“The Court of Appeals Erred to Find that the Evidence Was Sufficient to Sustain the Convictions Entered in the Instant Case”
Ratliff, a police chief, was convicted of tampering with a governmental record for approving another officer’s police report about Cory Nutt’s arrest that omitted facts or presented misleading facts. Ratliff was also convicted of two counts of official oppression for his involvement in the unlawful in-home arrest of Nutt.
On appeal Ratliff claimed that the evidence was insufficient to support either offense. As to the tampering offense, Ratliff argued that there was no statute or non-opinion evidence governing what information is required to be included in a police report. It is a departmental policy decision, and the report need only document the offense of arrest, not the actual arrest. Therefore, he could not have made, presented, or used the report with knowledge of its falsity.
The court of appeals rejected Ratliff’s argument. It observed that other officers provided evidence that a report should document everything, from start to finish, including witness statements. Further, reports are used by prosecutors to determine what charges apply and to identify what evidence could be subject to suppression. Here, the report omitted evidence of Ratliff’s participation in Nutt’s arrest as documented on an officer’s body camera. The report also contained information that conflicted with other body-camera evidence. It did not: (1) mention that Ratliff entered Nutt’s home without a warrant or consent, (2) record the names of any civilian witnesses, or (3) state that an officer threatened to tase Nutt. The court held that “a rational jury could have concluded that when Ratliff affixed his initials to the offense report that contained omissions of events pertaining to the legality of Nutt’s arrest that Ratliff himself witnessed, he made or used a governmental record knowing that the report was false.”
Regarding one of the official oppression convictions, Ratliff claimed the evidence did not prove that, knowing his conduct was unlawful, he: (1) arrested Nutt in his home without Nutt’s consent or exigent circumstances, (2) intentionally deprived Nutt of his liberty without due course of law, or (3) intentionally subjected Nutt to an unreasonable seizure by arresting him in his home without a warrant. As to the second conviction, he asserted that the evidence failed to establish that he intentionally subjected Nutt to mistreatment by criminally trespassing upon Nutt’s residence. He argued the entry and arrest in Nutt’s home was lawful because exigent circumstances existed or, alternatively, he did not know his actions were unlawful. Finally, he claimed he observed Nutt resist arrest.
Addressing the first argument, the court of appeals, viewing the evidence in favor of the jury’s verdict, concluded that Nutt was inside his house when the officers came to arrest him for public intoxication; he did not flee inside when an officer attempted to arrest him outside. As a result, there was no exigent circumstance of flight to justify the entry to arrest. The court next rejected his argument that he did not know he acted unlawfully. Ratliff was present and observed enough of the events to know his entry was illegal and in violation of Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 14.05. Finally, the court concluded that the evidence showed that Ratliff neither witnessed Nutt resist arrest, nor did he reasonably believe that he resisted; instead, the evidence showed he believed the arrest was for public intoxication.
Ratliff contends that the court of appeals’ sufficiency analyses are erroneous because it failed to consider important facts and the law. First, he could not have omitted or provided misleading facts in the police report because he gave the body-camera footage to the prosecutor and Nutt. Next, to prove an omission, the State had to establish a corresponding duty under Tex. Penal Code § 6.01(c). There are no applicable statutory report requirements, and the opinions of other officers does not create a duty.
Ratliff also complains that a violation of Article 14.05 is not enough to prove official oppression. To show that Appellant entered Nutt’s house unlawfully, his conduct must have involved criminal or tortious conduct. Further, the court’s exigency analysis did not consider whether Ratliff acted to prevent the loss or destruction of BAC evidence because there was a continuous exigency for about 20 minutes. The court should have also considered the fact that another officer told him Nutt resisted arrest. The question should be what Ratliff reasonably believed, not that the jury could have reasonably inferred that Nutt had not fled. Ratliff could not have known he was acting unlawfully when he believed Nutt’s resisting arrest justified the entry.