Not Guilty: Assault On an Officer, Refusing to Submit to Arrest

A police van, in Maine Assault on an Officer will get you inside

HelenCobain via flickr

When an arrest goes wrong, the defendant is sometimes charged with assault on an officer and refusing to submit to arrest. These charges can be more serious than the original crimes of arrest. In Maine, assault on an officer is a felony and the maximum prison sentence is 5 years. In this case, my client was arrested for misdemeanor criminal threatening. When the police used unnecessary force, an officer ended up with a cut on his finger. My client ended up with a felony assault charge. The jury returned a not guilty verdict.

From Criminal Threatening to Assault on an Officer

My client was living in student housing and from all accounts, he was difficult neighbor. He had an ongoing dispute of unclear origin with other tenants and a security guard. One night, tensions between my client and the other two boiled over. Security footage from the lobby showed him getting angry, yelling and jumping up and down. There was no audio but witnesses recounted my client’s threats to kill or hurt people. The guard and neighbor were behind the security desk facing my screaming client. Two other tenants looked on from the other side of the large lobby while eating a pizza. This led to four counts of misdemeanor criminal threatening.

Police arrived and arrested my client, a 300 pound man, by handcuffing him behind his back. Cruiser video showed him standing at on the sidewalk waiting for the arrest wagon. Suddenly, his pants fell down. Despite his repeated requests, the arresting and the back up officers refused to pull the pants back up and so my client was unable to walk properly. The arrest wagon arrived and three officers walked him towards the vehicle. The camera was not pointed at the back of the van but the audio recorded as officers became more irritated. They wanted him to step backwards up into the cargo area of the van but, because of his size, the handcuffs and his pants around his ankels, he couldn’t do it. Screaming now, police demanded he enter the van, my client asked for help getting in. Finally an officer simply pushed him hard in the chest forcing him over backwards into the van. His naked lower body hung out of the vehicle and officers lifted my client’s flailing legs up and slammed the doors shut. Durring this process, an officer cut his hand which was wedged between my client’s shoe and one of the doors. This led to felony assault on an officer and refusing to submit to arrest charges.

Evidence at Trial

In Maine, Criminal Threatening requiers a bit more than just saying something nasty. The crime is only proven if the defendant “places another if fear of imminent bodily injury.” All four lobby witnesses testified at trial. The neighbor and security guard said that the threats scared them and that they were afraid my client would attack. Frankly, that made sense and he could have plead guilty to those two threatening counts if the prosecutor had offered a reasonable plea deal. The two pizza eating witnesses were kind of macho guys. They testified that they stuck around just incase they had to do something to help out. They were tough guys who weren’t scared of my client and didn’t think he could hurt them even if he wanted to.

The evidence from the police was a bit more complicated. The jury saw the video and heard the audio. An officer testified that even though his pants were down, and his hands were cuffed, my client refused to stepped up backwards into the van. That officer also testified that the kick which injured his hand was purposeful and no accident.  Another officer said that after he was pushed over my client’s legs flailed in the air “like a baby being changed.” There was conflicting testimony about whether the legs were lifted into the van or if my client raised his legs himself and, and as to which doors were shut first and what edge caused the cut.

The Case Goes to the Jury

In closing, I argued that the Prosecution had failed to prove threatening on at least two of the counts since the pizza witnesses said they were never in fear of an attack. I also argued that my client did not refuse to submit to arrest, he was simply unable to do what the police demanded. The police were unwilling to help him by pulling up his pants or lifting him in, so instead they used force which set off the leg flailing and door slamming that led to a the cut. Assault on an officer requiers the district attorney to prove that the defendant caused bodily injury intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly. The evidence, I argued, was that the the police decision to use force created the risk of harm, my client reacted only with uncontrolled flailing after being knocked down by the cops.

Later that afternoon, The jury returned a not guilty verdict on refusing to submit to arrest and felony assault on an officer. They convicted on two misdemeanor threatening counts involving the neighbor and guard but acquitted my client of the remaining threatening counts.


Not Guilty: Assault On an Officer, Refusing to Submit to Arrest by
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