle while Officer Mosely approached the driver's side.

During his testimony, Officer Green explained that, because he suspected danger, he approached the car with his weapon drawn, holding it next to his hip and pointed at the ground. When he reached the passenger window, Officer Green saw Evans "lift up his shirt and pull out a gun." The weapon, which appeared to Officer Green to be a semi-automatic handgun, was pointed in his direction. Fearing for his life, Officer Green quickly raised his weapon and, holding it with both hands, fired in the direction of Evans's chest. Officer Green recounted that, as he fired, he stepped back while raising his gun, with his arm extended. Still afraid because the passenger's gun continued to be pointed at him, he then shot Evans a second time, this time in the head. According to Officer Green, Evans had a "cold" and "glazed type" or "glossy" look in his eyes.

As Officer Green approached the passenger, Officer Mosely had approached the driver. Officer Mosely testified that by the time he reached the car, the driver had already opened the door and placed his feet on the pavement, as if to get out, but was still seated in the car. He spoke to the driver and requested his license and car registration. Officer Mosely went to the rear of the car to compare the license plate number with the registration he had obtained from the driver. He then heard two shots before he had a chance to finish the comparison. Officer Mosely testified that as he approached the driver, he did not pay attention to the passenger, and later, when he was standing behind the car to compare the registration with the tag number, did not see any sudden movements by the passenger, did not see him hiding anything, and did not see him pull his shirt up or pull a gun from his waist and point it at Officer Green. Altogether, he believed that "a dozen or more seconds" passed from the time Officer Mosely stopped his car across from the Mazda until the shooting took place. After the shots were fired, the driver jumped down on the ground. After restraining the driver with handcuffs as a precautionary measure, Officer Mosely looked up and saw Officer Green "standing on the passenger side of the car ... just looking distraught ... almost like he [had] seen a ghost ... [f]rightened." He also looked at the passenger inside the car and saw that he was bleeding profusely and had a gun in his left hand. The gun, as it turned out, was a BB gun. Except for the two officers, no eyewitness to the shooting testified at trial.1

The medical examiner who conducted the autopsy determined that Sean Evans died from gunshot wounds to the face and chest. According to the forensic expert, Dr. Jonathan Arden, stippling around the wound to the head indicated that the shot was fired from a distance of approximately twelve inches.2 Tests conducted at the time also revealed that Evans's blood alcohol level was 0.11 percent, in the "intoxicated" range. The forensic expert testified that, at such a level, a person would be "significantly" and "visibly" intoxicated, his judgment and reflexes could be impaired, and his usual inhibitions and mood altered.

Evans's mother (appellant) took the stand. She testified that her son was right-handed, calling into question that he would have drawn and pointed a gun at Officer Green with his left hand. Testimony and pictures of the car showed that the door handle was missing from inside the front passenger door. A photograph also showed a shell casing in the Mazda's roof gutter.3

II. DISCUSSION
A. Exclusion of Expert Witness

Appellant argues that the trial court abused its discretion in excluding the expert testimony of Commander Winfred Stanley based on the fact that Commander Stanley lacked experience on the national standard of care for conducting traffic stops and had local experience only.

"The admission of expert testimony is committed to the broad discretion of the trial court and a ruling either admitting or excluding such evidence will not be disturbed unless `manifestly erroneous.'" Dyas v. United States, 376 A.2d 827, 831 (D.C.1977) (quoting Salem v. United States Lines Co., 370 U.S. 31, 35, 82 S.Ct. 1119, 8 L.Ed.2d 313 (1962)). In Dyas, this court set forth a three-part test for the admission of expert testimony: (1) the subject matter "must be so distinctively related to some science, profession, business or occupation as to be beyond the ken of the average layman"; (2) "the witness must have sufficient skill, knowledge, or experience in that field or calling as to make it appear that his opinion or inference will probably aid the trier in his search for truth"; and (3) "the state of the pertinent art or scientific knowledge [must] permit a reasonable opinion to be asserted." Dyas, 376 A.2d at 832 (quoting MCCORMICK ON EVIDENCE § 13, at 29-31 (E.Cleary, 2d ed.1972)). Where expert testimony is necessary, "the expert must clearly articulate and reference a standard of care by which the defendant's actions can be measured." Clark v. District of Columbia, 708 A.2d 632, 635 (D.C.1997) (quoting Messina v. District of Columbia, 663 A.2d 535, 538 (D.C.1995)). The standard of care is to be found in "the practices in fact generally followed by other comparable governmental facilities" or some nationally-recognized standard. Id.; see also Toy v. District of Columbia, 549 A.2d 1, 7-8 (D.C.1988) (noting that plaintiff's expert in suicide case "did not provide any basis for his opinion that national standards required the District to have oxygen and other emergency equipment available").

Appellant argues that Commander Stanley's testimony during voir dire demonstrated that he was qualified to serve as an expert witness on police procedures and the national standard governing police conduct in this case. In support of her argument, appellant asserts that, in addition to his twenty-one years of experience with the Metropolitan Police Department, Commander Stanley participated in numerous in-service programs and traveled to other jurisdictions to study police patrol activities. Moreover, appellant contends, Commander Stanley studied the literature on police administration and testified that he was familiar with national standards concerning police traffic stop practices including the Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA), which accredits hundreds of law enforcement agencies across the country. As proof of his qualifications, appellant asserts that Commander Stanley had previously been qualified as an expert on police procedures in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.4

We perceive no abuse of discretion in the trial court's determination that Commander Stanley lacked the necessary expertise to opine on the national standard. As the trial court explained, "[h]is expertise is local. He's only relying on the single national standard. It has nothing to do with the conduct of a traffic stop and so he isn't an expert and cannot give expert testimony on...

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