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State v. West

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

August 2, 2016

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
DEVONTE WEST

          Argued May 11, 2016

         Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of New London, geographical area number ten, Newson, J.

          Daniel J. Krisch, assigned counsel, for the appellant (defendant).

          Laurie N. Feldman, special deputy assistant state’s attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Michael L. Regan, state’s attorney, and Rafael I. Bustamante, assistant state’s attorney, for the appellee (state).

          Lavine, Beach and Bishop, Js.

          OPINION

          LAVINE, J.

         The defendant, Devonte West, appeals from the judgment of conviction, rendered after a jury trial, on one count of assault on a public safety officer in violation of General Statutes § 53a-167c (a) (5), one count of interfering with an officer in violation of General Statutes § 53a-167a, and one count of breach of the peace in the second degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-181 (a) (1). On appeal, the defendant claims that the trial court erred when it (1) failed to charge the jury on the quality of the police investigation, and (2) implied at sentencing that it was penalizing the defendant for asserting his constitutional right to stand trial. We disagree and, therefore, affirm the judgment of the court.

         The jury reasonably could have found the following facts. On June 16, 2013, at approximately 10:30 p.m., John Michaud, an officer of the New London Police Department (department), responded to a harassment call that did not implicate the defendant. The complainant claimed that her father, Kenneth Hack, who lived at 57 Jay Street, sent her harassing text messages and phone calls. Michaud requested police assistance and went to 57 Jay Street, a third floor residence in a duplex. The front door opened into a vestibule that separated the front door from a locked interior door.

         In response to Michaud’s request, Deena Knott, Jeremy Zelinski, and Brian Griffin, all officers of the department, arrived at the scene. All four officers were wearing their police issued uniforms. Michaud and Knott opened the front door but could not open the interior door. Through the window of the interior door, Michaud could see the defendant. Michaud knocked on the window, but before he could announce why he was there, the defendant profanely stated that he was not going to let the officers inside the building because they did not have a warrant. One of the officers stated that they were not there for the defendant, but the defendant refused to open the interior door and walked away. When the officer again told the defendant that they were not there to speak with him, the defendant again yelled obscenities at the officers and told them to leave.

         Hack soon left the apartment, was arrested, and was placed in a police cruiser. At this point, Robert Pickett, a detective sergeant in the department, arrived. While Hack was being arrested, the defendant stood on the front step of the residence, continuing to yell obscenities at the officers. As the police officers prepared to leave, a minivan sped onto Jay Street and stopped in the middle of the road alongside the police cruisers. The defendant’s mother, Henrietta Adger, exited the front passenger seat and ran to the cruiser Hack was sitting in, asking why the police had arrested her son. She realized that the defendant was not in the cruiser, but she told the officers that they had no business being on her property. When Michaud began to issue the operator of the van a motor vehicle violation, Adger became irate and yelled obscenities at the officers. Pickett and Griffin struggled with Adger to take her into custody.

         While Adger was being arrested, the defendant continued to yell and scream obscenities from the front steps. At one point, he went down the stairs while shouting at the officers. Michaud and Zelinski, who thought that the defendant was going to interfere with the arrest, approached him. The defendant retreated up the stairs. Michaud stood at the bottom of the stairs, while the defendant shouted at Michaud to stop beating his mother. The defendant also entreated Michaud to shoot him. At one point, Michaud thought that the defendant was going to charge down the stairs toward him.

         Knott came over next to Michaud and told the defendant to go back into the apartment. The defendant came halfway down the stairs and spat on or toward Knott.[1] The defendant then ran up the stairs into the vestibule and shut the front door behind him. One of the officers kicked in the front door. When the officers attempted to arrest him, the defendant fought back by flailing his arms and kicking his legs. The officers struggled to arrest the defendant. When they were on the front lawn, the defendant failed to respond to a Taser warning. Pickett then tasered the defendant. The officers eventually were able to subdue the defendant and take him into custody. He was charged with two counts of assaulting a public safety officer, one count of interfering with an officer, and one count of breach of the peace in the second degree.

         At trial, the state presented its evidence through four of the five officers who were present at the scene. On cross-examination, defense counsel highlighted numerous alleged deficiencies in the police investigation. The defendant called five witnesses, including an expert witness, Bryce Linskey, who testified that the police investigation of the defendant’s arrest was not consistent with good police practice. Linskey also testified that it was possible that the defendant had no intent to kick and flail, but did so because he was tasered. In addition, the defendant testified that he had had prior negative experiences with the police.[2] He, however, admitted that he spat at Knott.

         The jury found the defendant guilty of three of the four charges, acquitting him of one count of assaulting a public safety officer. On December 5, 2014, the court sentenced the defendant to three years incarceration, execution suspended after nine months, and two years of probation. This appeal followed. Additional facts and procedural history will be set forth as necessary to address the defendant’s claims.

         I

         The defendant first claims that the court improperly declined to charge the jury on the quality of the police investigation. The defendant argues that he presented evidence calling the adequacy of the police investigation into question in an effort to create reasonable doubt as to his guilt. The defendant argues that, as a matter of law, he ...


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