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Holmes v. Slay

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 10, 2018

Michael James Holmes Plaintiff- Appellee
v.
Mayor Francis G. Slay, In his official capacity as a member of the Board of Police Commissioners of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.; Bettye Battle-Turner, In her official capacity as a member of the Board of Police Commissioners of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department; Col. Richard Gray, In his official capacity as a member of the Board of Police Commissioners of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.; Chief Jerome D. Lee, In his official capacity as a member of the Board of Police Commissioners of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.; Col. Thomas Irwin, In his official capacity as a member of the Board of Police Commissioners of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. Defendants Bobby Lee Garrett, In his official capacity as a member of the Board of Police Commissioners of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and individually; Shell Sharp, In his official capacity as a member of the Board of Police Commissioners of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, and individually. Defendants - Appellants

          Submitted: January 11, 2018

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri - St. Louis

          Before LOKEN, GRUENDER, and KELLY, Circuit Judges.

          KELLY, CIRCUIT JUDGE

         In 2006, Michael Holmes was convicted of possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute and possession of firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. We affirmed those convictions on appeal. United States v. Holmes (Holmes I), 231 Fed.Appx. 535 (8th Cir. 2007) (per curiam). However, Holmes's story did not end there. Bobby Garrett and Shell Sharp, two of the officers involved in the arrest and prosecution of Holmes, were investigated for repeated misconduct.[1] See Holmes v. United States (Holmes II), No. 4:08-CV-1142, 2011 WL 4445702, at *3 (E.D. Mo. Sept. 26, 2011). Garrett was federally prosecuted, and Sharp resigned from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). Holmes then filed a motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 seeking to vacate, set aside or correct his sentence. The district court granted the motion to vacate because "the witnesses [Garrett and Sharp] ha[d] now been discredited and the government would not have been able to meet its burden of proof with the remaining evidence." Id. The government elected not to retry the case, and the indictment was dismissed. Holmes then sought a certificate of innocence under 28 U.S.C § 2513 and, simultaneously but separately, filed the instant case suing Garrett and Sharp-among others-under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The district court denied Holmes's a certificate of innocence because, it concluded, he "ha[d] not met his burden of proving actual innocence." Holmes v. United States (Holmes III), No. 4:08-CV-1142, 2015 WL 6702269 at *3 (E.D. Mo. Nov. 3, 2015), appeals pending, Nos. 16-1078 & 17-2583 (8th Cir. argued Mar. 14, 2018).

         In the instant case-in which Holmes alleges conspiracy to violate his civil rights under § 1983, and malicious prosecution and false imprisonment under Missouri law-the district court[2] dismissed all claims against members of the Board of Police Commissioners of the MPD based on pre-trial motions, but allowed the claims against Garrett and Sharp (collectively, the officers) to proceed to trial. On March 4, 2016, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Holmes on all counts and awarded him $2.5 million. The officers now appeal. They argue that the district court abused its discretion in excluding the facts and circumstances of Holmes's prior, unrelated drug trafficking conviction and admitting testimony by his expert witnesses. They also assert that they were entitled to judgment as a matter of law on certain claims and that the district court erred when instructing the jury.

         I.

         On December 9, 2003, Holmes was present at 5894 Cates Avenue in St. Louis, Missouri, when the police searched the house and arrested him. At trial in this case, the parties gave divergent accounts of what happened that day.[3] a. Holmes's Account

         Michael Holmes woke up at the house he shared with his fiancée in Ferguson, Missouri. He prepared breakfast and dropped the kids off at school before going to do volunteer work for a local music group. However, he got a phone call from his cousin asking him to meet up in St. Louis, so he headed instead to the house at 5894 Cates Avenue, where his grandmother lived. She had also previously owned the home. Holmes knew the house well because he too had lived there (with his mother) on two separate occasions, but he had not resided at 5894 Cates Avenue since February 2002. Holmes, therefore, had no belongings at the house. When he arrived, Holmes went to the third floor and visited with his uncle, his cousins, and his cousins' friends. He also spent some time with his grandmother downstairs.

         While Holmes was there, MPD conducted a search of the house. Holmes was using the third-floor bathroom when he heard footsteps coming up the stairs. When he walked out of the bathroom, he "ran straight into a police officer." The officer placed him under arrest and handcuffed him, as other officers came up the stairs. Holmes was taken to the police station where he was questioned-first by Sharp and then by Garrett-and released after he signed a property release form stating that none of the items seized from the house belonged to him. He was told that he should never go back to that house, but that, by signing the form and indicating that he had nothing to do with anything found in the house, that "was the end of it all." Two weeks later, Holmes was pulled over for a routine traffic stop and arrested on a warrant related to the search at 5894 Cates Avenue.

         b. Sharp & Garrett's Account[4]

         On that same morning, Sharp received a tip about potential drug activity at 5894 Cates Avenue. Sharp and his partner, Alan Ray, sought aid in conducting surveillance because they were in uniform at the time. Garrett, an undercover officer with the narcotics unit at the time, was assigned to help them. Sharp and Garrett knew each other, having worked together in the past. They drove to Cates Avenue in Garrett's unmarked vehicle. Over the course of their hour-long stake-out, they witnessed multiple hand-to-hand drug transactions conducted by a man in a yellow tracksuit whom they later identified as Holmes. The officers met with supervisors and other officers at a nearby location to discuss the results of the surveillance, and then returned to the house. Holmes's grandmother answered the door when they knocked, and she consented to the search.

         Once inside the house, Sharp saw the same man he had seen outside the house (Holmes) coming down the stairs holding a brown paper bag. When the man saw the officers, he dropped the paper bag and fled up the stairs to the third floor, where he was apprehended. Sharp seized the bag, which contained two clear plastic baggies containing a white, rock-like substance that he believed to be crack cocaine. Also in the house, officers recovered a shotgun, a rifle, glass test tubes, a roasting pan, more plastic baggies and rubber bands, a digital scale, an ounce of heroin, and some mail addressed to Holmes. Holmes was removed from the residence in handcuffs and taken to the police station where Sharp booked him. After Holmes was released, Sharp obtained a warrant for his arrest. Holmes was ultimately indicted by a federal grand jury on drug and firearms charges. He was tried and convicted in June 2006.

         c. 2016 Trial

         At trial in this case, Holmes, Sharp, and Garrett all testified at length and were subjected to substantial cross-examination. The jury also heard testimony from a number of other witnesses: Hal Goldsmith, the former Assistant U.S. Attorney who prosecuted Garrett; the MPD internal affairs officer who investigated Sharp; two former MPD officers who had been involved in Holmes's December 9, 2003, arrest; a clinical ...


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