Commonwealth v. Wroten, 3167 EDA 2018

CourtSuperior Court of Pennsylvania
Citation257 A.3d 734
Docket NumberNo. 3167 EDA 2018,3167 EDA 2018
Parties COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellant v. Charles WROTEN
Decision Date17 June 2021

257 A.3d 734

COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellant
Charles WROTEN

No. 3167 EDA 2018

Superior Court of Pennsylvania.

Argued May 20, 2021
Filed June 17, 2021

Matthew H. Davis, Assistant District Attorney, Philadelphia, for Commonwealth, appellant.

Charles M. Gibbs, Philadelphia, for appellee.



The Commonwealth appeals from the order entered in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County ("trial court") dismissing the refiled charges of simple assault, official oppression, and harassment1 against Appellee, Charles Wroten. We reverse the trial court's order and remand for trial.

This matter relates to a February 15, 2018 incident that occurred at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia involving Appellee, an on-duty, uniformed officer with the Amtrak Police Department, and Darrin Rogers, a train commuter at the station. At approximately 4:15 a.m. on the date in question, Appellee entered one of the men's bathrooms at the station and ordered everyone present to exit so that cleaning staff could clean the bathroom. Rogers was one of the individuals in the bathroom at this time. The Commonwealth alleges that, after escorting Rogers out of the bathroom, Appellee pushed Rogers into a corner, punched him in the face, and then told him never to return to the station.

At the July 26, 2018 preliminary hearing in the Philadelphia Municipal Court, Rogers testified that he entered a bathroom stall at the station prior to catching his 4:47 a.m. train to Jenkintown when he heard someone say that the bathroom was

257 A.3d 739

closed and everyone inside had to exit. N.T., 7/26/18, at 6, 10. Rogers stated that he responded by saying that he had just sat down and he would exit the stall in a minute. Id. When Rogers exited, he realized that the individual who had ordered him out was a police officer, who he identified at the preliminary hearing as Appellee. Id. at 6-7, 9. Appellee told him again to leave the bathroom, but Rogers insisted that he needed to wash his hands. Id. at 7. When Rogers attempted to use the sink, Appellee grabbed him and told him he was under arrest. Id. at 7-8.

Appellee then led Rogers out of the bathroom, took him down the hallway, and pushed him through a door. Id. at 8. At that point, according to Rogers, Appellee "threw me against the wall and he punched me in my mouth. And I hit my head against the wall when he did it." Id. Rogers stated that he had a "busted lip" and was bleeding from his mouth and his head was hurting for the rest of the day from the impact with the wall. Id. at 10, 19.

Rogers stated that, once Appellee told him he was under arrest, he kept quiet and did not say anything further. Id. at 9. Following the punch, Appellee did not place Rogers into custody but instead:

He pushed me out the door and told me to get the F out the station. I said I got to catch the train, my train to go to work. He said go fucking downtown to catch the train from now on; if I catch you in here, I'm going to lock you up.

Id. at 9-10. After he was thrown out of the station, Rogers waited to calm down, then called his wife and asked her to come to 30th Street Station to be with him while he filed a complaint. Id. at 10.

Surveillance video footage from cameras in the station was played at the preliminary hearing during Rogers’ testimony. Id. at 7-8. At the conclusion of the hearing, the municipal court dismissed all of the charges against Appellee. Id. at 22.

On August 2, 2018, the Commonwealth filed a notice that it was refiling the charges in the trial court. The trial court held a hearing on October 2, 2018, at which the Commonwealth presented the notes of testimony from the preliminary hearing, as well as the surveillance video shown at the prior hearing. In addition, the Commonwealth presented the testimony of Sergeant McKenna of the Amtrak Police Department, who was Appellee's supervisor at the time of the incident. Sergeant McKenna testified in relevant part that he had reviewed the surveillance video of the incident and he would characterize it as "[l]evel two ... [d]isruptive behavior" under the Amtrak Police Department's use-of-force guidelines. N.T., 10/2/18, at 6-7. Sergeant McKenna stated that in cases where an officer uses force, the officer is required to fill out a written use-of-force form as soon as possible explaining his or her reasoning for using the force. Id. at 7-8. Sergeant McKenna stated that Appellee did not complete the form as he was required to do and that the force used in this incident was not consistent with Amtrak policy. Id. at 8-9.

Following the hearing, the trial court entered an order denying the Commonwealth's notice to refile and dismissed the charges. In assessing the evidence presented by the Commonwealth, the trial court found that Rogers’ testimony was at times contradictory and that the surveillance video "did not provide the full picture [of what happened] and had no audio." Trial Court Opinion, 3/2/20, at 4. The court further noted that the Commonwealth did not present evidence that Appellee "had a trait or habit of using force resulting in complaints" or that he acted outside of his duty as a police officer. Id. The court thus concluded that it was "unable

257 A.3d 740

to determine the exact events and occurrences that led to the use of force" and therefore the Commonwealth did not prove a prima facie case as to any of the charged crimes. Id. This timely appeal followed.2

The Commonwealth raises the following issue for our review:

Did the lower court err in denying the Commonwealth's motion to refile simple assault, official oppression, and harassment charges against [Appellee] based on improper deference to the municipal court judge's decision and explicit weight and credibility determinations where the evidence, when viewed in the proper light and accepted as true, proved a prima facie case that [Appellee] committed these crimes.

Commonwealth's Brief at 4.

Prior to reaching the Commonwealth's appellate arguments, we must first address the claim by Appellee that the certified record lacks competent evidence that would have established a prima facie case as to the three charges. Appellee asserts that while the transcript of the Municipal Court preliminary hearing and the 30th Street Station surveillance video were marked by the Commonwealth's attorney at the refile hearing before the trial court, neither were moved into evidence. Therefore, Appellee argues that the notes of Rogers’ testimony and the video were not properly before the trial court nor are they before this Court on appeal. In addition, Appellee avers that the trial court could not consider the notes of testimony as it was hearsay evidence and the Commonwealth did not show that Rogers was unavailable at the refile hearing as required to admit former testimony under Rule of Evidence 804. See Pa.R.E. 804(a), (b)(1). Relying on Commonwealth v. McClelland , ––– Pa. ––––, 233 A.3d 717 (2020), Appellee argues that Rogers’ hearsay testimony was therefore not sufficient for the Commonwealth to prove its prima facie case.3

At the beginning of the refile hearing in the trial court, the following exchange took place:

[Assistant District Attorney ("ADA")]: ... with the Court's permission?


[ADA]: I filed a motion, refiled this motion, sent Your Honor a copy of the notes and the video that was shown in the [Municipal Court] courtroom. I'd
257 A.3d 741
just ask that they be -- I know Your Honor's seen the notes, read the notes and seen the video. So I just ask that they be marked C-1 and C-2.

THE COURT: All right. You want C-1 for the notes?

[ADA]: And C-2 for the video.

THE COURT: Okay. C-1 is going to be the notes of testimony, that's 7/26/18. And C-2 will be the video.

[ADA]: Which is two short video clips --

THE COURT: Okay. And then we --

[ADA]: Which [defense counsel] has seen and I sent a copy.

N.T., 10/2/18, at 3-4.

When hearing argument at the refile hearing on whether the charges against Appellee should be reinstated, the trial court directed counsel to "just focus on what we have that supports or doesn't support the fact that [the charges were] discharged" in the Municipal Court. Id. at 15. The ADA and defense counsel then each referenced Rogers’ preliminary hearing testimony and the contents of the surveillance video in support of their respective positions. Id. at 18-23. In its Rule 1925(a) opinion, the trial court noted what the court deemed to be deficiencies in Rogers’ testimony and the surveillance video and explained that it was dismissing the charges against Appellee because "[t]he evidence [that the] Commonwealth presented at the preliminary hearing was insufficient to meet the prima facie requirement." Trial Court Opinion, 3/2/20, at 4.

While the ADA did not specifically move the preliminary hearing notes of testimony and surveillance video into evidence, we do not deem this omission as necessitating the exclusion of this evidence from the record. It is apparent from the trial court's statements at the hearing that it accepted these items into evidence and considered them to be part of the record for the purpose of its analysis. We note that,...

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  • Commonwealth v. Jones, 938 WDA 2020
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • December 16, 2021
    ...Pa. Code § 65.37(B). The other cases cited concerning video evidence that was played but not formally admitted, Commonwealth v. Wroten , 257 A.3d 734 (Pa. Super. 2021) and Commonwealth v. Fretts , 2443 EDA 2019, 2020 WL 4728128 (Pa. Super. August 14, 2020) (unpublished memorandum), involved......
  • Commonwealth v. Harris, 1981 EDA 2020
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    ...and accepted as true, the judge would be warranted in permitting the case to proceed to a jury. Commonwealth v. Wroten , ––– Pa. ––––, 257 A.3d 734, 742 (2021) (internal citations and quotations omitted); see also Pa.R.Crim.P. 542(D) ("At the preliminary hearing, the issuing authority shall......
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    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • December 16, 2021
    ...Pa. Code § 65.37(B). The other cases cited concerning video evidence that was played but not formally admitted, Commonwealth v. Wroten, 257 A.3d 734 (Pa. Super. 2021) and Commonwealth v. Fretts, 2443 EDA 2019 (Pa. Super. August 14, 2020) (unpublished memorandum), involved pretrial hearings ......
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