STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Filed February 9, 1999
Olmsted County District Court
File No. K097224
Raymond F. Schmitz, Olmsted County Attorney, Government Center, 151 Fourth Street Southeast, Rochester, MN 55904 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Lyonel Norris, Assistant Public Defender, 2829 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge, Schumacher, Judge, and Harten, Judge.
Appellant Medhane Gebremariam challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support his conviction for assaulting a peace officer. We affirm.
Extra security measures were implemented at the Olmsted County Courthouse during a high-profile trial. Everyone going onto the floor where the trial was occurring was required to pass through a metal detector. Olmsted County sheriff's deputy Sheldon Gee was monitoring the metal detector.
Five young men approached the metal detector, and the first one in the group set it off. While Gee was checking him with a handheld metal detector, a second man from the group, later identified as Gebremariam, started to walk around the metal detector. Gee instructed Gebremariam to wait, but he kept edging up toward the metal detector. Gee heard Gebremariam mention a nine-millimeter gun, the type of gun Gee had on his person in a holster. Gee told Gebremariam that he would have to leave if he did not stop talking about a gun.
Gebremariam continued talking about a gun, so Gee approached him. Gebremariam initially stood his ground but then backed off a couple of steps and told Gee not to touch him. Gee, who was alone on security detail and concerned about the security of his weapon, wanted to separate Gebremariam from the group. Gee testified that he told Gebremariam that he was under arrest, put his open hand on Gebremariam's chest, and maneuvered Gebremariam into a corner. Gebremariam denies that Gee told him that he was under arrest. During this encounter, Gebremariam was swearing at Gee.
Gee testified that he backed away from Gebremariam and used his radio to call for backup. At about the same time, people outside the courtroom began yelling and swearing, and the situation escalated into pushing and shoving. Gebremariam testified that when he heard Gee calling for backup, he said he did not want trouble and started to leave the courtroom area, but Gee grabbed him from behind and prevented him from leaving. According to Gee's statement to police, however, when the melee erupted, Gebremariam grabbed Gee on the right shoulder and hung on tightly, so Gee attempted to leverage Gebremariam to the ground. Gebremariam struggled against Gee, but Gee managed to get Gebremariam down on the ground. Gee testified that Gebremariam repeatedly grabbed the upper part of Gee's chest. While Gee was struggling with Gebremariam, a physical altercation was occurring between other spectators and deputies.
Gee required assistance from other sheriff's deputies to subdue and handcuff Gebremariam. During the struggle with Gebremariam, Gee sustained a cut to the left side of his head, which left a scar, and cuts to his knuckles. Gee testified that the injury to his head occurred when Gebremariam hit him. Gee testified that, at that time, Gebremariam was down on the ground, with his left arm pinned beneath Gee and his right arm free. Although Gee did not actually see Gebremariam hit him in the head, he testified that, when the injury to his head occurred, he and Gebremariam were very close together, and he was absolutely certain that no one other than Gebremariam was hitting him at that time.
Gebremariam denied punching or kicking Gee. No witnesses actually saw Gebremariam hit Gee. But sheriff's deputy Robert Studer and sheriff's captain Harry Kerr testified that they saw Gebremariam struggling against Gee. Studer described Gebremariam as actively resisting or fighting with Gee. Studer did not recall anyone else going after Gee. Another eyewitness also testified that he saw Gebremariam struggling against Gee.
[A] conviction based on circumstantial evidence will be upheld and such evidence is entitled to as much weight as any other kind of evidence, so long as a detailed review of the record indicates that the reasonable inferences from such evidence are consistent only with the defendant's guilt and inconsistent with any rational hypothesis except that of guilt.
State v. Ostrem, 535 N.W.2d 916, 923 (Minn. 1995). "[P]ossibilities of innocence do not require reversal of a jury verdict so long as the evidence taken as a whole makes such theories seem unreasonable." Id.
"In cases involving circumstantial evidence, `[a]s in all cases, the jury determines the credibility and weight given to the testimony of individual witnesses.'" State v. Coleman, 560 N.W.2d 717, 722 (Minn. App. 1997) (quoting State v. Bias, 419 N.W.2d 480, 484 (Minn. 1988)). This court "must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict and assume the jury believed the state's witnesses and disbelieved contrary evidence." State v. Orfi, 511 N.W.2d 464, 471 (Minn. App. 1994), review denied (Minn. Mar. 15, 1994).
Minn. Stat. § 609.2231, subd. 1 (1996), provides:
Whoever assaults a peace officer * * *, when that officer is effecting a lawful arrest or executing any other duty imposed by law and inflicts demonstrable bodily harm is guilty of a felony.
Minn. Stat. § 609.02, subd. 10 (1996), defines assault as an "act done with intent to cause fear in another of immediate bodily harm or death" or the "intentional infliction of or attempt to inflict bodily harm upon another." See also Minn. Stat. § 609.02, subd. 9 (1996) (defining criminal intent).
Gebremariam argues that the evidence was insufficient to prove that he intended to put Gee in fear of bodily harm or that he intentionally inflicted or attempted to inflict bodily harm on Gee. "Intent is a subjective state of mind and is usually established by reasonable inferences drawn from surrounding circumstances." State v. Witucki, 420 N.W.2d 217, 221 (Minn. App. 1988), review denied (Minn. Apr. 15, 1988).
[T]he jury may infer that a person intends the natural and probable consequences of his actions and a defendant's statements as to his intentions are not binding on the jury if his acts demonstrated a contrary intent.
State v. Cooper, 561 N.W.2d 175, 179 (Minn. 1997).
Gebremariam admits resisting Gee's efforts to restrain him but contends that his actions were lawful because Gee did not tell him he was under arrest before wrestling him to the ground. Gee, however, testified that he did tell Gebremariam that he was under arrest before attempting to restrain him. Gebremariam also asserts that he attempted to leave the courtroom area peacefully. Gebremariam testified that when he heard Gee calling for backup, he said he did not want trouble and started to leave the courtroom area, but Gee grabbed him from behind and prevented him from leaving. There was, however, contrary evidence that Gebremariam did not attempt to leave but rather grabbed Gee on the right shoulder and hung on tightly. Moreover, Gebremariam's alleged attempt to leave did not occur until after Gee told him that he was under arrest.
Gee and three eyewitnesses testified that Gebremariam struggled against Gee while Gee attempted to restrain him. One of the eyewitnesses described Gebremariam as actively resisting or fighting with Gee. Gee testified that Gebremariam repeatedly grabbed the upper part of Gee's chest, and Gee required assistance from other sheriff's deputies to subdue and handcuff Gebremariam. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the state, as we must, the evidence was sufficient to prove that Gebremariam intended to inflict bodily injury to Gee.
Gebremariam also contends that the evidence was insufficient to prove that he was the person who inflicted the injury to Gee's head. We disagree. Gee testified that the injury to his head occurred when Gebremariam was down on the ground, with his left arm pinned beneath Gee and his right arm free. Although Gee did not actually see Gebremariam hit him in the head, he testified that, when the injury to his head occurred, he and Gebremariam were very close together, and he was absolutely certain that no one other than Gebremariam was hitting him at that time. There was no evidence that anyone other than Gebremariam was involved in a physical altercation with Gee. Contrary to Gebremariam's argument that another officer could have inflicted the injury, Gee's testimony showed that the injury occurred before anyone began assisting Gee. The evidence taken as a whole makes Gebremariam's theory that someone else could have caused the injury to Gee's head unreasonable. The evidence was sufficient to prove that Gebremariam caused the injury by hitting Gee.