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

United States District Court, D. Colorado

August 7, 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; ALLEN COOPER, in his official capacity as Fremont County Sheriff; JAMES BEICKER, individually; TY MARTIN, individually; and JOHN RANKIN, individually, Defendants.


          William J. Martinez United States District Judge.

         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 Allen Cooper (in his official capacity only), former sheriff James Beicker (in his individual capacity only), former undersheriff Ty Martin, and detention center commander John Rankin (together, “Defendants”).

         Currently before the Court is Defendants' Joint Motion in Limine. (ECF No. 251.) It is captioned as “Joint” because it encompassed all defendants who had not been dismissed as of the date of its filing, September 25, 2018. Following its filing, the Estate dismissed several parties, leaving only Defendants. The Court therefore ordered the Estate to file an amended response to the motion, making clear which issues remain in controversy and which are moot in light of the settlement. (ECF No. 295 at 6.) Having received the Estate's amended response (ECF No. 296), the Court is prepared to rule. For the reasons explained below, the Court grants the motion in part, denies it in part, and denies it without prejudice in part.

         I. ANALYSIS

         A. Evidence of Inadequate Investigation

         Defendants first argue that the Estate

intends to introduce evidence in the form of testimony and exhibits to the effect that the Fremont County Sheriff's investigation into the circumstances of Mr. Walter's death was cursory or otherwise inadequate. The Court should exclude any such evidence because it is not relevant to any of the [Estate's] claims.

(ECF No. 251 at 3.) The Court disagrees. The Estate must prove that Defendants possessed a deliberately indifferent state of mind. Evidence about how they reacted to Walter's death is probative of that state of mind. See Grandstaff v. City of Borger, 767 F.2d 161, 171 (5th Cir. 1985). Defendants' case law that supposedly counsels to the contrary-Durkee v. Minor, 841 F.3d 872, 877 (10th Cir. 2016), Bryson v. City of Oklahoma City, 627 F.3d 784, 789-90 (10th Cir. 2010), and Cordova v. Aragon, 569 F.3d 1183, 1194 (10th Cir. 2009)-affirms exclusion of this kind of evidence when presented as evidence of causation, reasoning that post-event actions, by definition, have no tendency to prove the cause of an event. That is a separate question from whether post-event actions can shed light on the actors' state of mind during the event. Plainly, they can. The Court therefore denies this portion of Defendants' Motion in Limine.

         That said, the Court notes the possibility that lay jurors may not be able to judge for themselves whether a post-incident investigation of a medical matter at a county jail was adequate. In other words, depending on the evidence the Estate intends to present, it may be that a lay juror has no common experience to which he or she can compare the investigation, and therefore no basis to properly judge any Defendant's state of mind based on his acts or omissions during the investigation. Without prejudging the issue, then, the Court notes the potential need for expert testimony to lay a proper foundation.

         B. Other Inmates' Medical Care

         Defendants note that the Estate plans to call three former inmates at the Fremont County Jail for purposes of testifying about their experience receiving medical care at the jail, presumably to persuade the jury that the jail routinely provided inadequate medical care. (ECF No. 251 at 4.) Defendants argue that this should not be permitted because, at a minimum, it “would create the necessity for multiple ‘mini-trials' within the trial which [would be] misleading, confusing, and would be a waste of time.” (Id. at 4-5.)

         The Estate's entire response is as follows:

Defendants' request to exclude evidence of “other inmates' medical care” is vague. In any event, Defendants ignore discussion of the all-important Monell claims, which are supported by evidence of widespread practices. There will be no mini-trials, for the Estate's proof is concise: jail personnel and ...

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