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Walker v. Kane

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

March 19, 2018

Maurice Walker Plaintiff- Appellant
v.
Thomas R. Kane; Missouri Department of Corrections; George Lombardi; Tom Villmer; Amy Roderick; Doug Barker Defendants Dale White Defendant-Appellee Jerome Nash; Lisa White, Corrections Case Manager II - Farmington Correctional Center; Unknown Worelly, Corrections Case Manager II Defendants Unknown Amonds, Corrections Officer I Defendant-Appellee Dwayne V. Kempker, Deputy Director, Zone II - Division of Adult Institutions - MODOC Defendant

          Submitted: January 11, 2018

         Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri - St. Louis

          Before COLLOTON, BENTON, and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.

          BENTON, Circuit Judge.

         On July 3, 2012, Maurice Walker, an inmate at Farmington Correctional Center, received a new cellmate, Jerome Nash. According to Walker, he immediately told corrections officers Dale White and Catherine Amonds he feared living with Nash. Six days later, Nash raped Walker. Walker sued the two officers under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, for failure-to-protect in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The jury found for the officers. Walker appeals, arguing the district court[1] made evidentiary errors. Having jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, this court affirms.

         I.

         Before trial, the officers moved to exclude any reference to officer White's disciplinary file. Walker wanted to cross-examine White about an incident that he thought showed White's character for untruthfulness. The district court refused to allow the cross-examination, because the "unfair prejudice outweighs the probative value of it."

          Walker also moved to exclude any reference to his "sexual orientation or sexual relationships/encounters." The officers responded that evidence of Walker's sexually-aggressive behavior toward previous cellmates was relevant to whether "everyone should have known" Walker was in danger. The court said that admissibility depended on how Walker presented his case. The court instructed the officers' counsel not to introduce this evidence "until we've had a sidebar."

         At trial, with the rape stipulated to, the parties focused on whether the officers were aware of a substantial risk of serious harm. See Whitson v. Stone Cty. Jail, 602 F.3d 920, 923 (8th Cir. 2010) ("In order to establish an Eighth Amendment failure-to-protect claim, a plaintiff must show that the prison official was deliberately indifferent to a 'substantial risk of serious harm.'"). Walker, testifying first, said Nash was "six foot something, " "200 plus pounds, " and "well-known for sexual assaults." (Walker was five-and-a-half feet tall, and about 160 pounds.) Walker said that the day Nash moved in, officer Amonds told him she knew what Nash was "capable of" and would "lock him up" if there were any problems. Officer White added, "You'll be all right." According to Walker, he told them he "felt threatened" by Nash, but did not ask for protective custody. Walker claimed he also told officer Douglas W. Baker he felt threatened. Walker admitted he did not mention this to any officers after these conversations.

         Walker then called White and Amonds to testify. White said he did not remember Walker, or any conversation with him. Walker did not attempt to ask White about his disciplinary file. Amonds recalled telling Walker-with White present-to let an officer know if he had any troubles with Nash, something she customarily told individuals with new cellmates. But according to Amonds, Walker expressed no fears. Amonds knew Nash to be a "bully, " but not violent or known for sexual assaults.

          The officers' only witness was officer Baker. He was in charge of cell assignments and had paired Walker and Nash. Baker testified, contradicting Walker, that Walker did not tell him he felt threatened by Nash. According to Baker, he did not talk to Walker during July 2012. Baker described his process of assigning inmates, pairing "aggressive" inmates with others who are at least not "timid." Over Walker's objection (and after a sidebar discussion), Baker said he paired Walker and Nash because of Walker's aggressive behavior toward cellmates.

         Walker challenges the district court's evidentiary rulings. "The admission or exclusion of evidence is reviewed for abuse of discretion; evidentiary rulings are reversed only for a clear and prejudicial abuse of discretion." Davis v. White, 858 F.3d 1155, 1159 (8th Cir. 2017) (internal quotation marks omitted). This court gives "substantial deference to a trial court's exclusion of evidence under Federal Rule of Evidence 403 so long as the trial court's exercise of discretion [does] not unfairly prevent a party from proving [its] case." United States v. Condon, 720 F.3d 748, 754 (8th Cir. 2013) (alterations and emphasis in original) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         II.

         Walker contends that the district court should have allowed cross-examination of White about a disciplinary incident allegedly probative of his character for untruthfulness. Walker summarized his position at the pre-trial hearing on motions in limine:

THE COURT: What is it that you say he was disciplined for, and exactly what evidence are you going to introduce? Not why. You want to cross-examine him on it, or you're not going to introduce an exhibit?
MR. MEYER [Walker's counsel]: It would not be through an exhibit. It would be under 608(b) through inquiry only ...

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