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Brown v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

October 31, 2016

Lance E. Brown, Appellant-Defendant,
State of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff

         Appeal from the Wayne Superior Court The Honorable Charles K. Todd, Jr., Judge, Trial Court Cause No. 89D01-1412-F5-104

          Attorneys for Appellant Susan D. Rayl Indianapolis, Indiana, Michael Ray Smith Fishers, Indiana.

          Attorneys for Appellee Gregory F. Zoeller Attorney General of Indiana Lyubov Gore Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana.

          MATHIAS, JUDGE.

         [¶1] Lance E. Brown ("Brown") was convicted in Wayne Superior Court of battering a public safety officer, a Level 6 felony, by resisting the entry into his Richmond home by two officers ("the Officers") of the Richmond Police Department ("RPD"). Brown appeals his conviction as unsupported by evidence sufficient to rebut his affirmative defenses of self-defense and defense of his dwelling, and challenges the trial court's interpretation of applicable statutes.

         [¶2] We affirm.[1]

         Facts and Procedural Posture

         [¶3] On December 23, 2014, Brown owned a home in Richmond, Indiana, which he was in the process of renovating. Brown kept a large stock of valuable material used in the renovation stored in his house and in a freestanding garage at the edge of his back yard. The neighborhood had a good deal of crime and poverty. Brown, having repelled several break-in attempts in the past, including one on the day in question, was wary of trespassers.

         [¶4] Across a narrow alley from Brown's back yard, Savannah Moore ("Moore") and Matt Smith ("Smith") were renting a home together, the back yard of which faced Brown's. They had recently moved in and not yet met Brown. On December 23, 2014, between 5:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m., Moore was alone in her back yard, cleaning up trash scattered by her dogs. Moore noticed that Brown was observing her from his property across the alley. "Do you need something?" asked Moore. "Do you need something?" countered Brown. "No, " said Moore, and continued her work. Tr. p. 13.

         [¶5] Hearing voices outside, Smith came out of the house and joined Moore, his girlfriend at the time, in the clean-up effort. Smith grew irritated at Brown's surveillance. "What's your problem, man?" Smith asked Brown. Id. at 14. A heated argument followed. Brown, unaware of Smith and Moore's recent occupancy, accused the pair of trespassing to their property and his, which they denied.

         [¶6] "Come across the alley, " said Brown. "You want me to come across the alley?" asked Smith. "Yeah, " replied Brown, "I do. I've got something for you. I'll blow your brains out." Id. at 17. Alarmed, Moore told Brown she would call the police. "Go ahead, " Brown laughed. Id. at 32. Having reported several break-ins to the RPD without satisfying results, Brown had little expectation the department would respond.

         [¶7] During this confrontation, each side stayed on their respective properties. Brown never advanced toward Moore or Smith, or made any physically threatening gesture. However, Brown kept at least one hand in his pants pocket throughout. From this fact and from Brown's threat, Moore suspected, but never observed, that Brown was concealing a gun as he spoke with her. As promised, Moore went inside with Smith and called the police.

         [¶8] Sometime after sunset, RPD Officer David Spradling ("Spradling") responded to Moore's report, first interviewing Moore and Smith at their home. Spradling heard from Moore that she had been threatened, that she was upset by Brown's words, conduct, and demeanor, and that she suspected he had been armed during their confrontation. Spradling left Moore's residence intending to hear Brown's account and achieve a peaceful resolution to the dispute. By then, it was evening and very dark.

         [¶9] As he approached Brown's front door, Spradling was joined by RPD Officer Jonathan Huth ("Huth"). Huth wore a body camera he had purchased privately and used on his own initiative.[2] The Officers stood on Brown's unlit porch, Spradling in front and Huth behind, the only light coming from a table lamp in the living room of Brown's home and the Christmas lights of neighboring homes. Spradling knocked on the front door without announcing himself. "What's this guy's deal?" Huth asked Spradling as they waited for Brown to receive them. State's Ex. 1 00:21. Spradling briefly relayed to Huth the substance of Moore's report, including her suspicion that Brown was armed.

         [¶10] Through Brown's glass storm door and half-glass front door, Spradling observed Brown come down a flight of stairs while Huth scanned the area behind them. The stairs descended from right to left, from the Officers' perspective, and ended just a few feet from the front door. Brown's right side was therefore hidden from the Officers' view as he approached. "He's got his hand behind his back, " Spradling told Huth. Id. at 00:32.

         [¶11] Brown opened the front door, holding open the storm door with his left hand while resting his right behind the door jamb, out of the Officers' view. "What do you have behind your back there, sir?" asked Spradling. Id. at 00:39. "Nothing, " Brown replied. "It's lying on the counter right now and it's a .357"-a popular caliber of handgun. Id. at 00:42. "Why don't you show me your hands, " said Huth, nearly before Brown had finished his sentence. Id. at 00:46. Brown, without complying, began to reply, but Huth immediately interrupted him, his voice rising: "Hands ...

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