Appeals Court Offers Reprieve to Pro Basketball Player

Nov 1, 2004

A Minnesota appeals court has found fault with a trial court’s decision to admit evidence in a civil assault and battery case against professional basketball player Khalid El-Amin. Thus, it reversed and remanded a jury’s verdict against the well-traveled NBA point guard.
El-Amin was allegedly riding a crowded elevator in the early morning hours of April 16, 2000 when another man, Curtis Frazier, sought to board the elevator. Some men sought to prevent the plaintiff’s entry. They allegedly pushed him into the lobby, where they punched and kicked him. The plaintiff claimed El-Amin was one of the assailants.
While El-Amin admitted that he was on the elevator, he denied that he assaulted Frazier.
The key evidence in the case was testimony from a security guard, who was watching through a real-time surveillance camera when two men carried the plaintiff away from the elevator by the arms and then kicked and punched him until he slumped against a wall.
The incident was also recorded on videotape. When other guards reviewed the tape, they claimed that one of the assailants resembled El-Amin. That tape was later ruined, meaning the plaintiff had to rely solely on the eye-witness account of the guards, who viewed the videotape. At trial, that testimony led to a verdict for Frazier. El-Amin appealed.
During the court’s review, it noted that the plaintiff was “intoxicated, and there is a tenable inference that his condition could have affected his ability to identify his assailants.”
But the real question on appeal centered on Minn. R. Evid. 602, which provides in part that “[a] witness may not testify to a matter unless evidence is introduced sufficient to support a finding that the witness has personal knowledge of the matter.”
The court wrote that “although (the guard) saw the assailants, he did not recognize either, and the physical description he gave did not fit El-Amin. He did not know El-Amin, did not recognize him, and only heard from another security guard that El-Amin was one of the assailants. Thus, even though Waters had firsthand knowledge of the incident, none of what he related in his testimony identifies El-Amin as one of the assailants.
“None of those witnesses met the rule 602 competency threshold because none had firsthand knowledge of the incident or of the identities of the assailants. The security guards were presented as the functional equivalent of eyewitnesses to an event that none actually witnessed. Thus, we conclude that it was an error of law for the court to receive such testimony in violation of rule 602.” Frazier v. El-Amin; Ct.App.Minn.; A03-1886;
Attorneys of Record: (for respondent) Loren H. Dorshow, Griffel & Dorshow, Chartered, Minnetonka, MN; and Michael A. Pinotti, Pinotti Law Offices, Vadnais Heights, MN. (for appellant) Jeffrey A. Hassan, Jeffrey A. Hassan, PLC, Brooklyn Park, MN.


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