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Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirms summary judgment for defendant police officer in civil rights case brought by widow of slain taxicab driver

On March 5, 2021, in Prosper v. Martin, No. 19-12857, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court’s summary judgment for the defendant police officer on qualified immunity grounds in a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights case filed by the widow of a Miami taxicab driver who was shot to death by the defendant during a highway encounter. The defendant claimed he shot the decedent when the defendant violently resisted an attempt to subdue him by punching the officer and biting one of the officer’s fingers. The plaintiff had intended to call two expert witnesses, an accident reconstructionist and a neurologist who intended to testify the decedent had likely suffered a stroke, seizure or brain infection which explained his bizarre behavior leading up to the fatal encounter. The testimony of the neurologist was excluded by the trial judge because it was considered unreliable (offering different possible causes) and irrelevant (because the cause was in any event unknown to the officer at the time of the incident). The testimony of the accident reconstructionist was allowed by the trial judge, but only regarding physical measurements taken of the site of the incident. The rest of his opinions, including an interpretation of a blurry surveillance video, were excluded. The Eleventh Circuit concluded that the district court was within its discretion to exclude the opinions of both experts, leaving only the surveillance video, acknowledged by the plaintiff to be “far from a model of clarity”, and the testimony of the defendant police officer as evidence of what had occurred. The Eleventh Circuit observed that “[a] blurry video that does not depict much of anything cannot give rise to issues of fact about what did or did not happen on a particular occasion,” and that the police officer’s account was therefore unrebutted and controlled the court’s analysis.

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