State v. Thompson, ___ N.C. App. ___, 2022-NCCOA-6 (Jan. 4, 2022)

The defendant in this case “yelled, cursed, and argued with school staff” in the front office about the school’s tardy slip policy after bringing his child to school late, and the school called the police after the defendant initially refused to go outside. When officers arrived, the defendant was outside getting back into his truck with his child, and bystanders were staring at the defendant. Concluding that the disturbance call likely involved the defendant, the first officer approached the truck and told the defendant he was being detained. After the officer talked to the principal, who asked to have the defendant banned from the property, a second officer approached the vehicle and asked for the defendant’s identification. The defendant refused to provide any identification other than his name. When the defendant raised his voice and demanded to know what laws he was violating and the basis for his detention, the officer told him he would be arrested for obstructing their investigation if he did not comply. When the defendant moved to put the vehicle in gear, the officer reached in and attempted to remove the keys from the ignition. The defendant pulled forward, briefly pinning the officer’s arm in the car, before reversing and then driving away. Officers initially pursued the car, but broke off the chase due to the presence of a child in the vehicle. The defendant crashed his vehicle a short time later and was arrested. The defendant was charged with felony fleeing to elude an officer engaged in the lawful performance of his duties under G.S. 20-141.5. The defendant filed a pretrial motion to suppress all evidence on the grounds that his arrest was unlawful, which was denied, and later made a motion to dismiss at trial for insufficiency of the evidence, which was also denied. The defendant was convicted, received a suspended 6-17 month sentence, and appealed.

On appeal, the defendant argued that his motion to dismiss should have been granted because there was insufficient evidence that the officers were acting in the lawful performance of their duties. Specifically, the defendant argued on appeal that the officers had no reasonable suspicion to detain him and no probable cause to arrest him, and the attempted arrest also failed to comply with statutory requirements. The appellate court rejected all three arguments. First, although the officers had only briefly spoken with the principal and were still investigating the matter, under the totality of the circumstances (including the initial phone call, the defendant’s behavior upon seeing the officers, and the fact that bystanders and others inside the school were staring at the defendant) the officers had reasonable and articulable suspicion that the defendant may have been interrupting or disturbing the operation of the school in violation of G.S. 14-288.4(a)(6) (“Disorderly conduct”). Second, since the defendant was operating a motor vehicle but refused to provide his identification to the officers, there was probable cause to arrest him for a misdemeanor under G.S. 20-29 (“Surrender of license”). Finally, the appellate court rejected the defendant’s argument that the officers failed to comply with G.S. 15A-401 during the attempted arrest. The defendant argued that the officers did not provide the defendant with “notice of their authority and purpose for arresting him” as required by the statute, and unlawfully used force to enter his vehicle. The officer testified at trial that he told the defendant he would be arrested for obstructing an investigation, and was only prevented from further citing to G.S. 20-29 because the defendant was arguing with and talking over the officer. Similarly, the officer’s forcible entry only occurred because the defendant locked the doors and refused to exit the vehicle, and the officer reasonably believed that attempting to take the keys was necessary to prevent his escape. Viewed in the light most favorable to the state, this was sufficient evidence for a jury to find that the officers were acting in lawful performance of their duties, and the motion to dismiss was properly denied.