Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (F-909-96) (Hon. Frederick H. Weisberg, Trial Judge)
Before Farrell and Washington, Associate Judges, and Ferren, Senior Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Farrell, Associate Judge
At trial, the prosecutor was allowed to cross-examine appellant repeatedly, over objection, as to whether he knew of any reason why two police officer witnesses w ould "lie against [him]" in their testimony. This was error, as our past decisions have made clear, and because the error was prejudicial in the circumstances of this case, we must reverse appellant's convictions for possession with intent to distribute cocaine and related weapons offenses, and remand for a new trial.
According to the government's evidence, uniformed police officers approached an apartment complex in Southeast Washington looking for Gregory Wright, possibly wanted on an arrest warrant. Officers Williams and Sullivan saw Wright, but their attention was then attracted to appellant, who was standing next to a man named Ali Sparrow. Officer Williams walked toward appellant, who had appeared fidgety and to be holding something, whereupon appellant fled together with Sparrow. Williams pursued them into an apartment building where, three or four steps behind appellant, the officer saw him throw an object to the ground as appellant ran up a flight of stairs, following Sparrow. The object was later found to be a handgun. The chase up the stairs continued until Sparrow tried unsuccessfully to open an apartment door, at which point Williams ordered both men at gunpoint to lie down. As appellant lay on the ground, he tossed a plastic bag over a railing; it was later found to contain smaller bags of cocaine. Officer Johnson, who had not seen the chase or appellant's actions, searched appellant and removed $1,635 in cash from his pocket.
Appellant's defense, supported by his own testimony and Wright's, was that if anyone had dropped drugs and a gun it was Sparrow. Thus, Wright testified that shortly before the events at the apartment complex he had seen Sparrow move a silver gun from his coat pocket to his waistband area. Appellant testified that he had begun running when an unknown man dressed in black with a gun drawn chased him, identifying himself only at the end of the chase as a policeman. Appellant denied that he had dropped anything.
On cross-examination of appellant, the prosecutor questioned him about his version of the events, including his denial that he recognized Officers Williams or Johnson as police who had been at the scene. The prosecutor continued:
[PROSECUTOR]: All right. By the way, do you know of --had you had prior contact with Officer Williams? Had you and he had any beefs before this?
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Objection.
[APPELLANT]: I don't -- I don't even know him.
[PROSECUTOR]: You don't know him [Officer Williams] today?
[APPELLANT]: I mean from getting up here, I seen him now. I know him now. But I don't know him like I have no prior.
[PROSECUTOR]: But in February of 1996 through today you don't know of any reason why he would ...