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Estate of Walter v. Board of County Commissioners of The County of Fremont

United States District Court, D. Colorado

March 18, 2019

THE ESTATE OF JOHN PATRICK WALTER, by and through its personal representative, DESIREE' Y. KLODNICKI, Plaintiff,
THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF THE COUNTY OF FREMONT; JAMES BEICKER, individually and in his official capacity as Fremont County Sheriff; TY MARTIN, individually; and JOHN RANKIN, individually, Defendants.



         By way of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, this lawsuit addresses whether John Patrick Walter (“Walter”) received unconstitutionally deficient medical care while in pretrial detention in Fremont County, Colorado, eventually causing his death. Specifically, Walter was deprived of a prescription anti-anxiety medication (Klonopin), allegedly creating severe withdrawal symptoms that eventually killed him. Walter's Estate, through its personal representative (“Estate” or “Plaintiff”), originally sued numerous individuals and entities, but has now dismissed all defendants save for Fremont County (through its board of commissioners), Sheriff James Beicker, Undersheriff Ty Martin, and detention center commander John Rankin (together, “Defendants”).

         Currently before the Court is the Estate's Motion in Limine (ECF No. 231) and Defendants' Motion in Limine (ECF No. 251). For the reasons explained below, the Court grants in part and denies in part Plaintiff's motion and calls for further briefing on Defendants' motion due to changed circumstances since it was filed.


         A. The Reasons for Walter's Arrest, the Charges Against Him, and Circumstances of the Alleged Crimes

         Walter ended up in the Fremont County Jail on suspicion of assaulting a man named Harry Scott. (ECF No. 231 at 3.) Based on Defendants' proposed exhibits (including many relating to the charges against Walter) and witnesses (including Harry Scott), the Estate fears that Defendants intend to inflame the jury by portraying Walter in a negative and otherwise undeserving light. (Id. at 3-4.) The Estate argues that the reasons for Walter's arrest, the charges against him, and the circumstances surrounding his alleged crimes are irrelevant to the question of whether Walter received adequate medical care in the Fremont County Jail, are otherwise unduly prejudicial, and are also improper character evidence. (Id. at 4-6.)

         Defendants respond that they need this evidence to establish Walter's condition before arriving at the jail, allegedly to show that it was consistent with his behavior after arriving at the jail, and so to rebut the Estate's claim that jail staff could not help but notice Walter's distress and need for medical attention, as opposed to perceiving behavior that was, for Walter, typical. (ECF No. 242 at 2-4, 5.) Defendants also claim that Walter's physical, mental, and emotional condition before his arrest is relevant to damages, apparently implying that some of his injuries or distress are attributable to the incident leading to the assault charges. (Id. at 4-5.)

         Regarding the jail staff's perceptions, information about Walter's allegedly erratic behavior before arrival at the Fremont County Jail is only relevant to the extent any particular jail staff member knew of that behavior. As for details about the crime Walter allegedly committed, Defendants fail to explain how those details could have any effect on any jail staff member's perception of his physical, mental, or emotional health- assuming the jail staff member knew those details. As for damages, Defendants' argument is vague and unconvincing, and strikes the Court as grasping at any straw to retain this evidence because Defendants do, in fact, wish to inflame the jury against Walter-which is impermissible under Rule 401, or is at least unduly prejudicial under Rule 403.

         Nonetheless, the Court will permit the following testimony about Walter's behavior before being booked into the jail, and about his arrest:

• The basic nature of the accusation against Walter. This likely needs to be no more than the generic name of the charge (assault) and a very short description of the alleged behavior leading to the charge that does not obviously lay all blame on Walter (e.g., “getting into a fight, ” as opposed to “starting a fight, ” “throwing a punch, ” etc.). The jury is entitled to understand those basic facts, for context. See, e.g., United States v. Kimball, 73 F.3d 269, 272 (10th Cir. 1995).
• Walter's demeanor, and physical and mental condition, before arriving at the jail to the extent that his demeanor/condition was perceived by, or specifically reported to, a person who: (A) observed Walter between the time of his admission and the time of his death, and (B) will testify that Walter's behavior in jail was unconcerning because of what he or she perceived, or was told, about his behavior before his arrival. Except to this extent, this portion of the Estate's Motion in Limine is granted.

         B. Walter's Criminal and Incarceration History

         The Estate expects Defendants to introduce evidence of Walter's criminal and incarceration history, which the Estate argues to be irrelevant, unduly prejudicial, and impermissible character evidence. (ECF No. 231 at 6.)

         Defendants respond that the Estate is putting Walter's criminal history at issue because the Estate intends to introduce an exhibit in which Walter is recorded as reporting (apparently to booking officers) that he had a bad experience during a previous jail stay when jail officials tried to wean him from Klonopin. (ECF No. 242 at 5 (citing ECF No. 242-3).) Defendants accuse the Estate of “want[ing] to have it both ways by being allowed to introduce this ...

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