Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; (Hon. Stephen G. Milliken, Trial Judge)
Before Rogers, Chief Judge, and Terry And Sullivan, Associate Judges.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rogers
ROGERS, Chief Judge: Appellant Johnnie L. Edwards appeals his convictions *fn1 by a jury on the ground that the trial Judge erred in denying his motion to suppress the rifle and his statements to the police. He also contends that there was insufficient evidence to convict him in view of the evidence of self-defense. Finding these contentions unpersuasive, we affirm.
At the suppression hearing, the government's evidence showed that two police officers were patrolling in Southeast Washington, D.C., at 2:00 a.m. on September 28, 1990, when they were flagged down by witnesses who told them that a man running down the street had a rifle which he had used to threaten several people in the block and to chase a man named James Booker. The officers drove about seventy-five feet in the direction pointed out to them by the witnesses. There the police observed appellant enter a three-story building carrying a long-barrelled rifle. Officer Buresch announced, "Police officers. Hold on a minute. I want to talk to you." Appellant proceeded into the building. The officers got out of the car and followed him into the building; the latch on the front door had not caught behind appellant.
Officer Buresch observed appellant go up the stairs. He and another officer followed appellant, but they lost sight of him and paused on the second floor landing because it was dimly lit. Within a minute, while the officers were waiting for other police officers to arrive and as the backup units arrived, appellant reappeared, walking toward them, without the rifle. One of the officers took hold of appellant's arm and put his handgun back in its holster. The officer then inquired: "Mr. Edwards, where's the gun?" In response to a question whether appellant was free to leave at that point, the officer answered "No. He was being detained in the investigation of the possible weapons or assault charge from the weapon." Appellant's first response to the officer's question was, "I ain't got a gun." The officer then asked him, "where's the rifle?" and appellant replied, "it ain't a rifle. It's a machete."
Officer Sloan arrived with others as backup. Officer Buresch briefed him on where appellant went when he disappeared with the rifle. Sloan, using a flashlight, then searched the second floor.
He began by checking the door of the first apartment he came to and found it was secure, and he proceeded on to the second apartment door, No. 209. *fn2 He entered apartment 209 because the door was cracked open slightly and he could see a light inside. The apartment was deserted; the plaster was crumbling and there was no furniture except a table with beer cans and drug paraphernalia on it. Sloan saw a light and followed it down a hallway to a bathroom where he saw a rifle on the floor. He called the Crime Scene Search officer, and made no further search. Only minutes had elapsed from the time he had been briefed by Officer Buresch and his partner.
The apartment building, although partially occupied, was not a secure place. Vagrants and others broke into the building frequently. Of the twenty-eight apartments, three or four were occupied. Apartment 209 was not occupied, and appellant, the manager of the building, was not using the apartment to store his belongings. *fn3 Despite the fact that he had installed a padlock on the outside of the apartment, the padlock was missing on September 28th.
Appellant contends that the trial Judge erred by not suppressing the rifle. Assuming, without deciding, that appellant had standing to assert the claim, *fn4 we find no error by the trial Judge because the police actions fall within the exigent circumstances exception.
The officers' entry was proper under the exigent circumstances exception articulated in Warden, Maryland Penitentiary v. Hayden, 387 U.S. 294, 298-99, 18 L. Ed. 2d 782, 87 S. Ct. 1642 (1967). In that case, witnesses had followed a robber to a specific house. The police searched the house. The Court held that the search was constitutionally permissible because only a "thorough search of the house for persons and weapons could have insured that the defendant was the only man present and that the police had control of all weapons that could be used against them or to effect an escape." Hayden, supra, 387 U.S. at 299. See Ruth v. United States, 438 A.2d 1256, 1259 (D.C. 1981).
Here, the police were informed by citizens, including the person assaulted, that appellant had assaulted Mr. Booker with a rifle. The police followed appellant and observed him with the rifle. They identified themselves and asked him to stop. He ignored them. The police had at least reasonable suspicion to follow and detain appellant briefly in order to question him. See Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420, 439, 82 L. Ed. 2d 317, 104 S. Ct. 3138 (1984).
In view of what transpired, despite the fact that appellant was standing with some police officers, the situation remained exigent at the time Officer Sloan searched for the rifle. The police had seen appellant walk down the hall with a rifle and then return without the rifle. As a result, the police knew that there was an unattended rifle, which had been used in a recent crime, that could be found by someone else in the building, including a child, and used again to the detriment of the officers or the community. See Sturdivant v. United States, 551 A.2d 1338, 1342 (D.C. 1988), ...