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The People v. the Superior Court of Los Angeles County

March 29, 2012


(Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. SA073898) ORIGINAL PROCEEDING in mandate. Michael E. Pastor, Judge. Petition granted in part.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Flier, J.



In this murder case, the People challenge an order granting the defendant's motion to suppress forensic evidence seized from his home pursuant to a warrantless search conducted after he was arrested and the victim was declared dead. Concluding there was no exigency or consent justifying the warrantless re-entry of officers after the arrest and declaration of death, the trial court suppressed such evidence, and the observations of those who gathered it. We conclude the trial court erred and grant, in part, the People's petition for writ of mandate.


1. Summary of Events Prior to Chapman Being Charged

At 5:05 p.m. on March 2, 2007, police officers arrived at the residence of Carl Edward Chapman in response to a call that shots had been fired in his house. A crowd of neighbors had gathered outside of the house. They were yelling that there was somebody shooting inside the house. The police gang unit arrived almost simultaneously and began getting ready to go inside the house.

Chapman was ordered out of the house, and he came out with his girlfriend, Raquel Perry. Chapman was placed in handcuffs almost immediately, and a patdown search revealed a loaded pistol magazine in his pocket with .22-caliber rounds. During the patdown search, Perry, who was screaming hysterically, said, "Help us, he shot him, he shot him," pointing to Chapman. During the patdown, in response to whether he had any weapons, Chapman kept saying, "Just help him. Help him," referring to his adult son Brian Chapman in the house.

Between two to 10 minutes after they arrived, officers conducted a protective sweep to search for suspects or victims who needed aid. It took these officers about five minutes to complete the sweep. The officers fanned out from the living room into the bedrooms and kitchen area to look for the victim or any suspects. Brian's body was found on the floor near the kitchen and laundry rooms. He had been shot and had a sledgehammer next to him. During the sweep, officers observed shell casings on the ground in the kitchen area, bullet holes in the walls, and blood, but did not disturb anything. Paramedics, who had already arrived at the scene, were allowed to enter the house as soon as the protective sweep was over. One of the officers (Officer Lopez) secured the premises by remaining with the body in the house until the coroner arrived much later.

Chapman, who was in one of the police vehicles, was transported to the police station about 5:25 p.m. About 5:45 p.m., two detectives (Porche and Phillips) arrived at the scene and were briefed by the officers standing outside the residence. Porche was advised that a shooting had occurred and a dead body was lying in the house, that Chapman was in custody, and that there were no other victims or suspects in the house.

As a result, Detectives Porche and Phillips immediately entered with one of the officers who had conducted the protective search. The officer walked the detectives through the scene. Porche saw a shell casing from a handgun in the kitchen area, strike marks on the wall or refrigerator, a handgun on the floor in the kitchen, and a dead body on the threshold between the kitchen and laundry areas. The handgun was on the kitchen floor about two feet from the body. All of these items were unobstructed and in plain view. The walk-through took about 30 to 40 minutes. No evidence was disturbed or seized.

About 7:20 p.m., Detective Umansky arrived and walked around outside the residence. Umansky talked with the officers who had conducted the protective sweep, and they told him there had been a shooting in the house, that they had gone through the entire house and had seen bullet holes, a gun, blood in the room where the body was found, and a sledgehammer during the sweep. Umansky entered the house at 7:30 p.m. with Detective Phillips and observed the crime scene, including Brian's body, the gun, a shell casing and several bullet fragments, bullet holes, including a bullet hole in the refrigerator door, and blood on the walls of the kitchen and laundry rooms, as well as blood spots on the kitchen floor, all of which were unobstructed and in plain view.

The photographer arrived at 6:50 p.m., while criminalists arrived about 7:20 p.m. Detective Umansky left at 8:40 p.m. to interview Chapman at the police station. Three more criminalists arrived between 9:30 p.m. and 9:55 p.m. The coroner's investigator arrived at 12:35 p.m. When then coroner moved the body, a shell casing was uncovered from beneath it. Also beneath the body was a "divot" or depression in the floor from a possible bullet strike. A casting was taken of the depression after the pooled blood that was underneath the body had been cleaned up. The coroner left the scene at 2:15 a.m.

Chapman confessed to shooting his son four times during his interview with Detective Umansky. After finishing his interview with Chapman at 12:30 a.m., Umansky went back to the house to search Chapman's car because he told the detective there was another gun in the car. While there was nothing in the car, Umansky discovered another bullet fragment inside the refrigerator. Umansky later testified he did not get a search warrant because everything was in plain view.*fn1 Umansky left the scene about a half hour after the coroner.

2. Trial Court Proceedings

Chapman was charged with murder, along with a personal gun use allegation (Pen. Code, § 12022.53, subds. (b)-(d)). Conceding the entry of officers who conducted the protective sweep was valid based upon exigent circumstances and consent, Chapman moved to suppress all of the evidence observed or seized at his house by the police responders who arrived after 5:30 p.m. Chapman argued that while officers lawfully entered the house in response to an emergency, that emergency dissipated at 5:22 p.m., when Brian was pronounced dead and by 5:25 p.m., when Chapman was taken into custody, thereby necessitating a search warrant for a further entry and search. The People opposed the motion, arguing they did not need a search warrant because of exigent circumstances and Chapman's consent to enter the house. In addition, the bulk of the evidence was observed in plain view, and the evidence that was not in plain view would have inevitably been discovered by legal means anyway.

The trial court granted Chapman's motion, in part. The court concluded that all evidence observed during the "first wave" of responders (i.e., the police officers who conducted the protective sweep and the paramedics) was admissible because they were legitimately in the house due to exigent circumstances. Also not suppressed was the victim's body, including the autopsy results and a bullet fragment taken from the victim's brain, as well as photographs of the body taken at the scene by the coroners.

The trial court found the emergency ended before the "second wave" entered the house. Chapman was arrested and the premises were secured, said the court. The second wave of officers was designed to follow up and not deal with the exigent circumstances. Rather, their purpose was to investigate and determine if there was a crime and who was involved. The court ordered the evidence observed or seized by the "second wave" of responders (the detectives and criminalists, except the observations by the coroner) was to be suppressed because any exigency ended after Brian died and Chapman was in custody.

On the issue of consent, the trial court concluded, "The statement of Mr. Chapman goes beyond help and goes beyond him. It says, 'Just help him.' It is, as far as I'm concerned, a limited consent to enter for the purpose at hand. . . . [R]egrettably, there was no one to help because it was clear that Brian Chapman was deceased. [¶] . . . [¶] But here, there was express consent. There was express concern to undertake the original entry, but it was limited and it did not extend beyond that. It was demonstrated by conduct ...

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