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State v. Armstrong

Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia

September 13, 2019

State of West Virginia, Plaintiff Below, Respondent
Michael Armstrong, Defendant Below, Petitioner

          McDowell County 17-AP-7-S


         Petitioner Michael Armstrong, by counsel John H. Bryan, appeals the Circuit Court of McDowell County's March 23, 2018, order denying his appeal of his conviction of obstructing an officer. The State, by counsel Holly M. Flanigan, filed a response and a supplemental appendix. Petitioner filed a reply. On appeal, petitioner alleges that the circuit court erred in convicting him of obstruction using a lesser standard of proof than "beyond a reasonable doubt." Petitioner also contends that he was not provided a copy of the body camera footage and one of the officers involved in his arrest was on administrative leave during trial.

         This Court has considered the parties' briefs and the record on appeal. The facts and legal arguments are adequately presented, and the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument. Upon consideration of the standard of review, the briefs, and the record presented, the Court finds no substantial question of law and no prejudicial error. For these reasons, a memorandum decision affirming the circuit court's order is appropriate under Rule 21 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure.

         On November 22, 2016, four police officers were dispatched to a home petitioner shared with his aunt in response to a domestic violence-related 9-1-1 call. During the officers' inquiry, petitioner refused their attempt to perform a Terry[1] frisk, and he was ultimately arrested for obstructing an officer. Petitioner was tried and convicted in magistrate court of obstructing an officer in violation of West Virginia Code § 61-5-17(a). At sentencing, the magistrate court imposed associated court costs and sentenced petitioner to time served. He appealed his conviction to circuit court and the circuit court held a bench trial on May 15, 2017. The State presented the testimony of Welch City Police Department Patrolman Patrick McKinney and West Virginia State Troopers C.A. Dunn, Ralph Justus, and Eric W. Boothe. The State also presented the audio recording of petitioner's statement to Trooper Boothe and a DVD containing the footage from Patrolman McKinney's body camera from the night of the arrest.

         First, Trooper Dunn testified that he and the three other officers received the call regarding a domestic violence dispute at petitioner's residence and all four officers went to the home. Trooper Dunn explained that, as they approached the home, they could hear "yelling" and "really loud talking in an aggressive manner." According to Trooper Dunn, petitioner continued to speak in a hostile and aggressive manner, even after Trooper Justus told him several times to "relax, calm down." Trooper Dunn described the scene as "kind of a tense situation. [Petitioner] had been yelling at the female, the older female that was in the residence." Trooper Dunn believed a Terry frisk was important "[f]or everyone's safety, due to the demeanor and the-aggressive talking and yelling . . . anytime we're on a call like that . . . officers will complete that Terry frisk just for officer safety to make sure there's no weapons, sharp objects," or other items that may endanger persons present. Trooper Dunn observed Trooper Justus inform petitioner that he was going to conduct a Terry frisk, which he then attempted. However, when Trooper Justus attempted to gain control of petitioner's hands, petitioner tensed up and jerked his hands away. According to Trooper Dunn, Trooper Justus could not get petitioner's hands under control and "took him to the floor," while continuing to instruct him to stop resisting. Then, because petitioner continued to resist, it was necessary for Trooper Boothe to assist Trooper Justus. The officers were eventually able to handcuff petitioner.

         Trooper Boothe corroborated Trooper Dunn's testimony and stated that, following the arrest, the officers took petitioner to the Welch detachment of the State Police for processing. There, Trooper Boothe informed petitioner of his Miranda[2] rights and took the following recorded statement:

Trooper Boothe: This is Trooper E.W. Boothe, [West Virginia] State Police, Welch Detachment. Today's date is 11-22-2016. Time now is 23:14. Here present at the Welch Detachment . . . state your name.
Petitioner: Michael Anthony Armstrong.
Trooper Boothe: Alright Mr. Armstrong, I've uh read you your Miranda rights from a copy of your card, that's correct?
Petitioner: Yes, sir.
Trooper Boothe: So what, uh, [why] did we come in contact with you tonight?
Petitioner: My [aunt] called because we were in an argument and she wished to have me evicted from the home. . . .
Trooper Boothe: Okay. Um. Once myself and the other troopers, me and . . . Trooper Justus, . . . Trooper Dunn, and Welch Police Officer Pat McKinney arrived at your house . . . Trooper Justus, uh asked you to stand up and speak to you, pat ...

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