Court: United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi, Oxford Division
Case Name: Wroblewski v. Tyler
Citation: 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 180751
In this law enforcement case, the plaintiff was a casino patron who was accused of assaulting a staff member. Alleging he had been falsely accused, the plaintiff sued his arresting police officers for false arrest, excessive force, and First Amendment retaliation.
The plaintiff retained a seasoned law enforcement expert to opine on verbal communication tactics. The expert discussed a tactic called verbal judo, which he referred to as the “proper” mechanism an officer should use to seek voluntary compliance. The court held that the use of the word “proper” implied the technique in question was a requirement for law enforcement. However, because the court did not find case law to support the position that verbal judo is a nationally required standard, the expert’s testimony is partially excluded.
The plaintiff, Shaun Wroblewski, and a friend spent the night in a hotel room at the Gold Strike Casino in Tunica Resorts, Mississippi. On the night of the incident in question, both men consumed alcoholic beverages. The plaintiff called the front desk two times for housekeeping services. A hotel employee by the name of Felicia Flowers made both deliveries to the plaintiff’s room. After the second delivery, Ms. Flowers reported that the men grabbed her and attempted to trap her in the room. The hotel’s front desk contacted the county sheriff’s department, and the two defendant officers, John Tyler and Kendall Oliver, were dispatched.
Upon arriving on the scene, the officers informed the plaintiff of the assault report. The plaintiff denied knowledge of the situation and allowed the officers to conduct a room search. After the search was conducted, the plaintiff and his friend were told they had to vacate the premises. Instead of vacating the premises however, the plaintiff took out his cellphone and began to video record the scene. The officer told the plaintiff to put his hands behind his back, which the plaintiff failed to comply with. The officer then grabbed the plaintiff by the arm and turned him around, initiating an altercation. The officers employed a stun gun on the plaintiff and tazed him 3 times.
The plaintiff was arrested for disorderly conduct, failure to comply, and resisting arrest — all charges were eventually dropped. Following his bail posting, the plaintiff required medical treatment for chest pains, muscle spasms, nausea, feelings of burning, and dehydration.
The plaintiff called a law enforcement expert with 25+ years of experience to discuss the industry standard for officer training and use of excessive force. The expert was a full-time instructor at a training complex for law enforcement personnel, corrections, probation, and parole, as well as special response teams. He had also served as a patrol officer, a SWAT team member, a field training officer, and a defensive tactics coordinator.
The plaintiff’s law enforcement expert opined that the defendant officers escalated the casino altercation by failing to use industry-standard communication tactics. He further opined that the officers were not justified in using excessive force because they did not exhaust all the possible verbal communication techniques they were trained to use.
The expert described one such verbal technique by the name of verbal judo, which he defined as a technique that “has been taught to law enforcement officers nation-wide since 1990, [and] is the proper mechanism for seeking voluntary compliance.” Although the expert never stated that verbal judo was a mandatory or required tactic, he referred to verbal judo as the “proper mechanism” an officer should use to seek voluntary compliance.
What’s In A Word?
The defendants sought to exclude portions of the law enforcement expert’s testimony. The defendants argued that the expert’s opinions regarding the defendants’ decision not to employ verbal judo as a tactic on the plaintiff should be stricken on the grounds that no national law enforcement requirement exists dictating that such standards be followed.
The plaintiff argued that their law enforcement expert never claimed that verbal judo or any other standard was “required”, and that the expert only relied on verbal judo as an example of verbal communication techniques.
The court found that the expert’s use of the word “proper” implied that verbal judo was a technique that law enforcement was required to employ in difficult situations. However, the court did not find case law to support the position that verbal judo was a nationally required standard.
The court determined that the plaintiff’s expert did not adequately review the Tunica County law enforcement policies and could not reliably opine on whether or not the defendants disregarded county policies. Furthermore, the court held that the expert could not conclude that verbal judo was a requirement or “the proper” mechanism for law enforcement officers. Thus, the court found that the law enforcement expert’s opinion did not satisfy the 26(a)(2)(B) requirements because the expert failed to produce a basis for his opinion.
However, the court found that the expert was qualified in general law enforcement, including training of law enforcement officers. Therefore, his opinion was limited to general standards, policies, and procedures.
Ultimately, the court supported the defendants’ belief that the plaintiff had committed a crime were justified. The court denied summary judgment as to the plaintiff’s excessive force claim and subsequently dismissed the plaintiff’s First Amendment retaliation claim.
Choose your words carefully. When referring to policies, practices, and procedures, experts should make sure not to overstate how standardized a policy is. In cases specific to law enforcement, experts should either be intimately familiar with the local county law enforcement standards or research the procedural differences.