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State v. Neugent

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

November 14, 2019

Michael Neugent.

          Washington County W2/15-54A Superior Court Bennett R. Gallo Associate Justice .

          For Defendant: Camille A. McKenna Office of the Public Defender.

          For State: Lauren S. Zurier Department of Attorney General.

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



         In this case, we are confronted with a ten-hour police standoff in Hopkinton, Rhode Island, precipitated by a 911 call by the longtime girlfriend of the defendant, Michael Neugent, arising from a domestic dispute. The defendant's mother-who was also his landlord-provided the responding officer with keys to the defendant's apartment. The defendant was barricaded inside the dwelling and threatened to shoot the officer if he entered. Within minutes, officers from multiple police departments, including the Rhode Island State Police SWAT team and approximately twenty police vehicles, surrounded the apartment building. After hours of fruitless negotiations, the SWAT team, garbed in full tactical gear and armed with assault weapons and explosives, executed a forced entry into the defendant's apartment. The defendant struck the first officer who came through the door with an approximately three-foot-long construction level. A brief struggle ensued; and, despite strenuous resistance, the defendant was apprehended. He was later charged with several counts, ultimately being convicted of assault with a dangerous weapon and resisting arrest.

         This case came before the Supreme Court on October 2, 2019, on a writ of certiorari from a judgment of conviction following a jury trial.[1] Before this Court, defendant argues that the trial justice erred by denying his motion for a new trial because, he alleges, the trial justice overlooked and misconceived material evidence. The parties were directed to appear and show cause why the issues raised in the case should not be summarily decided. After hearing the arguments of counsel and examining the memoranda filed by the parties, we are of the opinion that cause has not been shown, and we proceed to decide the case at this time. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.

         Facts and Travel

         On February 11, 2015, defendant was charged by criminal information, in W2/15-54A, with one count of assault with a dangerous weapon, in violation of G.L. 1956 § 11-5-2 (count one), and one count of resisting arrest, in violation of G.L. 1956 § 12-7-10 (count two).[2] A jury trial commenced on October 25, 2016, and the jury heard from several witnesses, including defendant and his girlfriend. We summarize the testimony presented at trial.

         Detective John Forbes (Det. Forbes) of the Hopkinton Police Department testified that, on October 11, 2014, he responded to a 911 call from defendant's longtime girlfriend, Joyce Kreyssig (Kreyssig), about a domestic dispute at a duplex apartment building located at 5 Side Hill Street in the town. Kreyssig told Det. Forbes that she lived with defendant in apartment 5A and that he was the only person in the apartment at that time. She also informed Det. Forbes that there was a .22-caliber rifle in the bedroom.

         Detective Forbes testified that he proceeded to the common doorway of the building, knocked on the separate inside door for apartment 5A, announced himself as a Hopkinton police officer, and requested that defendant open the door. After receiving no response, Det. Forbes obtained keys to the apartment from defendant's mother and landlord, Sandra Neugent. When Det. Forbes returned to defendant's apartment, he unlocked the doorknob; but before he could unlock the deadbolt, he heard someone lock the door from the inside. Detective Forbes again announced himself as a police officer and instructed defendant to open the door. The defendant refused, stating, among other things: "I have a weapon pointed at you through this door. If you come through this door, I'm going to use it on you." Detective Forbes immediately evacuated the remaining residents in the building, took cover, and called for backup. A phalanx of police officers from the state police and the Hopkinton and Richmond police departments responded to the scene and surrounded the apartment building.

         Sergeant David Bassignani (Sgt. Bassignani), the commander of the state police SWAT team, testified that, when he arrived, state troopers from the Crisis Negotiation team were communicating with defendant by cell phone. However, at some point, defendant ended all communication. Because the police believed that defendant's phone was no longer working, the SWAT team approached the house, broke the front window, and tossed a phone in a box-aptly described as a "throw phone"-into the residence. The defendant threw the box back out through the window. He then stood in the broken window, "yelling and screaming" and holding an approximately three-foot-long construction level.[3] Sergeant Bassignani decided to send in the SWAT team to apprehend defendant.

         The entry team breached the door and entered defendant's apartment, announcing their presence by yelling the words, "State Police." Sergeant Bassignani, who was holding a ballistic shield, entered first and immediately saw defendant, who was wielding the construction level. The defendant swung the level and struck the front of the shield, forcing it against Sgt. Bassignani's face, causing injury above his right eyebrow. The entry team swarmed defendant, who, Sgt. Bassignani testified, "was in full resist mode." He was ordered to stop resisting and get on the ground.

         Corporal Thomas Chabot (Cpl. Chabot) of the state police testified that his role on the entry team was to cover Sgt. Bassignani.[4] When the entry team entered the apartment, everyone yelled "State Police[, ]" as they do, according to Cpl. Chabot, "prior to entering any residence or upon making entry and crossing any threshold[.]" Although it was dark, Cpl. Chabot saw defendant lunge at Sgt. Bassignani with a long instrument, forcing the shield against Sgt. ...

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