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Washington v. Little

March 14, 1991


En Banc. Dore, C.j. Dolliver and Durham, JJ., and Callow, J. Pro Tem., concur. Guy, Brachtenbach, and Andersen, JJ., concur by separate opinion; Utter and Smith, JJ., dissent by separate opinion; Johnson, J., did not participate in the disposition of this case.

Author: Dore

In separate incidents arising at Lakeshore Village Apartments, the Seattle police arrested the appellants after detaining them for the purpose of determining whether they were engaged in criminal trespass on the grounds of the complex. Appellants were tried and convicted in juvenile court. Upon consolidation and transfer to this court, each appellant challenged the validity of his initial stop and the police orders to stop.*fn1 We hold that the

arresting officers in each case possessed the requisite reasonable suspicion to conduct a Terry stop for criminal trespass. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 20 L. Ed. 2d 889, 88 S. Ct. 1868 (1968). We affirm Little's convictions for obstruction of a public servant and criminal trespass, and Davis' and Hayden's convictions for obstruction.


Lakeshore Village Apartments is a multiunit apartment complex occupying roughly one city block with approximately 500 residents. The apartment management, experiencing problems with drug and gang activity, took steps to discourage the gathering of crowds and trespassing on the apartment grounds. To curtail the flow of traffic on the apartment grounds, management encircled the complex with a fence topped with concertina wire and posted signs prohibiting trespassing or loitering in the complex. In addition, an armed security guard attends to the main entrance. The no trespassing signs, some 18 by 24 inches and others 24 by 24 inches, are placed on buildings intermittently throughout the complex, on the buildings facing the entrance and at the entrance itself. The signs say different things such as "No Trespassing or Loitering", "No Loitering. Tenants and Their Guests Only", and "Violators Will Be Prosecuted". Residents and their guests are permitted on the premises to go to residences. Guests not in the company of a resident may not remain on the premises.

In addition, the management has an agreement with the Seattle Police Department to investigate persons who are suspected of being trespassers. If an individual investigated is found to be a nonresident, the police admonish the individual not to return to the property and ask the person to sign a card acknowledging the initial trespass and advising that next time the person will be cited for criminal trespass if the individual returns. The cards are kept on file and the police check the file if they confront a person loitering in the area.

Officer Saucier, who arrested Hayden and Davis, was concerned about his safety and testified

[Officer Saucier]: Okay. This area, this whole complex, has become a -- is -- has become, I guess, gathering place for the various gangs in the area, the Crips, Bloods, and the Black Gangster Disciples. We've made numerous arrests of gang members in this area. Several of them found to be armed. Several of them just committed drive-by shootings. We've had numerous drive-by shootings in this complex specifically.

So anytime an officer goes in there, it's either with another officer, or several other officers. Just because of the danger in this area.

At the time that I found myself with these three suspects, from prior experience, looking at their clothing, I recognized them to be wearing the clothing of a specific gang. I knew that there was a high danger to myself. At that time, for my own protection, you know, because he had been going into his pockets, I chose to draw my gun. I ordered the three individuals to the ground. These two were approximately positioned here. And I positioned myself over the other individual so I could maintain, you know, visual contact with all of them. I told them to spread their arms out.

Hayden/Davis Fact-Finding Hearing, at 29-30 (May 8, 1989).

Standard of Appellate Review of Convictions

[1] In Seattle v. Slack, 113 Wash. 2d 850, 784 P.2d 494 (1989), this court set forth the standard of appellate review of convictions. In Slack we stated:

Inquiring into the sufficiency of evidence to support a conviction does not require the reviewing court to determine whether it believes the evidence at trial established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Green, 94 Wash. 2d 216, 221, 616 P.2d 628 (1980). Instead, the relevant question is whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Green, at 221.

113 Wash. 2d at 859.

The present case consists of separate incidents. The specific facts of each case follow:

A. State v. Little.

On April 21, 1989, Betty Fears, the project manager of the Lakeshore Village Apartments, testified that she received a call from her answering service

[Mrs. Fears]: . . . that there were [ sic ] a large group of people gathered by one of the buildings, we called the police.

She also related that

We have a problem at Lakeshore with drugs and gang activity and large groups tend to make us think that something is going on that we need to be -- to have some action taken on.

Little Fact-Finding Hearing, at 4-5 (June 16, 1989). She called the police and, at approximately 9:18 p.m., Seattle Police Officer S.M. Colman and his partner were dispatched to the 9000 block of 53rd South to investigate the report. Upon arrival, Colman saw more than 20 juveniles assembled in the intersection between Fisher Place and 9053 53rd South. The juveniles "immediately broke and ran" in several directions. Colman exited his patrol car, yelled "Stop, police," and began pursuing the individuals on foot. Little Fact-Finding Hearing, at 12 (June 16, 1989).

As Colman came around the corner of one of the buildings, he saw six or eight juveniles climbing the chain link fence. At that time he came alongside of Craig Little and another person walking through the complex. As Colman passed, Little's companion ran off to the left and Little then ran to the right. Colman then "peeled off from [his] initial pursuit of the people over the fence" and yelled for Little to stop as he chased Little into a nearby building. Little attempted to shut the door, but Colman stuck his nightstick in the door jamb. Little Fact-Finding Hearing, at 13 (June 16, 1989). Little attempted to shut the door several times, but Colman's nightstick prevented Little from doing so. Colman eventually opened the door, grabbed Little and arrested him for obstructing a police officer.

Little was charged by information with one count of criminal trespass, RCW 9A.52.070, and one count of obstructing a public servant, RCW 9A.76.020(3).

Judge Carmen Otero, finding Little guilty on both counts, analyzed as follows:

The Court: The Court makes the following findings on the Obstruction. The Officer was dressed in his uniform. He was dispatched. He was on duty. The Court finds that the Respondent did see the Officer. That he was aware, and made aware, that the Officer told him to stop. That he not only refused to stop, he had already taken off before he was told to stop. That he ran into a building. That he purposely tried to slam the door on the Officer. The Officer had his nightstick in the door and he kept trying to push the door until finally the Officer was able to open the door and arrest the Respondent for Obstructing.

Although I am not a person who goes along with some of the Obstructing charges that officers bring, I believe this certainly does fall within the Statute. The Officer was working. That he was on duty. He was obviously, an officer. The Respondent was aware that he was an officer. And that he did obstruct him in the line of duty.

The Court then moves onto the next charge. And that is the Trespass. The Court can only go on the evidence presented here in court. And the Court finds that any evidence, or any argument about drugs is just not relevant to this case. There was no evidence of drugs. The only issue is whether the Respondent was on the property and whether he had a lawful right to be on the property.

The Court finds that upon seeing the Officer, even before the Officer talked to him, he immediately ran. Not only did he run away from the Officer, he ran into the building, tried to force the door closed, preventing the Officer to come into the building. There were signs, signs that indicated in a clear language that there was to be no loitering. And the Respondent was on the property and loitering.

The Court finds that his actions, plus the signs is sufficient for this Court to find that he was in fact trespassing.

Little Fact-Finding Hearing, at 29, 30, 31.

B. State v. Hayden and State v. Davis.

On the afternoon of January 23, 1989, Officers Kenneth Saucier and J.T. Rodgers were conducting a criminal trespass check at the Lakeshore Village Apartment complex. When they arrived at the property, the officers saw a group of 10 or more youths standing around a car in the parking lot. Both officers testified that they were generally familiar with the residents of the complex and that they did not recognize any of the youths as being residents. The officers

approached the group to determine whether they lived at the complex or whether they were trespassers. As the officers moved toward the group, the youths started to disperse. Saucier exited the patrol car and told the group to stop and come toward the car. Jason Davis, Walter Hayden and another youth ran. Saucier pursued Davis on foot while Rodgers pursued the other two in the patrol car. After a brief chase, the officers arrested the youths.

Officer J.T. Rodgers testified as to identifying the defendants when he first arrived and subsequent to their arrest by Officer Saucier.

Q. At what point did you see their faces?

A. At the initial ...

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