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State v. Steele

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Third Division

April 16, 2019

STATE OF MISSOURI, Respondent,
v.
SHAAMAR R. STEELE, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lincoln County 17L6-CR00428 Honorable David H. Ash

          ROBIN RANSOM, J.

         Introduction

         Shaamar R. Steele (Steele) appeals from a sentence and judgment entered pursuant to a jury verdict convicting him of unlawful possession of a weapon, assault of law enforcement officers, resisting arrest, and possession of drug paraphernalia. He asserts the trial court erred in granting the State's motion in limine and in overruling his Batson[1] challenge. We affirm.

         Background

         The State charged Steele as a prior and persistent offender in an amended information with one count of possession of a controlled substance (Count I), one count of unlawful possession of a weapon (Count II), two counts of assault of a law enforcement officer in the second degree (Counts III and IV), one count of resisting arrest (Count V), and one count of misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia (Count VI). In brief summary, the following evidence was adduced at the January 2018 trial, as relevant to the issues raised on appeal. Both Officer Jason Maskey and Officer Sean Hendel of the City of Louisiana, Missouri Police Department testified as follows. On October 23, 2016, they questioned Steele pursuant to an ongoing investigation. As Officer Hendel questioned Steele, Officer Maskey noticed a bulge in Steele's waistband that appeared to be a weapon. When asked what was in his waistband, Steele began sweating and acting nervously. The officers requested to perform a pat down, and Steele ran away. Officer Maskey announced Steele was under arrest, and both Officers Maskey and Hendel gave chase, eventually cornering Steele against a chain-link fence. When cornered, Steele reached into his waistband, drew out a large knife that he raised above shoulder level, and started towards the officers. Fearing physical harm, Officer Hendel announced "Taser" three times and tased Steele. The Taser prongs were later removed from Steele's back. Officer Hendel submitted a use-of-force report in accordance with Louisiana Police Department policy. A jury convicted Steele of unlawful possession of a weapon, assault of law enforcement officers, resisting arrest, and possession of drug paraphernalia, as charged in Counts II-VI.[2] Steele does not challenge on appeal the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his convictions.

         Taser Certification

         The State filed a pretrial motion in limine to prohibit argument or testimony regarding the Taser certification of the two law enforcement officers involved Steele's arrest. The trial court granted the State's motion in limine after a hearing. At trial, Steele reasserted his objection to the motion in limine and made an offer of proof presenting Officer Hendel's testimony and documents regarding his Taser certification. Officer Hendel submitted a certificate of Taser training from the Mineral Area College Law Enforcement Academy dated May 11, 2012; a certificate of Taser training from Byrnes Mill Police Department-which is where he worked prior to the Louisiana Police Department-dated January 30, 2015; and a certificate of Taser training from the Louisiana Police Department dated August 23, 2017. Officer Hendel agreed he was trained and certified in operating a Taser, he had to recertify his training and certification once a year, and he was "not able to produce any certification" showing he was certified or recertified to use a Taser on October 23, 2016. Moreover, he further agreed that when he joined the Louisiana Police Department from the Byrnes Mill police department, he was not required to take a Taser class before he was issued a Taser. Steele argued that the jury should hear that Officer Hendel "was not certified" to use the Taser at the time he used it on Steele, because it was relevant to Officer Hendel's overall credibility. The trial court denied the offer of proof as irrelevant.

         Further, Steele made an offer of proof of the testimony of April Epperson (Chief Epperson), the Chief of Police and Custodian of Records for the City of Louisiana, to the following. The Louisiana Police Department policy was that no officer was authorized to carry a firearm or a less lethal weapon unless he or she was certified with that weapon by a certified instructor. After the initial Taser certification, it was recommended but not required to be recertified every year. She agreed she could not produce a Taser certification for Office Hendel "through her department" that was valid on October 23, 2016. The trial court denied the offer of proof.

         Batson Challenge

         During voir dire, the State asked the venire panel if there was anyone who did not trust the police in general, further clarifying that the case involved an incident between two white police officers and one black defendant. In response, Venireperson Number 26 volunteered that she might not be able to trust the police, stemming from some issues her father, who is black, had had with the police in Lincoln County in 2014, and her belief that race played a factor in their interaction.

         The State used a peremptory strike against Venireperson Number 26, and Steele challenged the strike under Batson v. Kentucky, asserting the strike was an improper attempt to exclude Venireperson Number 26 on the basis of race. The trial court took judicial notice that in her questionnaire, Venireperson Number 26 identified herself as black. After arguments, the trial court overruled Steele's Batson challenge, concluding the State had stated an appropriate, neutral reason for its strike.

         Following the jury's convictions on Counts II-VI, the trial court sentenced Steele as a prior and persistent offender to concurrent terms of fifteen years' imprisonment in the Missouri Department of Corrections on Counts III and IV, consecutive to five years' imprisonment on Count II, and concurrent to one-year terms in the county jail on ...


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