On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Atlantic County, Municipal Appeal No. 0010-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted: October 25, 2010
Before Judges Grall and C.L. Miniman.
Defendant Rahim R. Caldwell appeals from his conviction of disorderly conduct, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:33-2a(1), in connection with a commotion he created at an animal shelter in Pleasantville. We affirm defendant's conviction and sentence.
On October 25, 2007, someone at the Atlantic County Animal Shelter hit the panic alarm, and the Pleasantville police responded to the scene at approximately 1:15 p.m. Officer David Napolitano was the first officer to arrive. He could hear a man inside the building, screaming profanities. He "was being very loud and aggressive" and yelled, "You f-ing murderers and terrorists."
When Napolitano entered the shelter, he saw that the shelter personnel had "taken a few steps back" from the counter and appeared scared because they had "wide eyes." They were pointing at defendant. Napolitano spoke to defendant using a normal speaking voice, but defendant "continued to speak in a loud, a very loud manner." According to Napolitano, defendant was being physically and verbally aggressive, although he did not threaten any specific physical harm.
Officer Mike Gazo, who was part of a back-up unit, arrived seconds after Napolitano. Gazo observed defendant "in a heated argument with the employees at the shelter." Defendant was "yelling and screaming at the employees," who were inside the building behind the desk. Gazo could hear the defendant as he was walking up to the building; his screaming was audible through the doors. Defendant was calling the employees "murderers," "killers," and "terrorists." There were at least four employees behind the desk at the time, as well as two others who were "hiding in the back." Gazo observed that the employees were "visibly shaken." Further, "[t]hey were withdrawn, they were frightened. The one employee was visibly shaking and crying." Gazo noted that the employees were "unconsolable [sic]." According to Gazo, defendant made verbal threats and was irate. For example, defendant told others that "he's going to get them, they're murderers, they're terrorists." He told the employees, "It's not over yet, this ain't going to go away."
The officers separated defendant and the shelter employees "to get them apart, to direct attention towards [the officers], [and to] try to calm the situation down." During this time, defendant "kept yelling and cursing at them, calling them terrorists, killers, murderers." It took the officers about a minute or two "to calm him down enough to step outside and speak with [the officers] to get his side of the story as to what happened." "After a few requests," Napolitano and Gazo were able to get defendant "to walk as far as the entranceway outside of the building right by the doorway."
Once outside, defendant directed his behavior at the officers. They asked defendant why he was at the shelter and why he was so upset. Defendant would not tell the officers what had happened. Using a "high, elevated tone," he called the officers "terrorists, murderers, part of the system" and told them "he don't speak to the law." The volume of defendant's voice was "[p]retty close" to what it was when he was inside the shelter. He would not give his name to the police or provide any identifying information upon their request. Moreover, he refused to leave the property.
Gazo observed that defendant was "uncooperative" and responded with "aggressiveness." He perceived that other customers arriving at the shelter were panicking and "afraid to get out of their cars." When customers drove up to the shelter and entered the parking lot, they stayed in their cars and remained at a distance of twenty to twenty-five feet rather than come near the building.
Defendant "kept pacing side to side, wouldn't talk to [the officers],
[and] kept putting his hands in his pocket." The officers did not know
what defendant had in his pockets. They had to "physically remove"
defendant's hands from his pockets. Gazo felt a "[l]ittle uneasy, not
knowing what [defendant] was going to do[ and] what his intentions
[were]" as a result of the actions he had observed both inside and
outside the shelter. Napolitano observed that
defendant was "continuously
. . . hands in and out of his pockets." Defendant was
around more or less in one spot," and Napolitano was "unsure as to
what his next move may or may not be."
Napolitano considered the fact that defendant had his hands in his pockets to be "a physically dangerous condition." He stated that in pacing back and forth . . . hands in and out of his pockets, at any point in time [defendant] could have taken one simple step forward, and if he chose to, he could have put his hands on me and that seems to me as aggressive. If you're pacing back and forth in a manner that I . . . cannot control, it appears to me as it could be aggressive.
At one point, the officers learned that defendant's puppy had been euthanized, which the shelter personnel confirmed, stating it was in ...