United States v. Brown, No. 16-1603 (7th Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
While investigating a tip that illegal drugs were being sold from a south-side convenience store, Chicago Police Officer Brown sucker-punched a store employee for no apparent reason. As the dazed employee attempted to stagger away, Brown continued to beat and kick him for about two minutes. The beating was caught on the store’s surveillance camera. At his trial for willfully depriving the employee of his Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force inflicted by a law-enforcement officer, Brown sought to introduce expert testimony from a former Chicago police officer that Brown’s actions were consistent with departmental standards. The judge excluded the expert witness, reasoning that departmental policy was immaterial to the Fourth Amendment inquiry and that the expert’s proposed testimony might include an improper opinion about Brown’s state of mind. The jury found Brown guilty. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Expert testimony about police standards may appropriately assist the jury in resolving some excessive-force questions, but sometimes evidence of this type is unhelpful and irrelevant, particularly when no specialized knowledge is needed to determine whether the officer’s conduct was objectively unreasonable. The misconduct alleged here was easily within the grasp of a lay jury.