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Evans-Reid v. District of Columbia

July 12, 2007

FAUNETT EVANS-REID, APPELLANT,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL., APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CA 7140-95) (Hon. Susan R. Winfield, Trial Judge).

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

Argued March 30, 2004

Before RUIZ, Associate Judge, and NEBEKER and TERRY,*fn1 Senior Judges.

This case arises from a shooting by a Metropolitan Police Department officer in the course of an investigatory stop of a vehicle, which, tragically, resulted in the death of a fourteen-year-old boy. The child's mother, Faunett Evans-Reid, filed a complaint for damages against the officer and the District of Columbia claiming negligence and assault and battery. On appeal, she challenges the trial court's entry of judgment as a matter of law dismissing her complaint. Appellant also contends that the trial court abused its discretion in excluding expert testimony and certain police reports. After reviewing the record and the parties' arguments, we conclude that the trial court's challenged evidentiary rulings were not an abuse of discretion and agree with the trial court that the evidence presented by appellant did not, as a matter of law, provide a sufficient basis from which the jury could have found that the officer's use of deadly force was unreasonable and returned a verdict in her favor. Therefore, we affirm the entry of judgment for appellees.

I. BACKGROUND

On May 21, 1995, at approximately 7:00 p.m., fourteen-year-old Sean Evans was riding in the front passenger seat of a red Mazda that was being driven with the rear hatch-back door open. Upon reaching the intersection of Riggs Road and Chillum Place, N.E., the vehicle made a left turn on a red light. Two Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD") Officers, Officer Mark Green and Officer David Mosely, were separately patrolling the area at the time. They followed the red Mazda but did not give any direction to the driver to pull over. Officer Green, riding a motorcycle, followed the vehicle from behind, while Officer Mosely, who was driving a squad car, took another route to cut it off. After Officer Green followed the Mazda for less than two blocks, the car voluntarily came to a stop and parked at the curb. Officer Green stopped behind the Mazda, from where he observed that the front-seat passenger was making movements which caused the officer to suspect that a weapon was being concealed. Shortly thereafter, OfficerMosely came from the other direction and parked on the opposite side of the street. As both officers approached the vehicle, Officer Green used a verbal signal to indicate to Officer Mosely his suspicion that there might be a gun in the car.

Officer Green approached the passenger's side of the vehicle while Officer Mosely approached the driver's side.

During his testimony, Officer Green explained that, because he suspected danger, he approached the car with his weapon drawn, holding it next to his hip and pointed at the ground. When he reached the passenger window, Officer Green saw Evans "lift up his shirt and pull out a gun." The weapon, which appeared to Officer Green to be a semi-automatic handgun, was pointed in his direction. Fearing for his life, Officer Green quickly raised his weapon and, holding it with both hands, fired in the direction of Evans's chest. Officer Green recounted that, as he fired, he stepped back while raising his gun, with his arm extended. Still afraid because the passenger's gun continued to be pointed at him, he then shot Evans a second time, this time in the head. According to Officer Green, Evans had a "cold" and "glazed type" or "glossy" look in his eyes.

As Officer Green approached the passenger, Officer Mosely had approached the driver. Officer Mosely testified that by the time he reached the car, the driver had already opened the door and placed his feet on the pavement, as if to get out, but was still seated in the car. He spoke to the driver and requested his license and car registration. Officer Mosely went to the rear of the car to compare the license plate number with the registration he had obtained from the driver. He then heard two shots before he had a chance to finish the comparison. Officer Mosely testified that as he approached the driver, he did not pay attention to the passenger, and later, when he was standing behind the car to compare the registration with the tag number, did not see any sudden movements by the passenger, did not see him hiding anything, and did not see him pull his shirt up or pull a gun from his waist and point it at Officer Green. Altogether, he believed that "a dozen or more seconds" passed from the time Officer Mosely stopped his car across from the Mazda until the shooting took place. After the shots were fired, the driver jumped down on the ground. After restraining the driver with handcuffs as a precautionary measure, Officer Mosely looked up and saw Officer Green "standing on the passenger side of the car . . . just looking distraught . . . almost like he [had] seen a ghost . . . [f]rightened." He also looked at the passenger inside the car and saw that he was bleeding profusely and had a gun in his left hand. The gun, as it turned out, was a BB gun. Except for the two officers, no eyewitness to the shooting testified at trial.*fn2

The medical examiner who conducted the autopsy determined that Sean Evans died from gunshot wounds to the face and chest. According to the forensic expert, Dr. Jonathan Arden, stippling around the wound to the head indicated that the shot was fired from a distance of approximately twelve inches.*fn3 Tests conducted at the time also revealed that Evans's blood alcohol level was 0.11 percent, in the "intoxicated" range. The forensic expert testified that, at such a level, a person would be "significantly" and "visibly" intoxicated, his judgment and reflexes could be impaired, and his usual inhibitions and mood altered.

Evans's mother (appellant) took the stand. She testified that her son was right-handed, calling into question that he would have drawn and pointed a gun at Officer Green with his left hand. Testimony and pictures of the car showed that the door handle was missing from inside the front passenger door. A photograph also showed a shell casing in the Mazda's roof gutter.*fn4

II. DISCUSSION

A. Exclusion of Expert Witness

Appellant argues that the trial court abused its discretion in excluding the expert testimony of Commander Winfred Stanley based on the fact that Commander Stanley lacked experience on the national standard of care for ...


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