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State v. Whitfield

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

June 30, 2014

Antonio O. Whitfield

Page 1012

Providence County Superior Court. (P2/09-1012A). Associate Justice William E. Carnes, Jr.

For State: Christopher R. Bush, Department of Attorney General.

For Defendant: Kara M. Maguire, Office of the Public Defender.

Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.


Page 1013

Goldberg, Justice.

This case stems from the brutal, late-night beating of a young man that occurred on the East Side of Providence. The complainant suffered a head wound that required eight stitches, a severe concussion, a broken nose, and multiple lacerations and contusions over his entire body. After a four-day jury trial, the defendant, Antonio O. Whitfield (Whitfield or defendant), was convicted of two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon and one count of simple assault for his role in the fracas. On appeal, the defendant argues that (1) the trial justice abused his discretion by allowing the state to impeach his credibility with fourteen prior criminal convictions and (2) the trial justice erred by denying defense counsel's motion to pass the case after the prosecutor allegedly vouched for the credibility of two witnesses during her closing argument. The parties appeared before this Court on February 25, 2014, pursuant to an order directing them to show cause why the issues raised in this appeal should not summarily be decided. We are satisfied that cause has not been shown and that the appeal may be decided at this time. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the convictions.

Facts and Travel

Michael Newell (Newell or complainant) lived in a third-floor apartment on Angell

Page 1014

Street in Providence. The basement of the building housed a club: the Liquid Lounge. At approximately 3:30 a.m. on November 27, 2008, a friend of Newell's--a bouncer at the Liquid Lounge--knocked on his door and asked whether Newell had a wire coat hanger because another Liquid Lounge employee, named Kelsey, was locked out of her car. Although he could not find a wire hanger, Newell went outside to assist Kelsey with her attempts to access her vehicle, which was parked in the driveway adjacent to the building.

Within minutes, Newell watched as another female employee left work and began walking down Angell Street toward her car. She did not walk far. A black Dodge Charger stopped on Angell Street and the occupants began shouting catcalls at the woman, who immediately turned around and began walking back toward the group gathered in the vicinity of Kelsey's car, which included the complainant, Kelsey, three Liquid Lounge bouncers, and two patrons. Undeterred, the Charger reversed direction and pulled into the driveway where the group was standing. At that point, Newell and the bouncers told those in the Charger to leave. According to Newell, rather than depart, the occupants of the Charger responded by hurling unopened beer bottles at them from the rear driver's side window.

Newell testified that as he approached the rear driver's side door of the Charger, he was pulled through the window of the vehicle, and the Charger backed out of the driveway and sped forward about 150 feet. When the vehicle came to a stop, the door opened, and Newell fell to the ground. As he attempted to stand, he was struck in the temple with an unopened beer bottle and again fell to the ground. Newell was repeatedly kicked and stomped on his head and upper body by three individuals for an extended period of time. Newell testified that he knew that there were three assailants during the attack because there were distinct sets of legs and feet simultaneously assaulting him; however, he could not see the faces of his attackers.[1] According to Newell, the bouncers finally reached the Charger and attempted to intervene. Eventually, the police arrived on the scene; Newell was transported to Rhode Island Hospital, where he received eight stitches around his temple. Newell also suffered " a severe concussion, a broken nose, and multiple lacerations and contusions from head to toe."

A Providence police officer and a Brown University security officer responded to the melee: Providence police officer Joshua Greeno (Officer Greeno) and Brown University security officer Nicholas Gonsalves (Gonsalves). Gonsalves was on foot patrol--checking the University's Environmental Lab--when he heard a loud commotion coming from Angell Street. Gonsalves testified that as he walked toward the noise, he saw a Dodge Charger stopped in the middle of the road and that individuals in the car and on the sidewalk were shouting at each other. Gonsalves testified that a beer bottle was thrown from the rear of the vehicle towards Newell, who was standing on the sidewalk.

Gonsalves then saw Newell approach the vehicle " towards the rear window" and " actually go into the vehicle," at which time the car started to move and then abruptly stopped.[2] Gonsalves testified

Page 1015

that three men exited the vehicle: " [t]he driver, * * * a lighter-skinned male; a rear passenger, * * * also a lighter-skinned male; and a darker-skinned male, [from] the front passenger side, who later identified himself to police as Keeron Hardmon." " Keeron Hardmon" was later identified as defendant, Antonio Whitfield. Gonsalves made an in-court identification of defendant.[3] Gonsalves testified that defendant threw a beer bottle at Newell, striking him in the face. He next saw a white male approach the vehicle from the sidewalk, and a fight ensued between Newell, defendant, " the other darker-skinned male," and the white male who had just approached.[4] Gonsalves testified that defendant and " the other male" got Newell and the other man onto the ground and began kicking them; the kicks were so forceful that Gonsalves could hear " knocking sounds" from his vantage point fifty feet away.

According to Gonsalves, he did not approach the fracas because his job was limited to that of a security officer with no arrest power; however, he broadcast a call to Brown University police. Within minutes, a police cruiser approached with audible sirens. At that point, Gonsalves saw two assailants return to the vehicle, while defendant fled on foot. The vehicle was stopped by police, and a Brown University police unit located defendant and brought him back to the scene for a show-up. Gonsalves identified him as one of the assailants.

While these events were unfolding, Officer Greeno arrived on the scene to find Newell on the ground. He then learned that the black Dodge Charger had been stopped by the police a short distance away, with two suspects in the ...

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