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Marks v. Smith

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

May 18, 2017

JENNIFER R. MARKS, Plaintiff
v.
SHERIFF RANDY SMITH, IN HIS CAPACITY AS SHERIFF OF THE PARISH OF ST. TAMMANY, ET AL., Defendants

         SECTION: “E” (2)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          SUSIE MORGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is a motion in limine filed by Defendants Amore Neck, Bryan Steinert, and Samuel Hyneman.[1] The motion is opposed.[2] The Court rules on the motion as set forth below.

         BACKGROUND

         This is a case brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. On or about October 23, 2014, upon leaving her employment, Plaintiff, Jennifer Marks, alleges she stopped at Acadia Gas Station in Slidell, Louisiana to purchase a pack of cigars.[3] After leaving the gas station, Deputy Bryan Steinert conducted a traffic stop of the Plaintiff.[4] Deputy Samuel Hyneman arrived on the scene while Deputy Steinert searched the Plaintiff's vehicle.[5] Deputy Steinert found drug paraphernalia in the vehicle. Corporal Amore Neck then arrived on the scene to conduct a search of the Plaintiff's person. It is at this point that the parties' accounts of the incident diverge.

         The Plaintiff alleges Corporal Neck conducted “an illegal and unconstitutional full body cavity search at the traffic stop which amount to a sexual assault.”[6] According to the Plaintiff, Corporal Neck “forced Ms. Marks to bend over while handcuffed, putting her hand down Ms. Marks' pants, and with her fingers, entering Ms. Marks' vagina and then separately, her rectum. Deputy Amore then checked Ms. Marks' feet and mouth without changing gloves.”[7]

         The Defendants' accounts, however, differ significantly from the Plaintiff's. Deputy Hyneman, who observed the search performed by Corporal Neck, provided testimony that the search was a “basic pat down” and Corporal Neck did not search the Plaintiff's body cavities.[8] Corporal Neck testified the search she conducted on the Plaintiff was a usual pat-down search, which did not include searching any of the Plaintiff's body cavities.[9]

         The Plaintiff filed this lawsuit, bringing claims against the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office and Sheriff Randy Smith in his official capacity under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and other state-law causes of action. The Plaintiff also brings claims against Corporal Amore Neck, Deputy Samuel Hyneman, and Deputy Bryan Steinert in their individual capacities under section 1983 for violations of her Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

         The Plaintiff's claims against the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office and Sheriff Randy Smith in his official capacity have been dismissed. The remaining claims are those against Corporal Neck, Deputy Steinert, and Deputy Hyneman in their individual capacities.

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         Defendants seek to exclude evidence or testimony that “attempt[s] to challenge policies and procedures related to dash-cameras or retention, to claim that the policies and procedures are insufficient, or to claim that the Sheriff lacked adequate policies and procedures.”[10] Defendants argue such evidence is precluded under the “law of the case” doctrine because this Court has dismissed the Plaintiff's claims against Sheriff Smith, including a claim related to the Sheriff's failure to institute and enforce policies and procedures.[11] Defendants contend the jury may improperly award damages based on the Sheriff's failure to maintain adequate policies and procedures, which would be an award against Sheriff Smith, not the remaining defendants in this matter-Corporal Neck, Deputy Steinert, and Deputy Hyneman in their individual capacities.[12] The Defendants further contend evidence referencing the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office's policies and procedures with respect to the dash cameras is irrelevant because no dash camera video was recorded of the incident in question.[13]

         In response, the Plaintiff states she does not intend to attack the sufficiency of the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Offices policies and procedures with respect to dash cameras. Instead, the Plaintiff argues evidence of the dash camera policies and procedures is relevant to the credibility of Deputy Steinert, who had the opportunity to delete videos on the dash camera memory card at his discretion.[14] Plaintiffs further contend the question of whether a dash camera video was recorded with respect to the incident at issue is a question of fact in this case, which should be decided by the jury.

         The Court finds evidence with respect to the dash camera in Deputy Steinert's patrol car to be relevant and not precluded by the “law of the case” doctrine. The Plaintiff is not seeking to admit evidence with respect to the dash camera to relitigate her claims against Sheriff Smith for failure to maintain adequate policies and procedures. The facts surrounding the existence of and use of the dash camera is relevant to whether a recording of the incident existed and whether it was deleted-either intentionally or accidentally. Such facts are relevant to the Plaintiff's argument that the Defendants had the motive and opportunity to spoliate evidence by deleting the video of her traffic stop.[15]

         The Plaintiff may question Deputy Steinert and other defense witnesses with respect to the facts surrounding the deputies' use of the dash camera, the recordings made, and the deletion and/or storage of recordings made.[16] The Plaintiff may not question Deputy Steinert or other defense witnesses about the ...


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