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State v. Williams

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

August 15, 2017


          Heard in the Court of Appeals 3 April 2017.

         Appeal by Defendant from judgment entered 9 May 2016 by Judge Lisa C. Bell in Superior Court, Gaston County No. 14 CRS 056584.

          Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Assistant Attorney General Kristine M. Ricketts, for the State.

          Mary McCullers Reece for Defendant.


         Kwanissda Williams ("Defendant") appeals her convictions on charges of resisting a law enforcement officer ("resisting") and assault inflicting serious bodily injury on a law enforcement officer ("AISBI"). Defendant contends the trial court erred by denying her pretrial motion to suppress and her motions to dismiss. We hold that the trial court erred in denying Defendant's motion to dismiss the charge of AISBI, reverse, and remand for entry of judgment on assault of a law enforcement officer inflicting physical injury, but otherwise find no error.

         I. Background

         Officer Josh Smith ("Officer Smith") of the Gastonia Police Department was performing patrol duties on the evening of 11 June 2014. He received a "trespass call" from dispatch to respond to an incident at Power in the Word Ministries, a local homeless shelter ("the shelter") at approximately 9:45 p.m. The police dispatcher relayed that a woman "was refusing to leave the [shelter]."

         When Officer Smith arrived at the shelter, he made contact with the woman who "was in charge that night" ("shelter representative").[1] The shelter representative "pointed out [Defendant], wh[o] was down the street, " and told Officer Smith "that they wanted to trespass her."[2] Officer Smith testified:

Usually when a business wants to trespass someone they'll want to make sure they have all their information, their name, date of birth, in case they want to - if they come back they can go obtain a warrant for trespassing, which is second-degree trespass. And a lot of times we'll go and we'll try and get that information.

         The shelter representative identified Defendant as "Kwani, " and Defendant was seen walking down the street away from the shelter.

         Officer Smith pulled up alongside Defendant in his police vehicle, approximately 200 yards from the shelter, with the intent to investigate and potentially "trespass" Defendant from the shelter. Officer Smith "got out of [his vehicle], and began speaking with" Defendant. Officer Smith noticed that Defendant was "clearly agitated at the event, " and seemed uncomfortable speaking with him. Officer Smith testified that Defendant was

[p]acing back and forth, you know, when I was trying to speak with her she had her voice raised, agitated. I actually had to tell her, hey, come back and speak with me, you know, they are wanting to trespass you and I need to speak with you and get some information from you.

         Officer Smith testified that, when he asked Defendant her name, she hesitated, but then stated that her name was "Brenda Smith, " which conflicted with the name "Kwani" that had been provided by the shelter representative. Officer Smith asked Defendant where she was from and again she hesitated, then said "Florida." Officer Smith testified that, based on his training and experience, he believed Defendant's hesitation and demeanor indicated she had given him false information, and he confronted Defendant about whether she had given him a false name. Officer Smith testified he informed Defendant that he needed to obtain her information in order to "trespass" her from the shelter and once she provided that information, she would be free to go.

         Officer Smith testified Defendant became more agitated and began to walk away from him, back toward the shelter, yelling: "Jesus, Jesus." Officer Smith testified that he "requested another officer, " and told Defendant "until I can positively identify you I'm going to detain you." Defendant responded by saying "f_ck you" to Officer Smith. At that point, Officer Smith requested that Defendant put her hands behind her back, saying: "I'm going to detain you until I figure out who you are." Officer Smith placed his hands on Defendant to begin putting her in handcuffs, but she pulled away from him and continued walking in the direction of the shelter. Officer Smith then informed Defendant she was under arrest for resisting a police officer, but Defendant continued to walk away from him. At this time, "[i]nstead of using anything [Officer Smith] decided just to take [Defendant] to the ground gently by just the leg sweep. [He] grabbed her about her shoulders, and . . . [placed his] foot, and . . . just guided her to the ground. And that's whe[n] the assault began."

         Officer Smith and Defendant both landed on the pavement, with Officer Smith's arm next to Defendant's head. Officer Smith testified that, at that point, Defendant bit him in the middle of his left forearm and he experienced "instant . . . significant pain[, ]" during which time Defendant was "tugging and pulling" on Officer Smith's arm so that he was "seeing the skin get stretched beyond what it usually gets stretched." However, the skin on Officer Smith's arm was not removed, and the muscle underneath was not exposed. Officer Smith began "to knee" Defendant and applied pressure to Defendant's jaw in order to get her to release her bite, which Defendant eventually did, but Defendant then bit Officer Smith's arm again. At that point, Officer Smith struck Defendant in her face with his elbow three times, which caused Defendant to release her bite. Officer Smith estimated the incident lasted thirty to forty-five seconds, and testified that no back-up arrived before the end of the incident. Once Officer Smith was able to break free from Defendant, he jumped on top of her, and "[a]t this point [his] secondary officers had showed up" and they were able to subdue Defendant.

         Emergency Medical Services ("EMS") arrived at the scene. Officer Smith testified that his arm was red and bleeding from a wound about an "inch in circumference[.]" Officer Smith testified that, in addition to the bite mark, he sustained "a couple scratches . . . on the side of [his] face" that required no medical attention. Once EMS arrived at the scene, Officer Smith testified they "just disinfected [the bite wound], really." Officer Smith engaged in the following colloquy at trial:

Q. Were you then directed to, by either EMS or your supervisor, to go to the hospital for treatment?
A. Yes, ma'am.
Q. Is that part of the standard procedure, or treatment procedure, or exposure procedure?
A. Yes, ma'am.
Q. And did you receive any further treatment at the hospital?
A. Yes, ma'am. Any time we get exposed, whether it be needles, bites, stuff like that, we have go through a procedure through the hospital. They draw your blood initially to see if there's anything already there. They also do random drug testing. And while there I believe I got a Tetanus shot. And was basically sent home.
Q. And did you go home or go back on duty?
A. I went to the station in order to do paperwork.

         Officer Smith's wound did not require stitches, but he was provided a prescription for a "prophylactic" and checked every three months for a nine-month period to insure he had not contracted any disease, which he did not. The following day, Officer Smith returned to work.

         Photos taken "a day or so" after the incident were introduced into evidence and showed that Officer Smith's "forearm [was] swollen from the bite mark compared to [his] left. [He] believe[d] there [was] a second [photo] . . . comparing both [his] arms somewhere, maybe." Additional photographs of Officer Smith's injury were introduced, including one where he had "put some ointment on" the injury to facilitate healing, and that photo "show[ed] bruising to begin." Three days after the incident, Officer Smith took photographs of his injury that depicted "bruising of [his] entire forearm." Officer Smith took additional photographs over the next few weeks that showed "some healing" followed by the injury being "scabbed over, " and finally "the beginning scarring, and healing." Officer Smith testified the bite left a permanent "discoloration of [his] skin on [his] forearm . . . in the shape of a [one-inch diameter] bite mark."

         Defendant was indicted on 7 July 2014 for assault on a law enforcement officer inflicting serious bodily injury and resisting, delaying, and obstructing a law enforcement officer. Defendant filed a pretrial motion to suppress all evidence obtained pursuant to the 11 June 2014 stop, arguing that Officer Smith lacked reasonable suspicion to detain her, which the trial court denied by order entered 13 April 2016. At trial, Defendant made a motion to dismiss at the close of the State's evidence and at the close of all the evidence, both of which the trial court denied.

         A jury convicted Defendant on 15 April 2016 of resisting and AISBI. Defendant was sentenced to ten to twenty-one months' imprisonment. Defendant appeals.

         II. Motion to Suppress

         Defendant argues the trial court erred because it failed to hear sworn testimony before denying her motion to suppress as required by N.C. ...

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