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WRIGHT v. COMMONWEALTH (54410)



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WRIGHT

v.

COMMONWEALTH


APRIL 11, 2000

Record No. 1019-99-1

TROYA ANDRE WRIGHT

v.

COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF
PORTSMOUTH

Von L. Piersall, Jr., Judge

Present: Judges Coleman, Bray and Bumgardner

Argued at Chesapeake, Virginia

Dianne G. Ringer, Senior Assistant Public
Defender, for appellant.

Eugene Murphy, Assistant Attorney General (Mark
L. Earley, Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.


MEMORANDUM OPINION[1] BY JUDGE
SAM W. COLEMAN III

Troya Andre Wright was convicted in a bench
trial of felonious assault and battery of a police officer in
violation of Code ? 18.2-57(C). He was sentenced to two
years imprisonment, consisting of one year and six months
suspended and the mandatory six months to be served in jail
pursuant to Code ? 18.2-57(C). On appeal, Wright argues
that the evidence is insufficient to support the conviction. We
disagree and affirm the conviction.

BACKGROUND

City of Portsmouth Police Officer Roxanne Hutt
was in uniform and on bicycle patrol at the Seawall Festival in
Portsmouth when she encountered Wright and Stephanie Montero, his
girlfriend, engaged in an argument. Hutt approached the couple to
investigate. Wright became belligerent with Hutt, pointing his
finger at her and using profane language. Hutt was unable to calm
Wright. Hutt, suspecting that Wright was intoxicated because she
smelled an odor of alcohol about him, decided to arrest Wright
for being drunk in public. Hutt told Wright that she was
arresting him. Officer Joseph Brown, who was in uniform and
displaying his badge, arrived at the scene. Brown approached
Wright from behind. Hutt gave Brown the verbal signal to arrest
Wright, calling out the code "10-17." Hutt had cuffed
Wright’s right hand and, as Brown attempted to cuff Wright’s left
hand, Wright "tackled" Brown to the ground and a
"scuffle ensued."

Another uniformed officer who had come to
assist helped to subdue Wright. This officer testified that he
observed Wright "grab Officer Brown’s legs and scoop them
from underneath him and drop him to the ground."

Wright testified that he was arguing with
Montero when Hutt approached. Wright stated that Hutt ordered him
to step away from

Montero, but Montero was still yelling. Wright
testified that Hutt cuffed one hand and told him that he was
under arrest. He stated that an unidentified person approached
from his left and "straddled" him, causing Wright and
the two officers to fall to the ground. Wright stated that he was
unaware that Brown was a police officer. Antonio Elliott
testified for Wright and corroborated Wright’s version of the
events.

ANALYSIS

Wright argues that the evidence is insufficient
to prove that he assaulted Brown or that he knew the person he
assaulted was a police officer.

On review, we view the evidence in the light
most favorable to the prevailing party and grant to it all
reasonable inferences fairly deducible therefrom. See Commonwealth
v. Jenkins
, 255 Va. 516, 521, 499 S.E.2d 263, 265 (1998).
"The judgment of a trial court sitting without a jury is
entitled to the same weight as a jury verdict, and will not be
disturbed on appeal unless plainly wrong or without evidence to
support it." Beck v. Commonwealth, 2 Va. App.
170, 172, 342 S.E.2d 642, 643 (1986) (citation omitted).
"The credibility of the witnesses and the weight accorded
the evidence are matters solely for the fact finder who has the
opportunity to see and hear that evidence as it is
presented." Sandoval v. Commonwealth, 20 Va. App.
133, 138, 455 S.E.2d 730, 732 (1995) (citations omitted).
"In its role of judging witness credibility, the fact finder
is entitled to disbelieve the self-serving testimony of the
accused and to conclude that the accused is lying to conceal his
guilt." Marable v. Commonwealth, 27 Va. App. 505,
509-10, 500 S.E.2d 233, 235 (1998) (citation omitted).

To sustain a conviction under Code
? 18.2-57(C), the Commonwealth must prove that Wright
assaulted an individual that he knew or had reason to know was a
police officer engaged in the performance of his duties.

Here, the evidence, viewed in the light most
favorable to the Commonwealth, proved that Hutt, while in uniform
and on patrol, was investigating what she perceived to be an
escalating public argument between Wright and his girlfriend.
During Hutt’s encounter with Wright, Wright became belligerent
and verbally abusive. Hutt called for assistance, informed Wright
that he was under arrest, and proceeded to handcuff Wright.
Brown, responding to Hutt’s request for assistance, approached
Wright from the rear and grabbed Wright’s left arm to assist Hutt
in handcuffing Wright. Wright resisted the officers’ attempt to
arrest him and tackled Officer Brown to the ground.

At the time Wright assaulted Brown, Wright was
told that he was under arrest and he was in the process of being
handcuffed. Although Wright testified that he was not aware that
Brown was a police officer, he was aware that a number of other
police officers had gathered and were present at the scene. Brown
was in uniform and stood only inches from Wright when he was
being handcuffed. The fact finder reasonably could have inferred
that Wright was aware that the individual handcuffing his left
arm while Officer Hutt was handcuffing his right arm was a police
officer. Three officers testified that Wright "grabbed"
Brown and "tackled" him to the ground. Although the
officers’ versions of the events differ in some respect as to
where Wright grabbed Brown, the weight to be accorded their
testimony is a matter solely for the fact finder who can accept
or reject the testimony in whole or in part. See generally
Bridgeman v. Commonwealth, 3 Va. App. 523, 528, 351
S.E.2d 598, 601 (1986). The trial court, as fact finder, could
accept that version of the events which shows that Wright knew
that he was tackling a police officer. The fact finder could,
under the circumstances, reject Wright’s self-serving statements
that he was unaware that Brown was a police officer and that they
accidentally fell to the ground.

Accordingly, we find that the evidence is
sufficient to support Wright’s conviction. We therefore affirm.

Affirmed.

 

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Pursuant to Code
? 17.1-413, recodifying Code ? 17-116.010, this
opinion is not designated for publication.

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