United States District Court, D. Maryland
TOWHEE A. SPARROW, JR.
CITY OF ANNAPOLIS MD, et al.
CATHERINE C. BLAKE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
6, 2018, a jury returned a verdict in favor of the
defendants, the City of Annapolis and several police
officers, against the plaintiff, Towhee Sparrow, Jr., on
various federal and state law claims arising out of Mr.
Sparrow's detention by the officers on June 5, 2014. Mr.
Sparrow, who was released without charges after eyewitnesses
brought to the scene advised police he was not the man for
whom they were looking, suffered injuries in the course of
the detention. The cause and extent of those injuries, and
the reasonableness of the officers' actions, were
disputed throughout the trial.
Sparrow timely moved for a new trial on several grounds. The
issues have been fully briefed and are discussed below.
defendants exercised only one of their four peremptory
strikes. As proffered by defense counsel at the bench, this
panel member, an African-American male, had previously served
on a jury that, like this one, involved a question of
mistaken identity. Counsel thus established a race-neutral
reason for the strike. See United States v. Singh,
518 F.3d 236, 255 (4th Cir. 2008).
gist of the plaintiffs Batson claim appears to be
that, because defense counsel did not use his other
peremptory strikes against Caucasian members on the panel,
the jury complement was filled before reaching two
African-American women who appeared later on the list.
without deciding that the plaintiff has not waived his
Batson challenge, he has nevertheless offered no
legal authority to support such a claim. Batson is
intended to prevent purposely using peremptory strikes to
remove African-Americans (or other members of a cognizable
group) from a jury panel. Defense counsel proffered a
race-neutral reason for the one strike he exercised.
Plaintiffs counsel apparently suggests that defense counsel
should have struck unobjectionable Caucasian jurors who
happened to be higher on the list simply to ensure that the
other African-American jurors were reached. While a more
diverse panel may have been preferable, Batson does
not contemplate or likely even permit such action.
Weight of the Evidence
awarded a new trial, the plaintiff must show that the
jury's verdict "(1)[ ] is against the clear weight
of the evidence; (2) is based on false evidence; or (3) will
result in a miscarriage of justice." Minter v. Wells
Fargo Bank, N.A., 762 F.3d 339, 346 (4th Cir. 2014)
(internal citation and quotation marks omitted); Fed.R.Civ.P.
plaintiff has made no such showing. As noted, the cause and
extent of his injuries were disputed. The jury was entitled
to and did draw its own inferences based on testimony found
to be credible. The plaintiff is not correct that the jury
was required to accept the medical experts' opinions
simply because the defendants proffered no medical evidence
to the contrary. Rather, the defendants relied on
inconsistencies between the plaintiffs version of events and
those of others on the scene as well as inconsistencies in
statements by the plaintiff to other medical providers.
Because the testifying doctors' opinions rested on the
accuracy of the plaintiffs statements, all made some time
after June 5, 2014, the jury was entitled not to accept the
doctors' causation opinions. For similar reasons, the
court was not required to give the plaintiffs proffered jury
instructions Nos. 8 and 9. Those proposals were either
inaccurate or fairly covered by the instructions that were
the plaintiff proffers inadmissible hearsay through
counsel's affidavit about what a co-worker of Juror No. 5
told counsel about what Juror No. 5 allegedly said during a
conversation at work. Such evidence, even directly from the
juror, would not be admissible to impeach the verdict.
See Fed. R. Evid. 606(b)(1). The matters allegedly
overheard do not rise to the level of extraneous prejudicial
information, outside influence, or racial bias. Fed.R.Evid.
606(b)(2); Pena-Rodriquez v. Colorado, 137 S.Ct.
855, 869 (2017). An internet search that revealed
counsel's judicial office may well have been done after
the verdict was returned; nor is it clear why this piece of
immaterial information would have prejudiced the plaintiff in
any way even if the search were done prior to the verdict.
Cf. United States v. Lawson, 677 F.3d 629, 645 (4th
Cir. 2012) (presuming prejudice where juror consulted
dictionary for definition of a material term). The
unsubstantiated hearsay proffered by plaintiffs counsel does
not warrant any relief.
summary, while it is both undisputed and unfortunate that the
officers temporarily detained the plaintiff, who had done
nothing wrong, a fully and fairly instructed jury was
entitled to, and did, resolve credibility disputes in favor
of the defendants. Their decision was not against the clear
weight of the evidence, was not based on false evidence, and
does not constitute a miscarriage of justice. The motion for
new trial will be denied by a separate Order which follows.