As the legal saga continues to play out between a rising Philadelphia rapper
and the city’s police department, a federal judge has allowed the plaintiff to introduce into evidence past accounts of one of the defendant officer’s conduct in other controversial situations.
Robert Williams, whose stage name is Meek Mill, a hip-hop artist from North Philadelphia, is suing the city and Officers Andrew Boyer and Alvin Outlaw over allegations that the cops unlawfully imprisoned him and took pictures of him that were later posted to social media websites.
The plaintiff claims that the officers falsely claimed they smelled marijuana coming from his vehicle and then hauled him in to the 22nd Police District where he was held against his will for nine hours while never being charged with a crime.
Williams claims that his detention caused him to miss a promotional appearance in Atlanta, which, in turn, caused him to lose out on income.
He also says he experienced anxiety and embarrassment.
Lawyers representing the defendants had sought to exclude evidence relating to Officer Boyer’s alleged prior misconduct, while Williams argued that the evidence was relevant to demonstrate that the city was deliberately indifferent to Boyer’s repeated constitutional violations and that it failed to properly supervise him.
The plaintiff also argued that the evidence should be admissible because it demonstrates Boyer’s absence of mistake, knowledge, and plan to violate his constitutional rights and motive to fabricate a basis of probable cause.
In an April 23 memorandum opinion, U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy R. Rice, of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, granted the defendants’ motion, but only in part, allowing much of the evidence of Boyer’s misconduct to be used by Williams’ legal team.
The city conceded that documents and information relating to an Internal Affairs Division investigation that found Boyer “continuously and repeatedly placed inaccurate information on official documents in the process of completing marijuana arrests” between 2006 and 2008, and resulted in his discipline, are relevant to Williams’ claims in his lawsuit, the record shows.
The judge determined that because the IAD investigation shows that the city knew about Boyer’s misconduct in connection with numerous marijuana arrests during a two-year period, “it is probative of Williams’ claims that the City failed to properly discipline and supervise Officer Boyer.”
“IAD investigation 08-1076 also is relevant to Williams’ claim that Officer Boyer fabricated claims of smelling marijuana to justify a search of Williams’ vehicle,” Rice wrote. “Such evidence demonstrates a specific pattern of behavior that could be considered a ‘plan’ and, therefore, absence of mistake on the part of Officer Boyer.”
The judge continued that because the probative value of the evidence is not substantially outweighed by its potential to unfairly prejudice and confuse the jury, the IAD investigative materials can be admitted.
In all, Rice allowed eight separate pieces of evidence to be admitted in the case.
Most are complaints similar to the claims raised by Williams that show a pattern of constitutional violations against Boyer involving allegations of improper searches.
“This evidence supports an inference that Officer Boyer has attempted to justify warrantless searches based on meritless or disputed suspicions of criminal activity,” the judge wrote. “The evidence does not implicate Officer Boyer’s propensity to violate the law; rather, it establishes his plan or modus operandi for justifying his actions.”
Rice stated that evidence related to the prior complaints against Boyer make it “more likely that his actions in this case were taken in conformity with a plan and not isolated mistakes or accidents.
“Moreover,” Rice wrote, “the probative value of these complaints is not substantially outweighed by their potential to unfairly prejudice and confuse the jury.”
Most of the complaints involved cases in which Boyer made vehicle stops on the premise that he detected the odor of illegal narcotics, but in which contraband was never found.
Evidence of the remaining investigations sought to be used by Williams’ legal team, however, was determined to be inadmissible.
In these cases, Rice ruled that even if Williams can articulate a proper theory of relevance, the evidence’s probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of unfairly prejudicing the jury.
As an example, Rice pointed to the complaints that involve Boyer’s use of force and verbal abuse, which the judge determined is unrelated to Williams’ case and could only “inflame” the jury.
Rice also said that admitting all of the “numerous incidents related to Officer Boyer, as sought by Williams, would be excessive and cumulative.