PD-0695-20 & PD-0696-200 & PD-0697-20 12/09/2020
“Whether the evidence is legally sufficient to support Petitioner’s convictions for two assault[s] on a Public Servant[.]”
As Officers Carper and Reeves restrained Spillman when searching him for drugs, Spillman grabbed Carper’s hand, “pulling and jerking.” Carper held on to Spillman and “planted” his outside leg; he felt his knee “pop” and “grind” and registered pain. Reeves moved to take Spillman down with a “hip throw.” When they all fell to the ground, Reeves injured his elbow. Carper was later diagnosed with a torn ACL. A jury convicted Spillman of assaulting public servants Carper and Reeves.
On appeal, Spillman claimed he lacked the mens rea for assault. Reeves’ own actions caused his elbow injury, and he could not have known his conduct could cause Carper’s torn ligament. At most, he resisted arrest. The court of appeals concluded that the evidence established Spillman acted recklessly. Even if Spillman only intended to prevent his arrest and the discovery of drugs, he disregarded a substantial risk that his struggling could cause bodily injury to the officers. Knowledge and disregard of a specific risk to a specific person is not required; it is enough that Spillman was aware of and disregarded a risk of injury to a class of probable victims.
Spillman argues that both officers initiated the use of force when they should have first given him a verbal order. The officers’ unnecessary use of force precipitated their injuries. Reeves’ “hip throw” caused him to hurt himself; therefore, Spillman did not consciously disregard a substantial and unjustifiable risk that Reeves would use unnecessary force and then injure himself. Carper’s torn ACL, he contends, was the result of his “planting” after Reeves’ “hip throw.” Carper did not tear his ACL because Spillman pulled back or resisted. So, he could not have consciously disregarded an unjustifiable risk that an officer would be injured from the unnecessary use of force when Spillman did not resist or attempt to flee. Under the court of appeals’ reasoning, any time a person resists in the slightest and an officer gets injured in the process, the person will be guilty of assault. This cannot be what the Legislature intended when making the distinction between resisting arrest, a misdemeanor, and assault on a public servant, a third-degree felony.