State v. Watson, 051920 NCCA, COA18-1254

Docket Nº:COA18-1254
Attorney:Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Michael E. Bulleri, for the State. Dunn, Pittman, Skinner & Cushman, PLLC, by Rudolph A. Ashton, III, for Defendant.
Judge Panel:Judges BERGER and COLLINS concur.
Case Date:May 19, 2020
Court:Court of Appeals of North Carolina




No. COA18-1254

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

May 19, 2020

An unpublished opinion of the North Carolina Court of Appeals does not constitute controlling legal authority. Citation is disfavored, but may be permitted in accordance with the provisions of Rule 30(e)(3) of the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Procedure.

Heard in the Court of Appeals 6 August 2019.

Appeal by Defendant from judgment entered 1 March 2018 by Edwin G. Wilson, Jr., in Superior Court, Guilford County No. 16 CRS 92606, 16 CRS 92616, 17 CRS 24032

Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Michael E. Bulleri, for the State.

Dunn, Pittman, Skinner & Cushman, PLLC, by Rudolph A. Ashton, III, for Defendant.


I. Factual and Procedural History

Jazmyn Brantley ("Ms. Brantley"), assistant manager of the Family Dollar drugstore on East Cone Boulevard in Greensboro, North Carolina, was working the cash register on 22 December 2016, when, as she later testified, a man entered the store and walked around for about ten minutes. Ms. Brantley testified the man was wearing the hood of his jacket drawn over his head, a ball cap, sunglasses, and fake dreadlocks. After walking up to the counter, the man leaned over, pulled a gun on Ms. Brantley, and demanded the money in the safe and the cash register. Ms. Brantley testified the store was well lit and she could see the man's face and, in court, she identified Travis Lashaun Watson ("Defendant") as the man in the store. She also testified the gun she was threatened with was "an old revolver with brown on it." Ms. Brantley testified she did not open the safe, and instead punched a dummy code that "prolong[ed] the safe from opening." At that point, the man said "he'll blow [her] mouth off if [she] was to call the cops." Ms. Brantley testified he was getting impatient and "call[ing] her all type of B words and stuff" because "it was taking too long." When she did not open the safe, the man said "just give him the money out of the register." Meanwhile, Ms. Brantley's boyfriend, who was also in the store, was on the phone calling the police. Ms. Brantley gave the man the money from the cash register and he left the store. She testified the robbery took around seven minutes.

Corporal J.A. Sink ("Corporal Sink") of the Greensboro Police Department responded to the call received on 22 December 2016 at 9:02 a.m. He met Ms. Brantley at the Family Dollar and recorded an interview with her on his body camera. Ms. Brantley said the gun used in the robbery appeared to be "dusty." Although an investigator attempted to take fingerprints at the crime scene, the State and Defendant stipulated there was no match of Defendant's fingerprints.

Two days after the robbery, on 24 December 2016, the Greensboro Police Department responded to a call from Patrick Marshall, Defendant's brother, alleging that Defendant had assaulted him. Mr. Marshall told an Emergency Medical Technician at the scene that Defendant had robbed the Family Dollar and that the wig, clothing, and gun used were in Defendant's apartment.

Detective William Tyndall ("Detective Tyndall") investigated the Family Dollar robbery for the Greensboro Police Department. After confirming what Mr. Marshall said with the EMT, Detective Tyndall had Detective Eric Miller ("Detective Miller") arrange a lineup of photographs of six individuals, including one of Defendant, for Ms. Brantley to attempt to identify the man who robbed the store. When presented with the lineup, Ms. Brantley identified Defendant as the man who robbed the store, saying she "was about 70 percent sure" it was him. Detective Miller testified he recorded Ms. Brantley as saying "[i]t could be him, but he had more facial hair. I recognize his lips." He confirmed that Ms. Brantley had a 70 percent level of confidence that Defendant was the perpetrator during the lineup. Later at trial, Ms. Brantley testified she was "100 percent sure" Defendant was the man who robbed the store.

Detective Tyndall also met with a resident of the apartment complex where Defendant and Mr. Marshall both lived. The search warrant later issued stated "the resident also concurred that the subject in the [surveillance] photographs [taken from the Family Dollar] looked like [Defendant]." After searching North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicle records, Detective Tyndall learned Defendant owned a 1997 Acura and confirmed Defendant's residential address.

Based on the information obtained during his investigation, including Ms. Brantley's identification of Defendant in the photographic lineup and the identification of Defendant by his neighbor, Detective Tyndall obtained an arrest warrant for Defendant for robbery with a dangerous weapon.

Officer Natalie Altizer ("Officer Altizer") and other officers of the Greensboro Police Department served the arrest warrant on Defendant at his residence for the Family Dollar robbery and took him into custody on 29 December 2016. Carla Morris ("Ms. Morris"), Defendant's girlfriend, was also at the residence. Ms. Morris was asked to remain at the residence until Detective Tyndall returned with a search warrant for Defendant's house and car. Once Detective Tyndall arrived with the search warrants, Detective Tyndall and Officer Altizer searched the apartment. During the search, officers found a .38 caliber revolver in the bag of a vacuum cleaner and Detective Tyndall found .38 caliber bullets in a bag in the trunk of Defendant's car. Ms. Morris said the gun found in the vacuum bag was hers.

Detective Tyndall and Detective Nick Ingram ("Detective Ingram") later interviewed Defendant. Detective Ingram read the transcript of the recorded interview to the jury at trial. According to the interview transcript, Detective Tyndall told Defendant during the interview that he "searched [Defendant's] residence" and "found the gun that was used in the robbery." Defendant denied the revolver found at Defendant's residence was used in the robbery, but admitted to owning it, saying he owned it "[s]ince a . . . young Blood [gang member] started coming over there and giving [him] issues."

The detectives also asked Defendant where he was during the time of the robbery on 22 December 2016. Defendant said "if we [(i.e. he and Ms. Morris)] didn't get up and go to the gym, we was in the bed." Defendant told the detectives they went to the Gold's Gym. The officers also seized Defendant's shoes, which resembled those worn by the perpetrator in the surveillance footage. Additional facts will be discussed as needed to resolve the issues presented in our analysis.

Defendant was indicted for robbery with a dangerous weapon, possession of a firearm by a felon, and being a habitual felon. Before trial, Defendant filed a pro se motion to dismiss the charges on the grounds that he was improperly transferred from a jail to a state correctional facility. This motion was heard by Judge John O. Craig, III, in Superior Court, Guilford County, on 16 November 2017. The trial court determined it did not have jurisdiction over Defendant's motion to dismiss. On 22 November 2017, Defendant also filed a motion to suppress all evidence obtained through the search of Defendant's residence and vehicle, which was later denied by Judge Edwin G. Wilson, Jr., the trial court judge. Judge Wilson entered a written order denying the motion to suppress on 21 March 2018.

At the conclusion of trial, on 1 March 2018, the jury returned verdicts of guilty for robbery with a dangerous weapon, possession of a firearm by a felon, and being a habitual felon. Defendant received his sentence and gave oral notice of appeal that day.

II. Analysis

Defendant argues four issues on appeal: (1) the trial court erred in denying Defendant's motion to suppress evidence obtained during the search of his residence; (2) the trial court erred in denying Defendant's pro se motion to dismiss; (3) Detective Ingram's testimony about what he learned from the Gold's Gym manager was inadmissible hearsay; and (4) the trial court erred or plainly erred by permitting the State to introduce copies of personal correspondence written by Defendant while he was in jail. We consider these issues in turn.

1. Defendant's Motion to Suppress

Defendant first argues the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress the search of his residence. Defendant specifically argues the search warrant was deficient because it was based in part on "triple hearsay" and that the supporting "affidavit failed to present sufficient credible evidence to the magistrate, and therefore the motion to suppress should have been allowed." Defendant further argues the protective sweep conducted by officers during and immediately following Defendant's arrest was not reasonable under the circumstances.

We note the State argues Defendant has...

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