City of Martinsburg v. Dunbar, 20-0492

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtJenkins, Justice
Citation868 S.E.2d 437
Docket Number20-0492
Decision Date28 January 2022
Parties CITY OF MARTINSBURG, Plaintiff Below, Respondent v. Rachel DUNBAR, Defendant Below, Petitioner

868 S.E.2d 437

CITY OF MARTINSBURG, Plaintiff Below, Respondent
v.
Rachel DUNBAR, Defendant Below, Petitioner

No. 20-0492

Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.

Submitted: January 4, 2022
Filed: January 28, 2022


Dylan K. Batten, Riddell Law Group, Martinsburg, West Virginia, Attorney for the Petitioner

Floyd M. Sayre, III, Bowles Rice LLP, Martinsburg, West Virginia, Attorney for the Respondent

Jenkins, Justice:

868 S.E.2d 438

This is an appeal by Rachel Dunbar ("Ms. Dunbar") from a June 5, 2020 conviction order of the Circuit Court of Berkeley County. In January of 2019, Detective Jonathan Smith ("Detective Smith") of the City of Martinsburg ("the City") went to the home of Ms. Dunbar to investigate a referral he had received regarding a potential fraudulent credit card charge associated with her address. Detective Smith, who was not wearing a uniform, did not initially identify himself as a law enforcement officer and it was not readily apparent that he was, in fact, a law enforcement officer.1 Detective Smith asked Ms. Dunbar personal questions, including her name. In response, Ms. Dunbar gave a false name. Later, in the same conversation, Detective Smith informed Ms. Dunbar that he was a law enforcement officer. Upon further investigation, Detective Smith learned that Ms. Dunbar had given him a false name. Accordingly, Detective Smith arrested Ms. Dunbar days later for violating the City of Martinsburg Municipal Code section 509.05.2 Ms. Dunbar was tried and convicted in municipal court. She appealed to the circuit court where a de novo bench trial was held. Again, Ms. Dunbar was found guilty of "knowingly provid[ing] false or misleading information to Detective Smith, a member of the City of Martinsburg Police Department[.]" On appeal to this Court, Ms. Dunbar

868 S.E.2d 439

asserts that the circuit court erred when it found that she was required to notify the law enforcement officer of her real name after learning that he was, in fact, a law enforcement officer.

Upon thorough review of the record, and upon careful consideration of the parties’ briefs and oral arguments and the relevant law, we agree with Ms. Dunbar and find that the lower court erred. Therefore, we reverse the circuit court's June 5, 2020 conviction order and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On January 2, 2019, Detective Smith received a referral regarding a potential fraudulent credit card charge that took place in Martinsburg on September 29, 2018. On January 8, 2019, Detective Smith went to a local address to contact a potential male suspect. Detective Smith was not wearing any type of official uniform, instead, he was wearing regular street clothes and driving an unmarked vehicle. During this visit, Detective Smith interacted with Ms. Dunbar, a female, who supplied him with a fake name. Following this interaction, Detective Smith learned that Ms. Dunbar lied and had given him a false name. On January 10, 2019, Detective Smith charged Ms. Dunbar with knowingly giving false or misleading information to an officer in violation of the City of Martinsburg Municipal Code section 509.05.3 A bench trial was held in the Martinsburg Municipal Court, and Ms. Dunbar was ultimately convicted.4 She appealed to circuit court where she requested a de novo bench trial.

The circuit court held a de novo bench trial on May 29, 2020.5 During this bench trial, the City of Martinsburg called Detective Smith to testify as its sole witness in its case-in-chief. Detective Smith testified to the following. Detective Smith is employed by the City of Martinsburg as a Corporal assigned to the Detective Division for the Martinsburg Police Department. On January 2, 2019, he received a referral from the Douglas County Sheriff's Department in Colorado regarding potential credit card fraud. The alleged victim of the credit card fraud resided in Colorado and noticed fraudulent charges on his credit card, which had been made in Martinsburg, West Virginia, at the New China Restaurant. The restaurant provided Detective Smith the delivery address associated with the fraudulent charge as well as the phone number for the order. Accordingly, Detective Smith had his office run a report on the phone number provided to the restaurant. The report indicated that the phone number was possibly affiliated with a male suspect.

On January 8, 2019, Detective Smith went to the delivery address to further investigate. Upon his arrival, a female, Ms. Dunbar, answered the door, and Detective Smith asked to speak to the male suspect. Ms. Dunbar claimed not to know the male suspect. According to Detective Smith, he then advised Ms. Dunbar that he was a law enforcement officer and as to why he was at the residence, i.e. to investigate a credit card fraud report. Ms. Dunbar identified herself as Danielle Shaffer and stated that she moved into the apartment in October of 2018. Ms. Dunbar advised that she did not know who lived at the residence prior to herself. Detective Smith then asked Ms. Dunbar for her landlord's name and telephone number so that he may obtain information regarding the previous tenant. Ms. Dunbar initially agreed to give him the information, but subsequently decided that she did not feel comfortable giving the landlord's information to him. Detective Smith then left the residence.

After Detective Smith left the residence, he continued to investigate the alleged fraudulent credit card charge. From his additional investigation, Detective Smith learned that at

868 S.E.2d 440

least one utility bill had been transferred to Ms. Dunbar on September 28, 2018.6 Detective Smith then spoke with the property manager who advised that the specific residence was currently being rented to Ms. Dunbar. Additionally, Detective Smith was informed that Danielle Shaffer was not listed on any of the lease documents for the residence. Detective Smith obtained a license photograph of Ms. Dunbar from the West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles. Upon reviewing the license photograph, Detective Smith learned that Ms. Dunbar was the female he had spoken with on January 8, who had identified herself as Danielle Shaffer. Based upon Ms. Dunbar providing false information to him, on January 10, 2019, Detective Smith charged her with violating the City of Martinsburg Municipal Code section 509.05.

On cross-examination, Detective Smith stated that he normally wore casual clothes and not his uniform while on duty. Moreover, he could not recall if he was driving an unmarked vehicle when he investigated the subject residence on January 8. Following Detective Smith's testimony, the City of Martinsburg rested.7

Ms. Dunbar testified on her own behalf and provided the following testimony. Although she signed a lease in September of 2018, she did not move into the residence until October of 2018. On January 8, 2019, Ms. Dunbar was home with her daughter. On this same day, she received a knock on her door. Upon answering, Ms. Dunbar was asked about a gentleman she did not know, and then asked who lived at the home. Ms. Dunbar "immediately got a little defensive" because of Detective Smith's mannerisms. Ms. Dunbar explained that

there had been other instances where drug addicts were found in the backyard, and all types of stuff had been going on at this property. There was a lot of drug activity around here. I just moved here, you know, because it was cheaper. And I wanted to save for a house. So, you know, I was already kind of apprehensive.

Ms. Dunbar admitted to supplying a false name, Ms. Shaffer, but denied that Detective Smith had identified himself as an officer at that time. Detective Smith was not in uniform, but rather he was wearing regular jeans and a t-shirt. Additionally, Ms. Dunbar did not see any police vehicle parked outside of the home. She "thought [Detective Smith] was just a regular guy, maybe associated with something of the previous people who lived there. The landlord even warned [her.]"

Detective Smith continued to ask Ms. Dunbar very personal questions about the property: who lived there, what persons were on the lease, and when did she move to the home. Only after Detective Smith asked these questions did he state that he was a law enforcement officer investigating credit card fraud. After Detective Smith identified himself as a law enforcement officer, Ms. Dunbar did not supply her real name. She "still wasn't convinced he was an officer. Although he had stated that [he was an officer], [she] still needed some level of proof, and [she] hadn't received that proof until [she] was arrested." When Ms. Dunbar asked Detective Smith for a business card, he told her that he did not have any on him at that time. At no point in the brief conversation was there anything to identify Detective Smith as a law enforcement officer including a badge or any other type of credentials. Even after Detective Smith left her residence on January 8, she never received a business card or any other identification.

A few days after this encounter, Ms. Dunbar was pulled over while driving home from her daughter's soccer game and was arrested in front of her children. She never heard from or saw Detective Smith again until after she was...

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