Com. v. Urkiel

Decision Date06 May 2005
Docket NumberNo. 03-P-1402.,03-P-1402.
Citation63 Mass. App. Ct. 445,826 N.E.2d 769
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court

Adriana Contartese, South Boston (Dana Alan Curhan, Boston, with her) for the defendant.

Judith Ellen Pietras, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.



A judge of the District Court found at a bench trial that the defendant, Richard J. Urkiel, had unlawfully resisted arrest by certain police officers of the town of Greenfield (G.L. c. 268, § 32B), but had not committed assault and battery upon those officers (G.L. c. 265, § 13D).1 We reverse the judgment of conviction and remand for a new trial, because of the judge's handling of the issue, tendered by the defendant, of self-defense against excessive force used by the officers. We discuss, further, a matter that may arise upon the retrial in the application of the resisting arrest statute.

1. Sergeant Daniel McCarthy was the Commonwealth's sole witness. McCarthy testified thus:

About 6:55 P.M. on June 18, 2002, McCarthy went to Lunt Field, a local little league baseball field, on a report that the defendant was present there in violation of a provision of a restraining order against him in favor of his ex-wife, Gail, forbidding either party to attend their children's sporting events when the children were at the time under the other's care.2

Arriving at the field, Sergeant McCarthy learned from Gail that the defendant had driven up in a green pickup truck, remained in the vehicle for approximately five to ten minutes, and driven away. He had called one of their children over to the truck and talked with him for a few moments before the boy returned to his baseball game. The defendant did not communicate with Gail or threaten her in any sense. Gail rather said that Richard was not supposed to be at the field and she could not teach the children respect for law if he did not himself respect it.

Around 7:10 P.M., McCarthy alerted all units by bulletin to be on the lookout for the defendant and his vehicle. Then he drove to the defendant's known residence at 280 Chapman Street in Greenfield. Officer Rice separately arrived there. The officers identified the defendant's truck, the engine and tail pipe still warm, in the backyard. They knocked to no response on the front and back doors of the house; both doors were locked. Detecting no activity within the house, the officers left the place at 7:20 P.M. Sergeant McCarthy filed a report which stated, "Other checks will be made at this house for Richard. If unable to locate him a warrant will be applied for."

Some three hours later at 10:00 P.M., McCarthy, with an Officer Greene, returned to the residence for the purpose of arresting the defendant for the restraining order violation (a misdemeanor). Neither officer had sought a warrant. The defendant was sleeping on a couch downstairs. Circling the house in opposite directions, the officers heard the defendant snoring. As they met near the back door, Greene told McCarthy he had awakened the defendant by calling to him through an open window; now the defendant was coming to the front door.

The defendant opened the solid wooden front door and talked to the officers through the unlocked screen door.3 The officers said the defendant was under arrest on account of violating the restraining order. In response, the defendant "basically said `so?'" and that he "wasn't going to be arrested." He began to push the front door closed. McCarthy opened the screen door and thrust his hand inside the front door to hold it open. The defendant grabbed McCarthy's wrist. McCarthy grabbed the defendant's hand. The defendant pulled McCarthy through the doorway.

According to McCarthy, the defendant attacked him, seized him in a bear hug, lifted him up by the waist, and slammed him into the open front door, thus breaking a pane of decorative glass in its center. In violent struggle, the defendant tackled, pushed, and repeatedly struck both McCarthy and Greene; during the skirmish, McCarthy was thrown into a coat rack just inside the doorway. It took the assistance of Officer Rice, timely arriving, and multiple uses of OC spray4 to subdue the defendant. After he was restrained on the porch in a prone position, he continued to try to pull away and hid his arms underneath his body to prevent handcuffing. The officers soon completed the arrest.

2. As McCarthy ended his testimony, the defendant moved for a required finding of not guilty. Under the resisting arrest statute and general law, a person has a right to resist by reasonable force an arrest carried out by police with excessive or unreasonable force, see G.L. c. 268, § 32B; Commonwealth v. Moreira, 388 Mass. 596, 601-602, 447 N.E.2d 1224 (1983), and this permitted exercise of self-defense does not turn upon the legality or illegality of the arrest itself, see id. at 601, 447 N.E.2d 1224. In the present case the Commonwealth conceded the constitutional invalidity of the warrantless entry and, therefore, of the arrest.5 The defendant went on to argue that this invalidity — simpliciter, without more — should count as unreasonable force, justifying forceful resistance. However, the cases are distinct, not analogous, and the right now claimed by the defendant was repudiated in Commonwealth v. Gomes, 59 Mass.App.Ct. 332, 340-343, 795 N.E.2d 1217 (2003). The judge was right to deny the defendant's motion. But defendant's counsel remarked that the question of resistance to the police behavior in its entirety would come up when all the evidence was in.

3. The defendant, sole defense witness, essentially confirmed McCarthy's story about the incident at the field except that the defendant had all three children running over to the car without being called. After leaving the field, the defendant ran two brief errands (to a gym to place a medical hold on his membership, and to a friend's house to drop a video game in the mailbox). He returned to 280 Chapman. He was recovering from a spinal tap procedure undergone the night before. He took a bath upstairs followed by a nap in an upstairs bedroom.

About 9:45 P.M., the defendant went downstairs to the kitchen for a drink of water and an ice pack for his back. Then he lay down on a couch and fell back asleep. A few minutes later, he awoke to the officers yelling through the window. McCarthy said the police were there to talk to him. He answered, "The window's open, talk." McCarthy demanded that he come to the door to talk face-to-face. The defendant responded, "I'm on doctor's orders to lay on this ice pack on this couch, come back tomorrow morning." McCarthy, in an angry tone, insisted that he come to the door immediately. Despite pain from the spinal tap, the defendant got up and complied.

The defendant testified that the officers never told him of their purpose to arrest him. As the defendant opened the front door inward, McCarthy, without a word, rushed at him — breaking through the screen door, which had been locked,6 and sending splinters of wood flying. Fearful for his safety, the defendant tried quickly to resist and close the wooden door. When the door was almost shut, McCarthy punched through a decorative glass panel at the center to force the door open. The defendant continued to try to push the door closed, while McCarthy used all his weight to keep it open. After about two seconds, the defendant was overcome, releasing the door. It flung inward, smashing into his bare right big toe, peeling the nail back with blood. McCarthy was self-propelled inside the house and into a coat rack. McCarthy jumped to his feet and attacked the defendant, repeatedly punching him on the side of his head and right arm, which the defendant raised to protect himself. The defendant pleaded for McCarthy to stop. He protested he was in great pain from the spinal tap. In ten to fifteen seconds Officer Greene appeared. At McCarthy's command, Greene sprayed the defendant with OC spray in the eyes and mouth; the defendant testified he felt "the worst, hottest pain in my eyes that I've ever felt in my life and a taste that is so horrible in my mouth that I will never ever wish that on anyone." As McCarthy continued to throw punches, the officers grabbed the defendant and shoved him onto the front porch. They instructed him to put his arms to his sides and get down on the porch. The defendant relaxed his arms but said he could not bend his back because of the spinal tap.

Now Officer Rice appeared. At McCarthy's command, "Spray him again," Greene and Rice did so until the OC dripped onto the defendant's shirt and the floor boards of the porch. The officers combined to take the defendant's legs out from under him, slamming his chin on the porch. McCarthy twice jumped on the defendant, plunging his knee into the defendant's neck and back. The defendant's cries caused his neighbors' lights to go on through the vicinity.

Handcuffed, the defendant was placed in a patrol car and taken to the police station. Because of the effects of the OC spray, the defendant could not open his eyes through the booking process and is pictured in a dazed, pained squint. Shortly he complained of severe pain throughout his body, especially in his back. He requested medical attention and was taken to the hospital, where he was x-rayed, received treatment for his injured big toe, and was released, returning to the station at 2:30 A.M. The following morning, at the suggestion of court house personnel, the defendant was returned to the hospital for examination and treatment.

4. In his closing argument, defense counsel persisted in his position that the defendant acted in self-defense, responding to excessive and unreasonable force on the part of the officers in effecting the arrest. As already indicated, the judge was right to reject the defendant's suggestion — that an unlawful,...

To continue reading

Request your trial
20 cases
  • Com. v. Teixeira
    • United States
    • Appeals Court of Massachusetts
    • January 12, 2010
    ...error is a new trial. See, e.g., Commonwealth v. Brow, 20 Mass.App.Ct. 375, 375-376, 480 N.E.2d 333 (1985); Commonwealth v. Urkiel, 63 Mass. App.Ct. 445, 451, 826 N.E.2d 769 (2005). Entirely preventing the case from proceeding is a very different matter. "Precluding trial of the accused bas......
  • Commonwealth v. Miranda
    • United States
    • Appeals Court of Massachusetts
    • June 21, 2010
    ...protect herself. An individual may resist an arrest if excessive force is used in effectuating the arrest. Commonwealth v. Urkiel, 63 Mass.App.Ct. 445, 448, 826 N.E.2d 769 (2005). In this case, the jury could have believed that the trooper used excessive force. Commonwealth v. Graham, 62 Ma......
  • Commonwealth v. Eberle
    • United States
    • Appeals Court of Massachusetts
    • February 3, 2012
    ...N.E.2d 951 (1998). In this case the defendant was entitled to an instruction as suggested by the court in Commonwealth v. Urkiel, 63 Mass.App.Ct. 445, 452, 826 N.E.2d 769 (2005), quoting Graham, supra at 654 n. 7, 818 N.E.2d 1069. “The gist of the instruction would provide as follows: If th......
  • Commonwealth v. Asher
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • June 9, 2015
    ...v. Martin, 369 Mass. 640, 341 N.E.2d 885 (1976) (various charges stemming from assault of correction officer); Commonwealth v. Urkiel, 63 Mass.App.Ct. 445, 826 N.E.2d 769 (2005) (resisting arrest); Commonwealth v. Graham, 62 Mass.App.Ct. 642, 818 N.E.2d 1069 (2004) (resisting arrest and thr......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT