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People v. Bramlett

June 30, 2003


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 95 CR 14435 Honorable Leo E. Holt, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Greiman


Defendant Steven Bramlett was charged with first degree murder for the shooting death of Tyree Jones. Prior to trial, defendant filed a motion to quash arrest and suppress the statement he made to the police, which the trial court denied. Thereafter, he was found guilty in a stipulated bench trial and was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment. Defendant now appeals from his conviction, arguing that there was no probable cause for his arrest and that his statement was involuntary and, therefore, inadmissible. No questions are raised on the pleadings. We concur with the defendant that his motion to quash arrest should have been granted and, for the following reasons, vacate his conviction and sentence, and remand for further proceedings.

On April 19, 1995, at approximately 9:30 p.m., Tyree Jones was shot in the chest and was killed. Two other women were also shot in this incident, but neither sustained a fatal injury. Four African-American males, including the defendant, were suspects in the shooting. At the time of the incident, defendant allegedly was a back seat passenger in the vehicle from which the fatal shots were fired.

Sometime between 2 and 2:45 a.m. on the morning of April 20th, three Chicago police officers - Officers Law, Richards and O'Connor - came to the defendant's home without an arrest or search warrant. According to Officer Law, the three officers were acting pursuant to information provided by another officer in the gang tactical unit who stated that the defendant was wanted for questioning in connection with the Jones shooting. However, Officer Law also testified that he did not know where his colleague obtained that information and could not attest to its reliability. After arriving at the defendant's home, the three officers entered the apartment building through the front door, continued to his apartment, and then knocked on the door. The officers met defendant's father, Thomas Bramlett, and told him that they wanted to speak with his son regarding a shooting that had taken place earlier that evening. Mr. Bramlett told the officers that the defendant was sleeping, and that he would wake him. The parties disagree as to what happened next.

In the suppression hearing, defendant testified that after his father woke him and he opened his door, "the police officers came right in and was [sic] talking, and put my clothes on." The officers then arrested the defendant and put him in their car but did not have room for defendant's father to accompany them. Allegedly, they also stated that they could not wait for Mr. Bramlett to get dressed and follow them to the 4th district station in his own car, so they gave defendant's father directions. The police then took the defendant to the police station where, allegedly, he was handcuffed to a chair in the gang office.

At approximately 3:15 a.m., Officer Brandenburg began to ask identification-related questions. The defendant claimed that during that process, he told Officer Brandenburg that he was only 15 years' old and that he wanted to see his father. Despite that request, Officer Brandenburg chose not to call the Bramlett's home phone number and did not "make a concerted effort to look for [defendant's] father at the station after he did not see him in the waiting area." Furthermore, defendant noted, Officer Brandenburg had not been told by the arresting officers that the defendant's father might be arriving at the station. At that point, defendant had made no statement regarding any involvement in the Jones shooting.

Defendant's father testified that while his son was being processed, he arrived at the 4th district police station, told the desk sergeant who he was, and asked to see his son. Apparently, the desk sergeant told Mr. Bramlett that he could not see the defendant because he was being questioned, and that Mr. Bramlett should wait in the hall. Mr. Bramlett waited for approximately 30 to 45 minutes in the hall until he saw the defendant being taken out of the station by two officers. Again, Mr. Bramlett was not allowed to speak with the defendant, but was told he was being transferred to the 111th Street station. Defendant claimed that he never knew that his father had been present at the 4th district police station. Defendant was then taken in handcuffs to the 111th Street Station and was put into a small interview room with a steel bench, table, and chairs.

At the 111th Street Station, sometime before 5 a.m., a Detective Leracz allowed defendant's father to enter the interview room to speak with the defendant. However, defendant claimed that was not permitted to speak with his father outside the presence of the police and that his father was let into the interview room for no more than 10 minutes. In addition, both the defendant and his father asserted that Detective Leracz never read defendant his Miranda rights while they were in the interview room together and that when Mr. Bramlett asked the detective whether his son needed an attorney, he was told that a lawyer was not necessary because the defendant was only at the station for questioning. After spending 10 minutes in the interview room, Mr. Bramlett was escorted out of the room but was not informed that the police would continue questioning the defendant. Rather, defendant's father claimed that he thought the defendant would be returning home.

For the next eight hours, until approximately 1 p.m., the defendant asserted that he remained locked in the interview room and was questioned by a variety of different police officers. He claimed that, during this time, the officers did not permit him to sleep continuously and allowed him only a bag of potato chips and two sodas. Sometime between 1 and 1:30 p.m., Detective O'Boyle, assistant State's Attorney Alesia, and Youth Officer Brooks entered the room to question the defendant. Defendant stated that while he was introduced to those men, he did not know the role of the youth officer or the assistant state's attorney. Throughout the entire time those men were in the room, defendant stated that he never told them that he did not want his father present and that, in fact, he specifically asked for his father and mother numerous times.

At approximately 3 p.m., Detective O'Boyle, assistant State's Attorney Alesia and Youth Officer Brooks returned to the interview room to get a statement from the defendant while defendant's father remained in the hallway. Allegedly, defendant requested that his statement be handwritten by the assistant state's attorney. As such, after defendant gave his oral statement, the three men left the room to transcribe what he had said. The defendant stated that when the men returned, he was only permitted to read the first page of the written statement. In addition, when he was told to sign it in numerous places without being able to read what, in total, he was signing, he complied. Essentially, he claimed that after more than 12 hours in police custody, he was so scared and tired that he did not pay close attention to the details of what he was signing.

Defendant's statement asserts that on April 19, 1995, he was with his friends Eric Gauthreaux, Kevin Winters, and "Scottie," and that Eric and Kevin were in Eric's car and talking about shooting a member of the Gangster Disciples street gang. Eric then told the defendant that he could not get in the car unless he obtained a gun. Accordingly, defendant stated that he began walking home and ran into Scottie. At that point, Scottie and the defendant returned to Eric's car, and when Eric asked the defendant whether he had a gun, the defendant replied that he did. Defendant stated that after all four of them got into Eric's car, they drove until they encountered a group of Gangster Disciples. After the group of Gangster Disciples began to flash gang signs "disrespecting" the Blackstone street gang, Kevin pointed a gun at the group and pulled the trigger. Because the safety was on, however, the gun did not fire. Then, Scottie shot his .38 caliber gun five times at the crowd, which was beginning to run away. Kevin then yelled "GDK," which means Gangster Disciple Killer, and shot 1 to 6 times at the group. Defendant claimed that he did not see any other guns or weapons in the hands of any person running away from them. They then drove away, and once they got to 75th Street and Colfax Avenue, he got out of the car and went home. Finally, defendant stated that he did not tell the police about what transpired that night until the police came to his house.

At the suppression hearing, defendant also claimed that he had been told conflicting things about his father - that he had gone home or that he would see him soon if he cooperated with the police. In other words, he claimed that he believed he would be going home once he signed the written statement. In fact, however, defendant's father was waiting outside from approximately 5 a.m. until 3 p.m. and was repeatedly told to wait and remain seated. A little after 3 p.m., an officer came into the hallway where Mr. Bramlett was waiting and told him that there was a problem with the defendant and that he had signed some papers. Defendant's father claimed that it was only at that moment that he realized the defendant was in serious trouble and would not be going home. Immediately thereafter, defendant's father hired an attorney for the defendant.

The State's witnesses in the suppression hearing recalled the evening's events differently. Officer Law testified that after he and Officers Richards and O'Connor arrived at the defendant's house, they waited for him at the front door. Once the defendant arrived, Officer O'Connor read defendant's Miranda rights to him in front of defendant's father. Officer Law also stated that after defendant responded that he understood each of his rights, the police put him in handcuffs and placed him in an unmarked police car. Because there was no room for the defendant's father in the car, Mr. Bramlett had to follow the police car to the 4th district police station using directions given to him by the police. Officer Law stated that while riding to the police station, no officer questioned the defendant at any time, none knew that the defendant was only 15 years' old, and none told the defendant that if he provided the information they were seeking that he would be able to return home.

The first officer to see the defendant at the police station, Officer Brandenburger, testified that he told the defendant that he was under arrest and advised him of his Miranda rights using a pre-printed card from a Fraternal Order of Police book. Defendant indicated that he understood his rights after each was read to him. Officer Brandenburger then asked the defendant, "[d]o you wish to answer the [sic] questions at this time?" and the defendant allegedly replied that he did. Officer Brandenburger proceeded to ask questions regarding the defendant's vital statistics, whereupon he learned that the defendant was 15 years' old. Officer Brandenburger stated that when he finished taking the defendant's basic information, he ...

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