Black man sued a white police officer alleging excessive use of force during a late-night altercation in a convenience store. T.H. was the only Black juror but she is light-skinned and said the other jurors spoke freely around her because they thought she was Hispanic. T.H. said other jurors consistently referred to the plaintiff as a "crackhead" and heroin user, as an alcoholic, and said he only filed the suit to get money. She also said they believed the white police officer’s attorneys because they were White and referred to the black plaintiff’s attorneys as the “Cosby Show,” because they were black. When T.H. told other jurors their job was to decide the plaintiff’s excessive force claim, the jurors “kept saying he just wants money; he’s a crackhead; he’s an alcoholic; look at his wife, she’s nodding off; she looks like she’s on heroin.” Jury returns verdict in favor of white officer. Plaintiff files motion for a new trial. District court denies it.
Sixth Circuit: Jury deliberations are sacrosanct unless evidence of racial bias is shown. The jury’s “wholly unsupported belief” that the plaintiff and his partner were hard drug users “demonstrates overt racial bias” and the “Cosby Show” reference “only bolsters this conclusion.” “Because Pena-Rodriguez held that the no-impeachment rule has no place when it comes to evidence of racial bias, and considering the Supreme Court’s precedent establishing the need to eliminate racial discrimination from the civil courtroom, we hold that the no-impeachment rule must give way to evidence of racial bias in civil cases.” But to win, one must show jurors’ racial animus was the motivating factor in reaching their verdict. We need more information. Reversed and remanded.
The case is Harden v. Hillman No. 20-5056 (Apr. 6, 2021).