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The People v. Rashell Lavern Clarke

December 15, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hull ,j.

P. v. Clarke CA3


California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.


A jury convicted defendant Rashell Lavern Clarke of seven counts of felony child abuse (Pen. Code, § 273a, subd. (a); undesignated statutory references that follow are to the Penal Code) and found true the allegations that defendant inflicted great bodily injury as to each count (§ 12022.7, subds. (a) & (d)). The jury also convicted defendant of misdemeanor obstructing a police officer. (§ 148, subd. (a)(1).) As a consequence, the trial court sentenced defendant to a prison term of 22 years 8 months.

Defendant appeals, contending the trial court erred by (1) allowing a medical expert to testify that the children's injuries were "significant and substantial" and to state her medical diagnosis that the children suffered from child abuse, and (2) denying defendant's motion to suppress a police officer's recounting of injuries he noticed on the children found inside defendant's apartment.

We shall affirm the judgment.

Facts and Proceedings

Defendant and his wife, Cassandra Sotelo, are the parents of seven children: D., K., Am., I., R., Af., and Aj. D. and K. are twins and were five years old on December 8, 2008. That day, the twins returned to kindergarten in Redding, California, after a three-week absence from school. Their teacher noticed a very large, "fresh and . . . blistery" burn mark on D.'s arm. Due to nearby scarring, the wound "looked like it had been repeated . . . ." After the teacher examined D.'s arm, K. came up to show a scar on her own arm. One of the girls said that "her brothers and sisters had the same marks." The girls' teacher immediately went to the school office, where she reported the injuries to Child and Family Services (CFS).

At the time of the report, Redding Police Department Officer Will Williams served as a school resource officer and responded to D. and K.'s school. George Scripture arrived from CFS, and the two men spoke with D. and K. Officer Williams asked the girls if they had an "owie," and the girls displayed the injuries on their forearms.

Defendant walked into the room where Scripture and Officer Williams were talking to the girls. Defendant was angry and yelled very loudly that Officer Williams was a liar and had molested his children. Defendant called the officer "a fucking white devil" and "continued to talk about how [Officer Williams] had taken his kids' clothes off and molested them." Concerned for his own safety, Officer Williams called for police backup.

After asking defendant to leave the interview room approximately six times, Officer Williams finally succeeded in getting defendant into the hallway. Defendant continued to rant about Officer Williams molesting the girls and that someone had "planted information in their head." Defendant never asked about D. or K.'s welfare or whether they were hurt. Not until an additional police officer arrived, did defendant begin to calm down.

After speaking with Scripture, Officer Williams decided to remove D. and K. from the scene for their safety. Officer Williams then requested that defendant speak to him in a nearby faculty break room. Defendant stated that he could answer any questions "but he was busy and he had to get going." When the officer persisted in attempting to ask questions, defendant became angry and resumed his rant about Officer Williams being "the fucking white devil" who molested D. and K. Defendant assumed a fighting stance toward the officer. Defendant denied that D. and K. had injuries and repeated that the officer was a "fucking liar."

Officer Williams informed defendant that D. and K. were going to be taken into the custody of CFS and that the officer would need to locate defendant's other five children. Defendant responded that their mother was going to pick them up because the children "weren't going with fucking white devils . . . ." Shortly thereafter, defendant left the school.

While Officer Williams and Scripture were filling out paperwork, Sotelo came in and launched into a bizarre and profane rant in which she called the officer a liar and child molester. She also called Scripture "the devil." Sotelo left after Officer Williams threatened to arrest her.

Officer Williams asked other police officers to go to defendant's nearby apartment to check on defendant's other five children. After completing his paperwork, Officer Williams went to the apartment himself.

When Officer Williams arrived, he saw defendant and Sotelo arguing with one of the uniformed officers on the scene. Defendant called the police "fucking liars," and Sotelo threatened to call the news media. Defendant stated that his children were not in the apartment and that he only used the apartment's address to allow D. and K. to attend the nearby school. Defendant and Sotelo then departed.

The police attempted to make contact with anyone inside the apartment. The officers knocked on the door and windows, and they loudly demanded to speak with someone inside. No one opened the door or came to the windows. After 20 to 30 minutes, Officer Williams decided to enter the apartment. The police received a key from the apartment manager, but it did not open the apartment door because the locks had been changed. Officer Williams then requested the services of a locksmith. The officer testified that "at that point if there were--if the kids were hurt, I didn't feel like there was a reason for me to go in because the person I believed possibly could have hurt them wasn't there, so we had time. Anybody hiding the children in the apartment couldn't get out. We were concerned they could be hurt and if we left they'd come back and remove them, so we couldn't leave. I felt like whoever was in there, if they were in there, were obviously hiding them for a reason to prevent their discovery, so we requested a lock Smith [sic]."

The locksmith arrived and opened the door. Defendant's aunt, Nadine Bennett, was found standing at the top of the stairs. In an upstairs bedroom, Officer Williams saw five children on the bottom bunk of a bunk bed. One of the children was sleeping and the other four were "just frozen."

Officer Williams immediately noticed that the sleeping girl had the same sort of wound on her neck as D. and K. had on their arms. The officer then saw that all of the children had the same types of injuries on their arms and legs. Most of the wounds were four to six inches long and seemingly inflicted by "some sort of whipping like with a lash being done or a tool that would leave behind serious injury." The children were taken into the custody of CFS.

On December 11 and 12, 2008, defendant's seven children were examined by Dr. Deborah Stewart, the section chief and medical director of the Child and Adolescent Abuse Resource and Evaluation Center in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of California, Davis. Dr. Stewart's examination of the children revealed that they all suffered from numerous scars in a "classic" closed loop pattern that indicated being hit with a belt or extension cord. The depth of the scars indicated that they were caused by the application of "tremendous force." The wounds resulting in the scars would have been painful and bled. The wounds were deeper than the ones Dr. Stewart regularly saw on other abused children.

K. had loop pattern scars on her right forearm, shoulder blade, right buttock, right arm, and right thigh. The scars were deep and wide. When examined, K. was anxious, fearful, and unusually compliant. This observation caused Dr. Stewart to suspect that K. had witnessed violence against her siblings.

D. had numerous loop marks on her forearms, back, left shoulder, left buttock, right inner upper calf, and right chest. In particular, D.'s back had "many" such scars. D. also had a "very large" scar from a burn on her left calf. Although D. was polite and well behaved, she also was fearful and withdrawn.

Four-year-old I.'s "entire back" was covered with loop marks. She also had loop and linear marks on her left inner arm, upper arm, right wrist, side of her chest, and right thigh. Two of the loop marks on her thigh were recent. Dr. Stewart observed I. to be "extremely fearful," overly compliant during the examination, and well behaved.

Am. (I.'s twin sister) had an old loop mark scar on her left cheek and a new loop mark below her eye. These injuries stood out because Dr. Stewart did not often come across children who had been ...

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