Commonwealth v. Harrison

Decision Date12 October 2021
Docket NumberNo. 19-P-1832,19-P-1832
Parties COMMONWEALTH v. Shaun HARRISON.
CourtAppeals Court of Massachusetts

Christopher DeMayo, for the defendant.

Julianne Campbell, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

Present: Green, C.J., Vuono, Shin, Ditkoff, & Walsh, JJ.

WALSH, J.

A jury convicted the defendant, the former dean at The English High School in Boston (English High), of armed assault with intent to murder, and assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon causing serious bodily injury (ABDW-SBI), in the shooting of an English High student. The defendant was also convicted of various other firearms offenses, namely carrying a firearm without a license, possession of ammunition without a firearm identification (FID) card, possession of a firearm while in commission of a felony, and possession of a firearm without an FID card (first and subsequent offenses), and of possession with intent to distribute a class D controlled substance.

At trial the defense to the shooting was identification. The defendant's primary argument on appeal is that the trial judge should have granted his motion for a mistrial because of the Commonwealth's late disclosure of a videotaped police interview with an important Commonwealth witness, an interview that he claims was material to the defense. The defendant also challenges numerous evidentiary rulings that he claims deprived him of a fair trial, as well as several aspects of the firearms convictions, and claims that the judge considered improper factors in sentencing and imposed a sentence for possession of a firearm while in commission of a felony that was based erroneously on a five-year mandatory minimum sentencing scheme. We discern no error, either individual or cumulative, giving rise to prejudice or a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice and affirm the verdicts. Because the sentence imposed for possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony was premised on a mistaken belief that it was governed by a mandatory sentencing scheme, we vacate the sentences and remand the case for resentencing consistent with this opinion.

Background. We summarize the facts as they were presented to the jury, reserving certain details for later discussion. In January 2015, the defendant was hired as a dean at English High. He was responsible for mediating conflicts between students and teachers, supervising the student body, and running an anger management program for a small group of "at risk" students. Referred to familiarly by students and colleagues alike as "Rev," the defendant was hired to nurture and engender trust among an especially vulnerable population of adolescents. The victim, Luis Rodriguez, then sixteen or seventeen years old, was one such student who sought anger management counselling from the defendant.

1. The shooting. On the evening of March 3, 2015, Rodriguez was shot in the back of the head while walking with another person along a desolate stretch of road in Boston. Rodriguez survived and managed to flag down a couple in a car, who called for emergency help. While he was being treated in the emergency department of a nearby hospital, Rodriguez identified "Rev" as the shooter to a Boston police detective.

The next day, the English High headmaster told the defendant that Rodriguez had been shot but survived. The defendant became agitated and sat down clutching his chest, almost as if having a heart attack. Later that day, police officers went to English High to speak with the defendant. The defendant appeared to be "his normal self" when he asked an officer about Rodriguez's health and whether Rodriguez had spoken to the police.

The defendant accompanied officers to the police station, where he consented to a videotaped interview. The defendant was not under arrest at the time of the interview, but he was informed of his Miranda rights. He told the police that he arrived home around 4 P.M. on the day of the shooting, spent the evening playing games with two of his sons, and never left his apartment for any reason. Throughout the interview, the defendant maintained that he and Rodriguez had a good relationship, but that Rodriguez was "impulsive and out of control," prone to causing drama and lying, and frequently "used" the defendant and blamed him for any problems in order to avoid getting in trouble at English High. The defendant added that in his experience students were always trying to throw him "under the bus" to get themselves out of trouble.

The defendant denied having any in-person interactions with Rodriguez outside of English High. At one point, a detective casually inquired about a tattoo on the defendant's arm, which the defendant described as "the mojo sign" or a sort of motto ("keep it 100") that was displayed on the walls at English High.

When the detectives pressed the defendant on his whereabouts at the time of the shooting, the defendant reiterated that he did not contact Rodriguez and he did not leave his apartment. When told that Rodriguez said he and the defendant had spoken and met on the evening of the shooting, the defendant replied that he "[didn't] know" why Rodriguez would say that and "that never happened." The police eventually told the defendant that Rodriquez claimed that the defendant was with him at the time of the shooting and that video footage placed a person of the defendant's stature with Rodriguez at the time of the shooting. The defendant calmly remarked, "That's not me," and promptly terminated the interview. The defendant was arrested shortly thereafter.

2. Communication, surveillance, and physical evidence. The police seized the defendant's cell phone when he was arrested and subsequently extracted a series of text messages and call logs between the defendant and Rodriguez, dating back to early February 2015. Most of the text messages appeared to relate to selling drugs. In the last series of messages, exchanged on the day of the shooting, the defendant and Rodriguez agreed to meet at a McDonald's restaurant at 7 P.M. so that the defendant could give Rodriguez "molly and weed."

The police also obtained video footage from various security cameras located in the vicinity of the shooting. A compilation of the video footage (security footage) was shown to the jury. It depicted Rodriguez meeting with someone the jury could have found to be the defendant around 7:08 P.M. at a gasoline station near a McDonald's restaurant. The two walked together, Rodriguez in front of the defendant, in an isolated area up until the moment of the shooting, after which the defendant fled the scene.1 The security footage captured no other pedestrians near Rodriguez at the time of the shooting. Although the face of the shooter was obscured on the security footage, the jury could have fairly concluded that the person pictured in the video footage wearing gloves, a hooded sweatshirt with the hood pulled up, and a dark three-quarter length overcoat with a light-colored logo on the left chest was in fact the defendant.

The police also recovered photographs of drugs and firearms and a series of text messages sent from the defendant's phone after the shooting. Around 10:53 P.M. on the night of the shooting, the defendant sent two nearly identical text messages -- one to "Baby Girl" and another to "R-F" -- that said, "Pray for me," and were signed, "Running Fox." Around 8:51 A.M. on the morning after the shooting, the defendant sent two text messages to "R-F," providing Rodriguez's name and address. Around 4:02 P.M. that day, the defendant sent another text message to a recipient named "King D Block" that read, "Get out house."

Around the time that last text message was sent to "King D Block," a police officer observed three men leaving the defendant's apartment building with backpacks. Concerned that they were removing evidence -- namely, the weapon used in the shooting -- from the defendant's apartment, the officer stopped them and pat frisked all three individuals. The officer recovered two handguns, multiple clear bags containing marijuana, $2,078 in cash, and four cell phones. One of the cell phones had the same number as the "King D Block" contact in the defendant's cell phone.

On March 6, 2015, the police executed a search warrant at the defendant's apartment building for his apartment and basement storage unit. From the defendant's bedroom closet, the police recovered two firearms -- a twelve-gauge shotgun and a rifle -- as well as multiple twelve-gauge shotgun shells and a loaded magazine clip for a handgun. The police found other live and spent ammunition2 elsewhere in the apartment. In the defendant's storage unit, there was ammunition hidden in the ceiling, and bags of marijuana were hidden in a laundry bag. In a locked safe in the storage unit, there was additional ammunition, a bag of cocaine, and a plastic Goodwill shopping bag containing a loaded handgun and a nonfunctional handgun. The sole fingerprint recovered from the Goodwill bag belonged to the defendant.

Prior to the shooting, the defendant's neighbor had noticed certain objects in her storage unit (which was adjacent to the defendant's) that did not belong to her. She consented to a search of her unit, which was locked with a padlock the defendant had given to her (and which still had the combination noted on the back). From that unit, the police recovered a black three-quarter length jacket with a white logo on the left chest and a navy-blue hooded sweatshirt. The black jacket resembled the one worn by the shooter on the security footage, and its sleeve cuffs tested positive for gunshot residue. A deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) swab of the jacket showed "a mixture of at least four or more individuals." A pair of gloves taken from the defendant when he was booked at the police station also resembled those worn by the shooter on the security footage and tested positive for gunshot residue. The police obtained...

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