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Valdez v. Motyka

United States District Court, D. Colorado

September 26, 2019

MICHAEL VALDEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT MOTYKA, Jr., Denver Police Officer, in his individual capacity; CITY AND COUNTY OF DENVER, a municipality, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFF’S RULE 702 MOTION

          WILLIAM J. MARTÍNEZ UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Michael Valdez (“Valdez”) was shot in the back by Denver police officer Robert Motyka, Jr. (“Motyka”), at the end of a car chase in which occupants of the car Motyka was pursuing fired at Motyka and struck him in the shoulder. Valdez claims that Motyka’s gunshot constituted excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

         Currently before the Court is Valdez’s Motion to Exclude Opinion Testimony. (ECF No. 113.) For the reasons explained below, the Court grants this motion in part as to Defendants’ medical expert, Dr. Downs, and grants it in full as to Defendants’ crime scene reconstruction expert, Mr. Martin.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Court draws the following facts from the summary judgment record, which clearly shows where the parties agree and disagree regarding the relevant facts. (See ECF Nos. 82, 92, 104.)

         On January 16, 2013, Denver police received reports of a domestic violence incident and two shooting incidents, all involving a red Dodge pickup truck. The truck was spotted later in the day and a police chase ensued through the streets of north Denver. Valdez was a passenger in the truck.

         One of the police pursuers, Motyka, was fired on from the truck. He says he saw two people from the truck firing at him, one of whom he is certain was Valdez. One of the bullets struck Motyka in the left shoulder, causing him to pull over and assess his injury momentarily, but he eventually joined other officers who had continued the chase.

         The chase ended at Columbus Park when the truck collided with a tree on the edge of the park. The chasing officers, including Motyka, took up positions behind their cruisers, or the doors of their cruisers, some fifty to sixty feet behind the truck, with guns drawn.

         Occupants of the truck began exiting. One of them fled into the park. Valdez says that he and a female occupant both exited the passenger side of the truck (the driver’s side was smashed) and laid on the grass there in a prone position, with Valdez placing his hands on or above his head. Valdez says that, in this position, Motyka and another officer, John Macdonald, opened fire on him, with Motyka in particular motivated by revenge. Motyka says that Valdez did not lay on the ground, but got out of the truck and then began reaching back into the truck, which Motyka perceived as an action to retrieve the gun with which Valdez had been shooting at him. Motyka therefore opened fire, and Macdonald, who arrived seconds later, opened fire because Motyka opened fire.

         One bullet, later established through ballistic evidence to have been fired by Motyka, struck Valdez in the lumbar region, shattering a portion of his spine and temporarily paralyzing him. Another bullet tore off his left ring finger. No. evidence could confirm who fired that bullet.

         This lawsuit was presided over by Senior U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch until his passing in May 2019. In April 2019, Judge Matsch ruled that Macdonald was entitled to summary judgment, but that there were material disputes of fact preventing summary judgment as to Motyka and Denver. (ECF No. 124.) Defendants appealed the denial of qualified immunity as to Motyka. (ECF No. 128.) By order filed earlier today, the Court certified that appeal as frivolous pursuant to Stewart v. Donges, 915 F.2d 572 (10th Cir. 1990). (ECF No. 147.) Accordingly, the Court has jurisdiction to move forward with this lawsuit.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A district court must act as a “gatekeeper” in admitting or excluding expert testimony. Bitler v. A.O. Smith Corp., 400 F.3d 1227, 1232 (10th Cir. 2004). Admission of expert testimony is governed by Rule 702, which provides:

A witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if: (a) the expert’s scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue; (b) the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data; (c) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and (d) the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.

         Fed. R. Evid. 702. The proponent of the expert testimony bears the burden of proving the foundational requirements of Rule 702 by a preponderance of the evidence. United States v. Nacchio, 555 F.3d 1234, 1241 (10th Cir. 2009) (en banc).

         An expert’s proposed testimony also must be shown to be relevant and otherwise admissible. See Adamscheck v. Am. Family Mut. Ins. Co., 818 F.3d 576, 588 n.7 (10th Cir. 2016). To be relevant, expert testimony must “logically advance[] a material aspect of the case” and be “sufficiently tied to the facts of the case that it will aid the jury in resolving a factual dispute.” United States v. Garcia, 635 F.3d 472, 476 (10th Cir. 2011) (alteration in original).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Dr. Downs

         Dr. J.C. Upshaw Downs is a medical doctor and forensic pathologist with extensive experience in areas such as identifying remains, determining cause of death, and evaluating certain kinds of causes of death. (See ECF No. 121-7.) Defendants have retained him mostly to provide a report about the angle at which Motyka’s shot struck Valdez in the back, therefore providing information about Valdez’s body position at the time of the shot. (See ECF No. 121-9.)

         1. Credentials

         Valdez first asserts that “Dr. Downs possesses no expertise in firearms, bullet trajectory, ballistics, or crime scene reconstruction.” (ECF No. 113 at 21.) Valdez therefore attacks Dr. Downs’s ...


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