A man who knocked his obese girlfriend off an electric scooter and onto the ground has had his felony domestic battery conviction reversed by the Indiana Court of Appeals.
In May 2019, Jerome Gibbs was in an Indianapolis alley with his girlfriend, Tonja Smith, while she was on an electric scooter. Gibbs knocked Smith – who was obese, had bad knees and struggled to stand – off of the scooter after they started arguing and then shoved her back down when she tried to get up. Smith ultimately suffered injuries to her face, hand and knee from the incident.
Gibbs was subsequently charged with Level 5 felony domestic battery under Indiana Code § 35-42-2-1.3(c)(5)(B), for battery resulting in bodily injury to a family or household member who has a mental or physical disability and who is in the care of the defendant. He was later found guilty during a bench trial and sentenced accordingly.
The Indiana Court of Appeals, however, reversed, concluding there was insufficient evidence to support a conclusion that Gibbs voluntarily assumed care of Smith.
“The State asserts ‘Gibbs assumed the care of Smith voluntarily through being in a relationship with a woman who is disabled and unable to walk.’ There are two problems with this argument,” Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote for the appellate court. “First, there was no evidence presented that Smith was in anyone’s care, let alone Gibbs’s care, or that she even needed or wanted any care. In fact, the word ‘care’ was never uttered at trial — by a witness, by counsel, or by the trial court. The State’s argument assumes that any person who is unable to walk needs to be cared for by another person, which is obviously not the case.
“Second, even if Gibbs needed some level of care because of her disability, the State cites no authority supporting the proposition that anybody who enters a romantic relationship with such a person necessarily assumes the care of that person,” Vaidik continued. “… All we know is Gibbs was Smith’s boyfriend and he was with her while she was on her scooter. That evidence, standing alone, is an insufficient basis on which to conclude Gibbs voluntarily assumed care of Smith.”
The appellate court therefore remanded the matter to the Marion Superior Court with instructions to enter a conviction and sentence for Class A misdemeanor domestic battery.
The case is Jerome Wade Gibbs v. State of Indiana, 20A-CR-770.