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United States v. Roeder

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

June 19, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
CHRISTOPHER M. ROEDER, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER REGARDING DEFENDANT'S SUPPLEMENTAL MOTION FOR JUDGMENT OF ACQUITTAL (DKT. NOS. 179)

          MARK G. MASTROIANNI UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Christopher Roeder (“Defendant”), a former police officer, was charged with violating an arrestee's Fourth Amendment rights (18 U.S.C. § 242) and falsifying a report about the incident (18 U.S.C. § 1519). A jury convicted Defendant of both counts. He subsequently moved for judgment of acquittal under Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(c). (Dkt. No. 157.) The court treated the motion as seeking additional time to file a Rule 29 motion so Defendant could have sufficient time to order and review the trial transcripts. (Dkt. No. 158.) After having that time, Defendant filed a supplemental Rule 29 motion, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence underlying both convictions.[1] (Dkt. No. 179.) The government opposed the motion (Dkt. No. 181), and it is now ripe for consideration. As explained below, Defendant's motion for judgment of acquittal will be denied.

         I. Facts and Plausible Inferences in the Light Most Favorable to the Verdict

         Defendant was formerly a police officer with the Hadley Police Department (“HPD”). On March 30, 2017, he was working a traffic detail in Hadley, Massachusetts where the town's Department of Public Works (“DPW”) was trimming trees. Nickolas Peters drove a pickup truck down the street where the DPW was working and where Defendant was directing traffic. The side mirror of Mr. Peters' truck hit Defendant's elbow. According to Edward Koehler[2] (a DPW worker on the scene), Defendant yelled at Mr. Peters and grabbed the door of the truck-Mr. Koehler described Defendant as “hanging on [the] door” and “banging on the side of the guy's pickup”-but Mr. Peters accelerated and drove away. (Jan. 30, 2019 Trial Tr. (Dkt. No. 176) at 9:16-22, 33:3-5.) Mr. Koehler then heard Defendant say, “I'll get that fucker. He's a contractor, he'll be coming through town.” (Id. at 10:8-10; see also id. at 31:5-12.) Mr. Koehler described Defendant as being “agitated” and “mad.” (Id. at 10:20.) Mr. Koehler was taken aback by Defendant's behavior and had never seen anything like it. Almost immediately after Mr. Peters drove off, an officer from a different police department pulled up. Defendant told the officer he had just been hit by a pickup truck, she turned on her flashing lights and drove after Mr. Peters, but she did not find him. Defendant later called Mr. Koehler's home phone and asked him to come to the police department to give a statement; Mr. Koehler never did.

         On April 3, 2017, Defendant was handling traffic enforcement and saw a pickup truck that resembled the one that had hit him a few days earlier. As the pickup drove past Defendant, he recognized its driver as the person who had hit him and had driven off. Defendant then activated his emergency lights, followed the pickup, and pulled it over. Defendant told Mr. Peters he was going to arrest him for what had happened on March 30, and Defendant called HPD for backup. Defendant eventually transported Mr. Peters to the police station for booking. The dispatcher on duty, Richard Downie, testified that when Defendant arrived at the station, "[h]e seemed a little anxious, irritated" and "had an angry look on his face." (Jan. 29, 2019 Trial Tr. (Dkt. No. 168) at 101:5-10; see also Id. at 123:15-16, 123:25-124:6.)[3]

         Defendant and HPD Officer Courtney Call booked Mr. Peters. Two video cameras captured what happened during the booking process. Three videos were admitted into evidence at trial: the footage from the two cameras and a split screen video showing the footage from both cameras next to each other. (Trial Exs. 1 (video from side of booking area), 4 (split-screen video), & 12 (video of view from behind booking desk).) Only the side-view camera recorded audio; that audio plays in both the side-view and split-view videos. This still from the split-view shows the perspective of each camera, with the side-view on the left and the view from behind the booking desk on the right:

         (Image Omitted)

         Officer Call photographed Mr. Peters while he was standing against a wall of the booking area. He then sat on the bench in the booking area, and she walked out of view of the side camera and asked him a question. He stood up while answering and quickly sat back down. As he was sitting down, Defendant spoke to Mr. Peters, but it is difficult to decipher what Defendant said. Mr. Peters responded, "Sir, I was asked a question, okay" and then Mr. Peters twice said, "Settle down."

         Defendant and Officer Call were behind the booking desk during this interaction. Defendant came around the booking desk toward where Mr. Peters sat. While approaching him, Defendant said, "You're not in charge here, bud." Mr. Peters replied, "I know I'm not." Mr. Peters was seated with his hands in his lap; he gestured a few times while speaking with Defendant:

         (Image Omitted)

         Defendant held handcuffs in his right hand and, with his left hand, reached for Mr. Peters' right arm and hand:

         (Image Omitted)

         As Defendant reached, Mr. Peters said, "I'm not being cuffed" and put both hands behind his back, so they were between his body and the wall behind him. Defendant's left arm ended up between Mr. Peters' right arm and Mr. Peters' body so that Defendant's hand was behind Mr. Peters' back. The handcuffs remained in Defendant's right hand:

         (Image Omitted)

         Defendant told Mr. Peters, "You are being cuffed. You are being cuffed. Release your grasp right now." The next second, Defendant used his right elbow to strike Mr. Peters in the nose:

         (Image Omitted)

         After striking Mr. Peters, Defendant cuffed Mr. Peters' left arm to the bar on the wall and left the immediate area. Officer Call tended to Mr. Peters, whose blood was dripping from his face onto the bench and floor. Defendant, who had walked around to the other side of the booking desk, said, “I just told you, you're not in - I told you stop resisting.” He asked for a colleague to call EMTs and continued booking Mr. Peters. After the EMTs arrived, Defendant told them Mr. Peters “just has a broken nose.” Mr. Peters was taken to the hospital, diagnosed with a broken nose, and subsequently underwent surgery to repair it.

         A few hours after the incident, Defendant, Officer Call, the dispatcher (Officer Downie), and Sergeant Ken Hartwright (the supervisor on duty) watched the video footage of it. Sergeant Hartwright instructed Defendant to document the incident. Accordingly, that night, Defendant wrote a police report about it. HPD Officer Janelle Seitz testified she saw Defendant typing the report at a computer in the squad room. He showed her the booking video, which was open in a minimized window on the computer.

         The Government charged Defendant with intentionally making four false statements in his police report:

1. Defendant knowingly falsely wrote that Mr. Peters made an obscene comment toward Defendant after Mr. Peters had been instructed to turn his head to ...

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