Vaughn v. United States

Citation93 A.3d 1237
Decision Date03 July 2014
Docket Number11–CF–363.,Nos. 11–CF–228,s. 11–CF–228
CourtCourt of Appeals of Columbia District
PartiesAlonzo R. VAUGHN and Carl S. Morton, Appellants, v. UNITED STATES, Appellee.

93 A.3d 1237

Alonzo R. VAUGHN and Carl S. Morton, Appellants,

Nos. 11–CF–228, 11–CF–363.

District of Columbia Court of Appeals.

Argued Sept. 18, 2012.
Decided July 3, 2014.

[93 A.3d 1243]

Cory L. Carlyle for appellant Alonzo R. Vaughn.

Amanda R. Grier, Washington, DC, with whom Saul M. Pilchen was on the brief, for appellant Carl S. Morton.

Peter S. Smith, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Ronald C. Machen Jr., United States Attorney, Roy W. McLeese III, Assistant United States Attorney at the time the brief was filed, Chrisellen R. Kolb, Mary Chris Dobbie, and Reagan Taylor, Assistant United States Attorneys, were on the brief, for appellee.

Before GLICKMAN and EASTERLY, Associate Judges, and PRYOR, Senior Judge.

EASTERLY, Associate Judge:

Carl Morton and Alonzo Vaughn appeal their convictions for aggravated assault (D.C.Code § 22–404.01 (2012 Repl.)) and assault on a law enforcement officer (D.C.Code § 22–405(c) (2012 Repl.)). Both were charged in connection with an incident at the D.C. Jail in which a group of men attacked a fellow inmate, Deon Spencer, and a corrections officer who came to that inmate's aid, Sergeant Charles White. The victims could not identify Mr. Morton and Mr. Vaughn; but the incident was recorded by multiple cameras, and, although these recordings were not exactly movie-quality, two corrections officers said they could identify Mr. Morton and Mr. Vaughn in the footage. The government presented the testimony of these corrections officers in conjunction with the recordings to the jury, and the jury convicted. But unbeknownst to the defendants, one of these identifying witnesses, introduced by the government as “Officer” Angelo Childs, had a significant credibility issue.

Six months earlier, Officer Childs had filed reports accusing a different inmate (“Inmate A”) of assault, thereby providing a potential justification for his use of a chemical agent on the inmate. His accusations were investigated by the Department of Corrections (DOC) Office of Internal Affairs (OIA). The DOC OIA determined in a “Final Report,” that, among other things, video footage of this incident did not show the alleged inmate assault.

The OIA Officer who wrote the OIA Final Report about the Inmate A incident stated in a sworn affidavit (submitted by the government during post-trial proceedings in this case) that he sent the OIA Final Report to the DOC Office of the Director, the entity in charge of disciplinary action, and he was later informed that the DOC Office of the Director demoted Officer Childs from Lieutenant to Sergeant after it received the report. In addition, this OIA Officer, who also assisted the government in the investigation of the Spencer–White attacks, stated in his affidavit that he “notified the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia of the Investigative Report concerning Lieutenant Childs and his subsequent demotion” on September 15, 2009, approximately two months before Mr. Vaughn and Mr. Morton's trial.

[93 A.3d 1244]

The government did not disclose this favorable impeaching information to the defense. Instead, a week before trial, the government filed a motion in limine to preclude the defense from questioning Officer Childs about the misconduct detailed in the OIA Final Report. In that motion, the government provided a “summary” of the OIA Final Report that gave no indication that the OIA had investigated a potentially false allegation of an inmate assault by Officer Childs and others and determined that this allegation was false; the government also did not reveal Officer Childs's resulting demotion. Rather, the government's summary focused exclusively on only a portion of the OIA Final Report that considered whether Officer Childs (1) had properly used a chemical agent on the accused inmate, who the government (quoting the very portion of Officer Childs's Incident Report the OIA had discredited) indicated had been acting aggressively, and (2) had falsely indicated in a report that the inmate was unrestrained. Portraying this investigation with skepticism, the government argued that it had little to do with Officer Childs's credibility because the OIA had determined Officer Childs had only “suggest[ed]” that the inmate was unrestrained.

The difference between the government's summary of the OIA investigation and the actual OIA Final Report almost certainly would have come to light had the government provided the trial court with the full copy. It did not. Along with its summary, the government submitted to the trial court ex parte what it said was the OIA Final Report, but in fact was only the first five pages of the ten-page report (and included none of the documents in the appendix, 76 pages in all). The first five pages of the OIA Final Report contain “background” information, investigative notes, and a full reproduction of Officer Childs's account of an inmate assault in his Incident Report without any indication that that account was being questioned; the findings adverse to Officer Childs begin on the sixth page.

Under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963), the government has a constitutionally mandated obligation to disclose to the defense, prior to trial, information in the government's actual or constructive possession that is favorable and material. The government did not fulfill its due process disclosure obligations in this case. Moreover, its failure to provide the court and the defense with complete and accurate information as to the contents of the OIA Final Report thwarted the trial court's ability to “require strict compliance with the demands of Brady ... in the first instance.” Boyd v. United States, 908 A.2d 39, 62 (D.C.2006). As to Mr. Morton, we reverse his two convictions on this ground and remand for a new trial after the government has certified in writing that it has fulfilled its duty to learn of and disclose all the favorable information in the possession of the United States Attorney's Office and the entire the prosecution team. As for Mr. Vaughn, we determine that a jury instruction conceded to be erroneous by the government requires reversal of his conviction for aggravated assault. We reject the remaining claims raised by Mr. Morton and Mr. Vaughn.

I. The Spencer–White Attacks, the DOC Investigation, and Mr. Morton and Mr. Vaughn's Trial

Mr. Morton and Mr. Vaughn were prosecuted for their alleged involvement in an attack at the D.C. Jail on a corrections officer, Charles White, but it all began with an attack on a fellow inmate, Deon

[93 A.3d 1245]

Spencer.1 On December 27, 2007, Mr. Spencer was in the communal dining area of the Southwest 2 (“SW2”) housing unit when an inmate began hitting and kicking him. Corporal James Weathers, a corrections officer on duty in SW2, tried to assist Mr. Spencer, but he was outnumbered by the many inmates who rushed into the area and joined in the attack. Corporal Weathers radioed for help, and “that's when everything just broke apart.” He described the scene as a “melee.”

Sergeant White, assigned to the Southeast 2 housing unit, responded to Corporal Weathers's call for help. As he tried to quell the disturbance, he was attacked. Sergeant White was initially pushed onto a dining table, but he immediately got back up and moved away from the table. At some point, Sergeant White ended up on the floor. Several inmates then kicked him about the head and body and knocked him unconscious. As he lay in the walkway, inmates ran back and forth through the area, over and around his body.

In the meantime, a number of other corrections officers responded to the scene.2 The incident ended when a chemical agent was dispersed, forcing inmates back into their cells. SW2 went on lockdown.

Mr. Morton and Mr. Vaughn were not initially identified as participants in the attack. The victims, Mr. Spencer and Sergeant White, were unable to identify their assailants from the 156 inmates housed on SW2 on the day of the attack. The officers who had seen and responded to the attack wrote Incident Reports immediately after the incident identifying a number of inmates they had seen participating in the violence—many of whom were charged and eventually pled guilty in connection with this incident.3 Mr. Morton and Mr. Vaughn were not among these individuals.

OIA Investigator Benjamin Collins, who led the DOC investigation into this incident, sought to identify additional individuals involved in the attacks using recordings of the incident from fixed cameras capturing images of SW2 from different angles. The recordings were of limited utility on their own, however. In particular, the footage of the attack on Sergeant White is of extremely poor quality. Instead of a seamless “moving picture,” it is a choppy series of still images, capturing a chaotic sequence of events only at regular intervals. In addition, the images are highly pixelated and the faces are, as DOC staff conceded, “blurry.” 4 Accordingly, the

[93 A.3d 1246]

DOC set out to find corrections officers who could identify individuals in the recorded footage.

The morning after the attacks, OIA Investigator Collins met with Officer Childs.5 Officer Childs had not been on duty the day prior but he had already watched some footage of the incident with Officer Harper. Officer Childs told OIA Investigator Collins that “he was very familiar with the vast majority of the inmates in the unit and that he ... had named at least 11 inmates who he saw in the video that were involved in the altercation.” Apparently he then identified Mr. Morton as a participant in the attack on Sergeant White. Several months later OIA Investigator Collins brought Officer Childs to the U.S. Attorney's Office, at which point Officer Childs identified Mr. Vaughn as another participant in this attack. OIA Investigator Collins also spoke to Sergeant Harper in the course of his investigation. Sergeant Harper ultimately identified Mr. Morton and...

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