County P3/14-809A Superior Court Netti C. Vogel Associate
State: Aaron L. Weisman Department of Attorney General
Defendant: Kara J. Maguire Office of the Public Defender
Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and
Gilbert V. Indeglia Associate Justice.
a jury trial in Providence County Superior Court, the
defendant, Tonya Withers (Withers or defendant), was found
guilty of one count of simple assault in violation of G.L.
1956 § 11-5-3. On appeal, the defendant argues that the
trial justice erred in denying her motion for a new trial and
her request to proceed pro se. This case came before
the Supreme Court on September 26, 2017, pursuant to an order
directing the parties to appear and show cause why the issues
raised in this appeal should not be summarily decided. After
hearing the arguments of counsel and reviewing the
parties' memoranda, we are satisfied that cause has not
been shown. Accordingly, we shall decide the appeal at this
time without further briefing or argument. For the reasons
set forth herein, we affirm the judgment of the Superior
February 2014, Maria DiPaola owned a rental property located
at 167 Admiral Street in Providence. On February 11, 2014,
DiPaola was at the property-a "split ranch duplex"-
with her employee, Paul Barros, cleaning the property and
preparing it for a rental showing to a prospective tenant.
The previous renter, Withers, had been a tenant for only two
months when she left a note indicating that she had moved and
would pick her mattress up at a later date.
trial, DiPaola testified that, as she was cleaning, Barros
yelled to her that Withers and a man-later identified in the
police report as Antonio Bryant-were approaching the
property. The property had exterior stairs in the front of
the building, and it also had interior stairs leading up to
the apartment door. DiPaola instructed Barros to stop Withers
from coming into the apartment. In response to "yelling
and shouting, " DiPaola recalled that she opened the
apartment door to see Withers and Bryant walking up the
stairs. DiPaola testified that Withers was walking backwards
up the outside stairwell, using a walker, and Bryant was
assisting by pushing the walker.
walked down the interior stairs and began yelling at Withers,
"[y]ou can't come in." At this point, DiPaola
observed Withers "barrelling [sic] up the
stairs, " before Withers "grabbed [her] on [her]
arm" and "threw [her] down the stairs."
DiPaola tumbled down about four or five stairs and landed at
the very bottom of the stairwell. In response, DiPaola called
out to Barros, "Help me. She threw me downstairs."
DiPaola testified that Barros was located on the exterior
stairs at this time.
trial, Barros recalled walking out of the building to the
exterior stairs as Withers and Bryant were walking up those
stairs. He called the police to report Withers' arrival
on the property without DiPaola's consent, and at the
same time he noticed DiPaola "on the floor, yelling,
Call [sic] the police. She just pushed me down the
stairs." On cross-examination, defense counsel asked
Barros whether he had seen Withers walking up the inside
stairs, to which Barros responded, "She went passed
[sic] me with the other guy * * * and she started
going up the stairs." Barros then clarified that he did
not actually see Withers going up the stairs because he was
looking at his phone, but he stated that he knew she had been
walking up the stairs.
Brian Auclair responded to DiPaola's apartment building
for a reported assault, and he spoke with DiPaola who
"appeared upset. I believe she was crying." Officer
Auclair testified that DiPaola told him she was pushed down
the stairs by the second-floor tenant. Officer Auclair took a
written statement from DiPaola, who was "shaking"
while she wrote. In his police report, Officer Auclair
memorialized the events as follows:
"DiPaola and Barros stated that Tonya Withers * * * and
Antonio Bryant * * * came rushing up the stairs and began to
force the door open. When DiPaola ran down the stairs telling
her to stop, Withers pushed her causing DiPaola to fall down
the stairs. Police observed DiPaola holding her left shoulder
but she refused Rescue."
written statement, DiPaola wrote that Withers "came up
to [the] door, and was pushing it in[.] I ran down the stairs
to open [the] door. And she grab[ed] me and push[ed] me down
outside stairs." On redirect, the prosecutor asked
DiPaola what she considered "outside" stairs, and
DiPaola responded that she meant the stairs outside the
apartment, meaning the interior stairs.
cross-examination, defense counsel confronted DiPaola with
her prior testimony from a housing court hearing a few weeks
after the purported assault. In those proceedings, DiPaola
described the incident: "I came to the front door, and
[Withers] started screaming at me, and I was in front of the
door, and she was trying to move me out of the door, and she
literally picked me up and threw me down the stairs."
When defense counsel asked DiPaola at trial to what stairs
she had been referring, DiPaola clarified that she considered
the apartment door the front door, indicating that the stairs
she was thrown down were the interior stairs.
the close of the trial, the jury found defendant guilty of
simple assault. The defendant moved for a new trial, which
was denied. The defendant was sentenced to one year of
probation, including mental health counseling. The trial
justice also ordered no contact between defendant and the
victim. The defendant timely appealed to this Court. In her
appeal, defendant raises two issues-(1) the trial justice
erred in denying a motion for a new trial; and (2) the trial
justice erred in not letting defendant proceed p ...