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COA: Police lawfully entered home; battery conviction upheld

October 31, 2016

A Richmond man’s request to have his conviction for battery against two police officers overturned was denied Monday by a panel of the Indiana  Court of Appeals, which found that the officers had lawfully entered the man’s home because they suspected him of being armed and dangerous.

Lance Brown owned a home in Richmond and kept a large stock of valuable material stored in his house and in a freestanding garage. Brown’s home was frequently the target of attempted break-ins, and he had repelled several such attempts in the past, including one on Dec. 23, 2014, the day in question in Lance E. Brown v. State of Indiana, 89A01-1601-CR-128.

On that day, Brown got into an argument with two of his neighbors, Savannah Moore and Matt Smith. Brown told Smith to come across the alley separating the homes because he wanted to “blow (his) brains out,” prompting Moore to call the police.

Richmond Police Department officers David Spradling and Jonathan Huth responded and knocked on Brown’s door without identifying themselves as police. When Brown opened the door, the officers could not see his right hand. Brown told them that he had laid his gun on the counter and did not have it in his right hand, but when Spradling asked him to put his hands up, he refused.

The officers were eventually able to get into the home, and when Huth tried to reach out and handcuff Brown, he struck Huth in the face and also pushed Spradling into the wall. Huth grabbed both of them and pulled all three toward the ground, where the officers were eventually able to subdue and handcuff Brown.

When the Wayne Superior Court convicted Brown after a bench trial in November 2015, it noted that the officers had entered Brown’s home unlawfully but that Brown had also entered into combat with them and had not resisted with reasonable force, thus precluding him from protection under the defenses of self-defense and defense of his dwelling. Brown was subsequently convicted on a battery charge, prompting his appeal.

In a Monday response to Brown’s appeal, the Indiana Court of Appeals said it disagreed with the trial court’s assessment that the officers entered the home unlawfully. Judge Paul Mathias wrote for that panel, “the officers’ limited intrusion into Brown’s privacy was justified by the immediate, urgent need to protect themselves and members of the public from a man whom the officers reasonably believed to be armed and dangerous.”

Specifically, Mathias wrote that it would be “entirely unreasonable” to require the officers to turn their backs on Brown because they believed he was armed and noncompliant and because he had made serious threats to his neighbors. Further, the court noted that requiring Spradling and Huth to turn their backs on Brown would not have promoted a feeling of safety in the community.

Thus, under the totality of the circumstances, the Court of Appeals held that Spradling and Huth acted lawfully and there was notneed to reach the question of whether Brown acted with reasonable force in self-defense.

 

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