Juvenile’s attorney wants school records, arrest history excluded in trial

A lawyer for a juvenile who was allegedly beaten at the youth detention center wants a federal judge to prohibit testimony at an upcoming trial about the boy’s school disciplinary record, his arrest and alleged gang affiliation.

Chaderious Avery and his mother, Karen Walls, filed a federal lawsuit against Roderick Shelby, who was chief of staff for Juvenile Judge Earnest E. Brown Jr., alleging Shelby beat Avery while escorting him out of the courtroom and back to the detention center part of the facility April 18, 2011.

The trial is currently scheduled for the week of Dec. 17 at the U.S. District Court at Pine Bluff.

The lawsuit later added Jefferson County Sheriff Gerald Robinson because Shelby was also a part-time sheriff’s deputy, and the detention center part of the facility is operated by the sheriff’s department. Avery and Walls allege that Robinson failed to train and supervise Shelby, resulting in the confrontation between Shelby and Avery.

Fayetteville attorney Jason Boyeskie, who is representing Avery, filed three separate motions asking for the exclusions of the child’s school disciplinary record, information on his arrest and his alleged gang affiliation.

Boyeskie argued that any testimony regarding those issues would be prohibited under federal rules of evidence and would unfairly prejudice and mislead the jury.

Regarding school discipline, Boyeskie said he believes that Shelby will try to introduce testimony and evidence that Avery was expelled from the Dollarway School District due to fighting.

“The only use that such evidence has would be to use it to attempt to demonstrate that Mr. Avery has a propensity for fighting in his character, or that because he engaged in a fight in the past. It would therefore be more likely that he started a fight with Shelby on April 18, 2011,” Boyeskie said in the court filing.

As far as the charges that resulted in Avery being locked up in the juvenile center, Boyeskie said Shelby had indicated he would introduce evidence that Avery had been charged with aggravated home invasion in his pretrial disclosure sheet that was filed Nov. 29.

“The only use that such evidence has would be to use it to attempt to demonstrate that Mr. Avery would have a propensity for violent behavior in his character, or that because he was facing charges for a violent crime, it was more likely that he started a fight with Shelby on April 11, 2011,” Boyeskie said in the court filing.

Finally, regarding the gang affiliation, Boyeskie said during Avery’s deposition, Avery claimed he was a member of the Crips gang, and that should also be excluded.

“Avery asserts claims of battery, assault and use of excessive force under the Constitutions of the State of Arkansas and the United States of America,” Boyeskie said in the filing. “None of those claims relate in any way to gang membership, nor is there any counter-claim against Avery that would relate to said membership.

“The admission of this evidence would presumably be sought in order to poison the jury into thinking that, because Avery was a gang member, he would deserve any beating that he received,” Boyeskie said. “As gang membership has a negative connotation, informing the jury of Mr. Avery’s affiliation would unfairly prejudice the jury against him.”

In addition to possibly tainting the jury’s opinion of Avery, Boyeskie said such testimony would be inadmissible under Federal Rules of Evidence, “as neither Avery’s character nor any specific character trait is an essential element of any of his claims.”

Last week, Judge Kristine Baker, who will preside at the trial, rejected defense motions to throw out the official capacity claims against Shelby and Robinson, ruling that there were still material issues of fact to be decided, specifically, the training requirements for juvenile detention center employees was different from probation officers like Shelby and whether Robinson’s failure to require similar training “amounts to deliberate indifference.”

A claim of qualified immunity by Robinson was also turned down by the judge.

Last year, Prosecuting Attorney S. Kyle Hunter said he would not file criminal charges against Shelby as a result of the incident.

“From analyzing the video evidence in conjunction with witness statements and my own interview of witnesses, there is not sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Shelby committed a criminal battery,” Hunter said. “Therefore, no criminal charges will be filed in this matter and due to the pending civil litigation, it would not be proper for me to comment further.”

Avery and his mother are seeking compensatory and punitive damages, as well as attorney fees, and a jury trial.