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Gatlin v. United State

October 16, 2003


Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (F10945-96, F10946-96 and F10896-96) (Hon. Truman A. Morrison III, Trial Judge)

Before Schwelb, Reid and Glickman, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reid, Associate Judge

Argued March 7, 2002

Appellants Brenda Gatlin, Serena Smith, and Mary A.T. Anigbo, employees of a District of Columbia charter school at the time of their arrests, appeal their convictions on various charges growing out of confrontations and altercations with a newspaper reporter, a photographer, and two police officers, on the premises of the school. *fn1 They were charged in a six-count indictment. In count one, Ms. Gatlin, Dr. Anigbo and Ms. Smith were accused of assaulting the reporter, in violation of D.C. Code § 22-504 (1996); Ms. Smith was acquitted of this charge and both Ms. Gatlin and Dr. Anigbo were found guilty. *fn2 Count two specified that Ms. Gatlin and Dr. Anigbo took property ("a notepad") belonging to the reporter without right, in violation of § 22-3816; they were found guilty. Ms. Gatlin was adjudged guilty of count three, assault on the photographer, in violation of § 22-504. Ms. Smith was acquitted of count four, taking property without right belonging to the photographer. Dr. Anigbo and Ms. Smith were found guilty of assaults on two police officers, in violation of § 22-504. *fn3

On appeal, the appellants raise challenges primarily claiming that the trial court (1) erred in denying their motions to suppress; (2) improperly denied Dr. Anigbo's and Ms. Gatlin's defense of property defense; and (3) made clearly erroneous factual findings regarding some of the charges. We conclude that the trial court did not err in denying their motions to suppress, because appellants did not have standing to challenge the validity of the search and seizure by law enforcement officers. We affirm the convictions of Dr. Anigbo and Ms. Smith for the assaults of two police officers inside the school's main office or its doorway, as well as the conviction of Ms. Gatlin for the assault of the newspaper photographer. In doing so, we hold that these appellants were not entitled to the defense of property defense where the police officers were engaged in the investigation of com plaints about alleged criminal conduct, and where the appellants could have requested the assistance of the police in ejecting any person who unlawfully was on the school premises. Furthermore, we affirm the convictions of Dr. Anigbo and Ms. Gatlin on charges of taking property without right, because the trial court's finding that the notebook belonged to the newspaper reporter was not clearly erroneous. Finally, we affirm the convictions of Dr. Anigbo and Ms. Gatlin for the assault on the newspaper reporter, because even if, arguably, the defense of property defense was available to them during the newspaper reporter's first entry into the school on the day in question, the amount of force they used was unreasonable.


The evidence in this case showed that on December 3, 1996, at approximately four o'clock in the afternoon, Ken McIntyre, Metro Editor at the Washington Times, called 911. After identifying himself, he stated: "One of our reporters has been attacked and beaten at a school. W e would like you to go out there and meet her there." He reported that the school was "Langley Junior High" and that the reporter, who was "very shaken up," would meet the police at North Capitol and Seaton Streets. He added:

Listen, this is a reporter of mine - - my education reporter. . . .

She's very shaken up. She's been . . . kicked, hit and thrown out of the build ing. She was on an assignment for this newspaper. And among those manhandling her w[]ere the principal of this school, whose name is Mary Anigbo. . . . I'm serious. I'm deadly serious about this. She's really up set. And she . . . Oh, they stole her notebook, okay? We want that notebook back. It's our property, and it was pulled physically out of her hands as she pleaded to get it back and they held on to it in the principal's office. And that's the first intent to get you out there to join them. We want that notebook back.

When the 911 operator inquired as to whether the reporter would need an ambulance, Mr. McIntyre responded, "Ah, no she doesn't need an ambulance." He also emphasized: "[S]he's pretty shaken up. I don't think she wants to go back there without police escort." Mr. McIntyre identified the reporter as Susan Ferrechio.

After learning that a Washington Times reporter had been assaulted at a school, the Director of Photography at the newspaper sent Clifford Owen, a photographer, to "make sure" that Ms. Ferrechio was "okay." Mr. Owen was instructed "to document any injuries [Ms. Ferrechio] has and what happen[ed]." He met Ms. Ferrechio at North Capitol and Seaton Streets "a few minutes after four o'clock." She was talking on the telephone and "was shaking." About 15 to 20 minutes after Mr. Owen encountered Ms. Ferrechio, Barrington Salmon, a metro reporter for the Washington Times, appeared on the scene and spoke with Ms. Ferrechio. Mr. Salmon thought Ms. Ferrechio "seemed upset . . .[,] looked nervous, [and] was crying a little."

Officer Poe arrived at the corner of North Capitol and Seaton around 4:35 p.m. He spoke with Ms. Ferrechio whom he described as "very upset." He then drove to the Langley Junior High School, *fn4 accompanied by Ms. Ferrechio, in his marked police cruiser. Mr. Salmon and Mr. Owen followed the police cruiser to the school in their personal automobiles. They arrived at the school around 4:40 p.m. The group stood outside the school for five or six minutes. Mr. Owen had two cameras with him and began to take pictures. Officer Best, responding to a police radio directive, soon arrived on the scene in his marked police cruiser. After the two officers conferred, Officer Best "led the way" into the school through the front door. Although Dr. Anigbo, the principal of the school, testified that her practice was "[t]o keep the [school] door locked, to admit a visitor only if the visitor rang the bell, and to make sure an adult admitted any such visitor, Mr. Owen observed that the center door "was unlocked and . . . open a couple of inch es." *fn5 The officers entered the foyer and proceeded to the main office, followed by Mr. Owen, Ms. Ferrechio, and Mr. Salmon. The area in the main office where everyone congregated was relatively small.

As he approached the counter in the main office, "Officer Best asked who was the principal," and Dr. Anigbo replied: "I'm the principal but I'm mad, [I] don't want to talk to you." *fn6 While Officer Best engaged Dr. Anigbo in conversation, Mr. Owen concentrated on getting pictures of those who reportedly attacked Ms. Ferrechio. He informed Ms. Ferrechio that his instructions from the Washington Times were to get pictures of those who assaulted her, and that "it's real important" that he do so. He asked if she "could identify anybody who had assaulted her" at the school. Ms. Ferrechio expressed concern about getting her notebook back but eventually identified the person who assaulted her as "the secretary and she has short hair." Upon seeing someone who fit the description, Mr. Owen said "very loud[ly]," "Is this the woman who assaulted you? I need to get her picture." Mr. Owen quickly took three pictures of the woman with short hair, later identified as Ms. Gatlin.

The picture-taking sparked a reaction from the school staff. Officer Best testified that as Dr. Anigbo finished speaking, "a flash went off, the principal and staff jumped up and went towards the door where the flash had come from." Officer Poe asserted that when "the photographer and reporter entered the office . . . the principal and staff went berserk." And, Mr. Salmon noted that "[t]he reaction [of the school's personnel to Mr. Owen taking pictures] was very intense. *fn7 They were angry, they were shouting and trying to get hold of the camera." Both officers saw Ms. Gatlin, Ms. Smith and Dr. Anigbo move towards the photographer and reporter. The three women were "screaming . . . [and] running towards the photographer and the reporter. Ms. Gatlin . . . had the lead." "[T]he staff started screaming stop taking pictures, you shouldn't be in here. . . ." Officer Poe saw "Ms. Gatlin [s]winging at [Ms.] Ferrechio and [Mr.] Owen." Mr. Salmon observed Ms. Gatlin as she "hit [Mr. Owen] in the chest. And Officer Best said Ms. Gatlin, Ms. Smith and Dr. Anigbo "were pushing and shoving in an attempt to get the photographer." He saw Ms. Smith "sw[i]ng and hit Officer Poe in the head." *fn8 Mr. Owen testified that two women [Ms. Gatlin and Ms. Smith] "were [coming] at [him] . . . Mr. Owen "was being pushed and shoved and hit by people[, but he] couldn't see who they were. . . ." However, Ms. Gatlin "reached over the police officers and punched [Mr. Owen]" in the shoulder area with her "fist." Mr. Salmon noticed Ms. Smith striking an officer "[i]n the upper body."

The officers were standing between the school staff and the Washington Times personnel. The women continued to push and shove the officers back toward the door of the principal's office. Officer Best asserted that Dr. Anigbo pushed and shoved him in his "chest and shoulder area," and that Ms. Smith also pushed him in the "[c]hest and shoulder area." Officer Best saw Dr. Anigbo push Officer Poe "[w]ith enough strength to get him out of the office into the h allway." *fn9 Mr. Salmon stated that Dr. Anigbo struggled with Officer Poe and "pushed and pulled" him.

According to the testimony of Officer Poe, Mr. Gatlin, Ms. Gatlin's brother, was able to get staff back into the main office and hold them there. Officer Poe and Dr. Anigbo remained in the hallway. Dr. Anigbo placed her hands on Officer Poe's arms, and Officer Poe thought that "[s]he had a good grasp of [him] . . . [and was] really tugging onto [his] jacket." *fn10 But Dr. Anigbo insisted that she held on to Officer Poe because she was trying "to talk [him] down . . .[,] to talk some sense into his head." She said to the officer: "brother, brother, listen to me, listen to me, hold still, will you listen to me, please listen to me, are you going to kill somebody over a camera?" She believed that Officer Poe was "determined to get back into that office."

At some point, Officer Best used his police radio to request assistance from other police units. *fn11 MPD Officer David Taylor heard a radio distress call from Officer Best while he and his partner were en route to the school as a result of Officer Poe's earlier call for assistance. He arrived at the school at 4:57 p.m. in an unmarked police car," and saw "numerous officers on the scene." They included Sergeants Washington and Dixon, and Officer Rorie. Officer Taylor was met by Officers Best and Poe in the foyer of the school. Officer Taylor portrayed Officer Best as "a little perturbed."

Officer Taylor "proceeded to the [main] office door [where] he was met by [Ms.] Gatlin and [Ms.] Smith." He identified himself and his partner, Detective Braxton, and requested that they be allowed to enter the office. *fn12 They were admitted, and Officer Taylor asked Dr. Anigbo whether she was the principal. She responded, "If I am , who wants to know?" Officer Taylor identified himself and Detective Braxton. Dr. Anigbo informed them that she did not wish to speak with them, and "had already called the captain." She had instructed Ms. Gatlin to call the Fifth D istrict police precinct and to ask for "a white shirt" or someone in authority to come to the school immediately." "[Dr.] Anigbo started making comments to [Officer Taylor]," stating "that the reporter had no right to be in her school, that the reporter had come in and was interviewing the children as w ell as was writing things in her notebook." Officer Taylor further described what Dr. Anigbo said to him:

She [the reporter] w rote across the top of the page Marcus Garvey; then she had Bob Marley; then she had at the black last supper. Then she wrote the initials of C.J. And C.J. was the initials of the student I believe that [the reporter] had interviewed . . . . . [T]he reporter had no right to the information.

Officer Taylor remarked: "Okay, ma'am . . . okay. Then the notebook was taken." Dr. Anigbo responded: "It's in here som ewhere," and Officer Taylor asked, "Where is it?" Dr. Anigbo replied: "It was on the floor, I don't know." In response to Officer Taylor's request that she "go get" the notebook, Dr. Anigbo maintained that she did not know where it was. Officer Taylor advised Dr. Anigbo: "Well, ma'am, regardless of what someone had written in their notebook, you had no right to take that from anybody." Dr. Anigbo maintained that the reporter "had no right to that information."

Captain Bolling W. Smith responded to the call for the "watch commander." *fn13 He arrived at the school around 5:10 p.m. and found a "very volatile" situation. "Several of the civilians were yelling and screaming, [and there was] a good deal of anger and emotion." He identified Ms. Gatlin, Dr. Anigbo, and Ms. Smith as those who were angry, screaming and yelling. He spoke with Dr. Anigbo and attempted "to get her to calm down enough so that [he] could attempt to find out what was going on." D r. Anigbo said that:

[A] white reporter had come into her school and had taken notes and that [she] had read the notes on the reporter's notebook and that she did not like the things that the reporter had written and that the reporter was not friendly to the school and ...

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