Court Re-opens Discovery Regarding Possible Spoliation of Police Brutality Video Evidence
In Beck et. al. v. Baker et. al., Case NO. 14-67 (D. N.M., Aug. 9, 2016), an excessive force, unreasonable seizure, and retaliation case brought against Defendant police officers, the District of New Mexico considered possible spoliation of video evidence. Plaintiffs were warned by police when their neighbor accused them of harassment. After police left, the neighbor called again and accused Plaintiff Jillian Beck of leaving a harassing note. The police officers returned along with Defendant Baker, and Mrs. Beck was arrested. During the arrest, she fell in landscaping rocks and broke her nose. She also injured her wrist. Her husband and child, the other Plaintiffs, witnessed the incident.
Defendant Campa arrested Plaintiff Andrew Beck for obstructing an officer. During the incident, the officers used the infrared targeting lights on their tasers but did not deploy an electrical discharge. The tasers contained cameras, which videos, per department policy, were only kept if an electrical discharge occurred. Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants pointed the targeting lights of the tasers at them and that they captured video recordings of the incident. During suit, Plaintiffs sought production of the videos, but Defendants asserted that they had not been preserved. Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Sanctions for spoliation of video evidence, arguing that Defendants had a duty to preserve the videos that were now unavailable. Defendants countered that there was no willful spoliation and that any loss of video footage was due to the department’s taser maintenance policies and was therefore negligent. Defendants’ agents signed sworn affidavits testifying about the search for the taser videos. Defendants also argued that the videos would not support Plaintiffs’ claim even if they were available, as their eyewitness testimony conflicted with Plaintiffs’ testimony. Further, Defendants argued, any video would show that there was no excessive force. Defendants also pointed out that between the incident and the filing of the suit, Plaintiffs had a year to conduct investigations and they did not request the taser videos.
The court found that Defendants were on notice that litigation was imminent; however, the court found that it was unclear whether Plaintiffs were prejudiced by the loss of the videos. The court reopened limited discovery to allow Plaintiffs to take limited depositions about the missing videos. The court held that Plaintiffs could file a new motion if they found that they were prejudiced by the missing information.