Richardson v. McGriff

Decision Date15 November 2000
Docket NumberNo. 142,142
PartiesTaurrance RICHARDSON v. Horace McGRIFF.
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

David F. Albright, Jr. (Horn & Bennett, P.A., on brief), Baltimore, for petitioner.

Donald R. Huskey, Associate Legal Counsel, Charles R. Gayle, Associate Legal Counsel (Thurman W. Zollicoffer, Jr., City Solicitor and William R. Phelan, Jr., Principal Counsel, on brief), Baltimore, for respondent.

H. Jeffrey Tabb, Greenbelt, for Amicus Curiae Brief of Maryland Trial Lawyers' Ass'n filed on behalf of Taurrance Richardson.


WILNER, Judge.

On the evening of January 12, 1996, petitioner and six of his friends broke into a vacant apartment at the Middle Branch Apartment development in Baltimore City and had a party. Someone reported the intrusion to the police, as a result of which Officers McGriff and Catterton responded. They entered the then-darkened apartment and began to search it. We shall describe the ensuing events in greater detail below, but suffice it to say here that petitioner hid in a kitchen closet, that he refused to come out when the police announced their presence and called upon him to do so, that he was holding a vacuum cleaner pipe in his hand, that it was extremely dark in the kitchen, that when Officer Catterton quickly opened the closet and Officer McGriff shined his flashlight inside, McGriff saw what appeared to him to be a man holding a large weapon and lowering it into firing position, and that, in self-defense, he fired at petitioner and severely wounded him.

Petitioner sued Officers McGriff and Catterton, the City of Baltimore, the State of Maryland, and the Police Commissioner of Baltimore in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, alleging the violation of his rights under Articles 24 and 26 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights and several common law torts. After a winnowing both before and during trial, with which we are no longer concerned, the claims against Officer McGriff for battery, gross negligence, and violation of rights under Article 26 were submitted to the jury, which returned a verdict in the officer's favor. Petitioner appealed the judgment entered on those claims, and, in an unreported opinion, the Court of Special Appeals affirmed. We granted certiorari to consider whether (1) the trial court erred in precluding petitioner from introducing evidence of certain Baltimore City police regulations, guidelines, and training procedures pertaining to the use of deadly force, (2) a supplemental instruction to the jury improperly precluded the jury from considering the officer's actions prior to the opening of the closet door, (3) the court erred in denying petitioner the opportunity to examine a police sergeant concerning police training and reasonable alternatives to Officer McGriff's actions, and (4) the court erred in failing to sustain petitioner's objection, under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986), to the striking of certain African Americans from the jury. Finding no error, we shall affirm the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals.


Although the parties disagree on some of the inferences to be drawn from it, most of the evidence presented was not in dispute. We shall recite that evidence as presented and note those few instances where there was a significant dispute.

Petitioner and his friends, all of whom lived in the immediate vicinity, gathered in the apartment around 9:00 in the evening. Although petitioner claimed they entered the apartment to get warm—an objective that could have been achieved had they simply gone to their respective homes-their apparent purpose was to smoke marijuana which, according to petitioner, all save himself proceeded to do. Petitioner was 20; the two youngest members of the group were 13. The group congregated in the kitchen. After about an hour, one of the boys noticed the police outside, and everyone panicked. After turning out the kitchen light, petitioner and three of his friends hid in a folding—door closet, petitioner taking with him a vacuum cleaner pipe with which he had been playing. During his recitation of the event, petitioner never mentioned any shots having been fired from the apartment.

McGriff stated that, about 10:00, he received a call for "several males, that's the way I heard it, in a vacant apartment, shots fired."2 He went to the rear of the building and observed "an open, vacant apartment, which was dark and, you know, the door was ajar." He did not enter the building at that point, but instead called for "another unit with a flashlight," and waited for that unit—Officer Catterton—to arrive. McGriff explained that he and Catterton were "side partners" who often responded to calls together, backing each other up, and that they had canvassed many vacant apartments together. Catterton confirmed that he and McGriff were familiar with the apartment development and had, on a number of occasions, discovered vacant apartments there that had been broken into. Catterton said that homeless persons often broke into the vacant apartments, and that the usual procedure in investigating apparent break-ins was to enter the apartment, make certain that no one was there, and ensure that the plumbing was intact. Scrappers, he said, would come in and steal the copper pipes. If everything was in order, they would notify the management that the apartment had been broken into and keep an eye on it for a few days.

The officers first searched an upper apartment and then turned their attention to Apartment T, at the terrace level. McGriff noticed that the door was ajar and that it had signs of forced entry. He said that, at first, he and Catterton thought this was an "average" call that was probably false, but nonetheless required investigation. Catterton said, however, that, even in the vestibule, he could smell the odor of marijuana that seemed to be coming from Apartment T, and he suggested to McGriff that that apartment be checked. Catterton added that his intent was not so much to confront armed individuals as to determine whether there were any victims. It had been his experience that "discharging calls are often followed or lead to the discovery of a victim."

McGriff said that, upon entering the apartment, he announced their presence.3 Catterton said that the odor of marijuana grew as they entered. He also confirmed that they announced their presence. Hearing no response, they began a systematic, room-to-room search, in Catterton's words, "to ascertain if there was someone secreting themselves or a victim possibly inside of the apartment." Catterton said that, although the apartment was dark, "it wasn't so dark that you couldn't see. There was enough light to navigate by," noting that some street light entered the apartment through the windows. It was stipulated, however, that, at the time of the shooting, the kitchen was "extremely dark." Catterton explained that they did not look for light switches because, in his experience, it was better not to change the environment. The eyes, he said, become accustomed to the dark, but when lights are turned on, "you're blinded temporarily.... If it takes two seconds or ten seconds for your eyes to adjust, it's detrimental." At first, McGriff said, they did not even enter the kitchen, but merely "flashlighted" it.4 Seeing nothing, they turned to leave, but then heard a "bump" come from the room. Petitioner confirmed that there was some kind of "boom" before the officers entered the kitchen.

Upon hearing the "bump," McGriff and Catterton walked inside the kitchen and noted that there was no place, other than the closet, for a person to hide. McGriff obtained the flashlight from Catterton, who moved out of the line of possible fire and put his hand at the top of where the closet door folded, preparing to pull the door open. McGriff got into a position where he would be able to see into the closet when the door was opened, drew his pistol and aimed it at the center mast of the closet. He then announced: "All right. We're getting ready to open the closet. Police. Come on out." Although petitioner denied hearing any such warning, Catterton confirmed the second warning, recalling that "we again announced our presence and said, `Come out of the closet.'" Hearing no response, Catterton pulled the closet door open, and, according to McGriff, "immediately my flashlight struck the light of the object, which I thought was a barrel of a big weapon. And all I saw was a glimmer, and what I perceived as someone coming towards me, and I fired." He continued, "[a]nd the weapon fell to the ground. I took my right foot and I slid the weapon behind me, and I just stood there covering the closet. I couldn't speak or nothing. I was just—heart stopped and everything. I was totally afraid." Catterton said that he did not know whether McGriff was the one who was shot—that he was rigid, his eyes being "as big as paper plates." McGriff added later:

"[M]y flashlight immediately silhouetted off of the pipe, and I shot. But at the time I didn't know it was a pipe. It looked, in this position, it looked like somebody was grasping a weapon, and I thought he was getting ready to lower it and fire upon me. And that's when I shot."

The first three issues raised by petitioner may be considered together. As part of his contention that Officer McGriff acted negligently and used unnecessary, unreasonable, and excessive force, petitioner urged that McGriff was remiss in entering the apartment late at night, in the dark, facing the prospect of seven armed men, without additional back-up, and that he was also remiss in not turning on the kitchen light before having Catterton open the closet. In support of those positions, he desired to offer into evidence certain guidelines and regulations of the Baltimore...

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