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Probable cause exists when the facts and circumstances that are known to an officer reasonably support a belief that the individual has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime.
Plaintiffs filed a motion in limine #1, which sought to bar Defendants from introducing any evidence of, or referring to, Plaintiff Christopher Monroe's alleged and witness Mario Anderson's admitted gang membership at trial. The specific "gang evidence" at issue in this motion in limine concerned Plaintiff Christopher Monroe and witness Mario Anderson. Plaintiff Monroe has denied any gang affiliation or membership. Mr. Anderson admitted to being in a gang, and testified that Plaintiff Monroe was also in a gang, see id. at 4. Plaintiffs argued that any evidence, or reference to, Plaintiff Monroe's alleged and Mr. Anderson's admitted membership in or affiliation with gangs was not relevant, was inadmissible character evidence, and — to the extent it may be relevant and probative, which Plaintiffs argue it is not — was unfairly prejudicial under Federal Rule of Evidence 403. On the other hand, defendants argued that this evidence goes to the heart of their theory of the case, and that it is both relevant and probative. Specifically, Defendants argued that this gang evidence is admissible for three reasons: (1) to show that the Defendants acted reasonably under the circumstances; (2) to demonstrate Monroe and Anderson's "motive" and "bias"; and (3) to impeach Plaintiff Monroe.
Was the alleged gang evidence admissible to inform the jury’s decision?
Since probable cause to arrest provides an absolute defense to any claim brought under § 1983 for false arrest, circumstances leading up to Plaintiffs' arrests were relevant to this case. To the extent that gang affiliation would have given the Defendants probable cause to arrest Plaintiffs on the night in question — and the Court did not make a finding on that issue here — nowhere in Defendants' pleadings does it indicate that the Defendant Officers knew anything about these two individuals' alleged gang affiliations before they responded to the "shots fired" incident, before they arrested Plaintiffs, before the allegations of excessive force, or even before Plaintiff Monroe and Mr. Anderson's depositions.
Further, defendants alleged that Plaintiff Monroe "threw punches at [Defendant Thurman] when [Thurman] entered the second floor," and that Mr. Anderson "admitted to throwing objects at [Defendant] Thurman when he entered the second floor." Thus, plaintiff Monroe's alleged and Mr. Anderson's admitted gang membership was "relevant to show a motive for the otherwise inexplicable act of attacking a police officer when he was entering an apartment.” However, nothing about this mentioned "attack" suggested that Mr. Anderson knew that Defendant Thurman was a police officer. In fact, Mr. Anderson explicitly denied that knowledge. The alleged motive for the "attack" seemed to be that an unidentified stranger had burst into his home and was "holding and choking" his mother. Evidence of gang membership in connection with this incident was thus not relevant and was unfairly prejudicial.