Submitted December 12, 2013.
Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (2012-CPO-3021). (Hon. Jose M. Lopez, Trial Judge).
David B. Salmons, Randall M. Levine, Margaret E. Sheer, and Stephanie Schuster were on the brief for appellant.
O.E., Pro se.
John S. Moot, Prashina J. Gagoomal, and Angela Kim were on the brief for amicus curiae, Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project and Victim Rights Law Center, in support of appellant.
Before GLICKMAN and EASTERLY, Associate Judges, and FARRELL, Senior Judge.
Glickman, Associate Judge:
J.O. appeals the Superior Court's denial of his petition for a civil protection order (CPO) against O.E. We conclude the trial judge failed to provide a sufficiently clear explanation for his decision and may have relied improperly on O.E.'s testimony about his sexual orientation. Accordingly, we vacate and remand this case to the Superior Court for the judge to reconsider J.O.'s petition.
Appellant J.O. lived in the basement room of a house in the District that he shared with several others. In the summer of 2012, appellee O.E. rented a room on the second floor. Not long after O.E. moved in, on August 23, 2012, J.O. filed a petition in Superior Court for a CPO, in which he alleged that O.E. had harassed, stalked, threatened, and made repeated sexual advances towards him. The court issued a two-week temporary protection order requiring O.E. to vacate the residence and remain at least 100 feet away from J.O., and thereafter held a hearing on the petition at which both J.O. and O.E. testified.
J.O. testified to three incidents of sexual harassment and assault, all allegedly occurring in early August. Specifically, J.O. claimed that O.E. had exposed himself, propositioned J.O. for sex, physically assaulted him with his hand and genitalia, and threatened him with " trouble" in connection with J.O.'s supposed status as an undocumented immigrant if he did not yield to O.E.'s sexual advances. O.E. adamantly denied the alleged incidents and claimed that J.O.'s accusations were fabrications designed to get him evicted from the house because J.O. jealously suspected him of romantically pursuing one of their housemates. In addition, O.E. repeatedly and vehemently insisted that he was heterosexual.
In an oral ruling delivered from the bench, the trial judge found that J.O. had failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that O.E. had committed an intrafamily offense. The judge explained that both witnesses had " testified with a lot of strength of character, with a disposition of resolve that they are both correct." " [J]udging from the demeanor of each of the parties," the judge added, he had " major difficulties" finding that the evidence weighed in favor of either side. Ultimately, though, in light of " the strength of character and the demeanor" of each witness and their conflicting ...