Expert Article Library

Take My Word for It, the Police Officer Was at Fault

Case Name: Thomas v. City of Chattanooga

Court: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit; on appeal from Eastern District of Tennessee

Date: February 9, 2005

Expert: Police operations. Phillip Davidson

Issues: When experts give non-scientific testimony, do they have to back that up with a detailed explanation of how they reached their conclusions, or is it enough for them to simply state their conclusions?

Summary of case: When called upon twice the same day to look into reports of disorder at Mr. and Mrs. Thomas’ home, a police officer saw Mr. Thomas point a gun at his wife. Fearing that Mrs. Thomas was in imminent danger, the officer shot Mr. Thomas in the back and arm. Mr. Thomas survived, but is partially disabled. The Thomases claim that they were merely organizing Mr. Thomas’ gun collection, and that the Chattanooga Police Department had a policy, custom, or practice of condoning excessive force.

Role of the expert: Mr. Davidson testified for plaintiffs.

Expert analysis: Plaintiffs claimed that because their expert gave non-scientific testimony, he was allowed to rely solely on his experience and assurances of reliability in order to explain his conclusions, which is not enough to meet the requirements for scientific testimony under Daubert.

The Court of Appeals found that lower courts have some flexibility in deciding when to apply the rules for scientific testimony. However, even though a case involves non-scientific information, an expert witness must always explain how he or she came to his/her conclusions and not merely ask the court to in effect “take the expert’s word for it”, as Mr. Davidson had here.

Summary prepared by M. Dellinger, Student, Golden Gate University School of Law