Cheek v. U.S.: Interpreting the “Interfere” Language of D.C.’s APO Statute

Jamison KoehlerAssault, Opinions/Cases

The Assault on a Police Officer (APO) statute is so broad that the D.C. Court of Appeals has had to issue multiple opinions to interpret it.  In Edwin Cheek v. United States, 103 A.3d 1019 (D.C. 2014), an opinion it issued today, it interpreted that portion of the law that makes it illegal to “interfere” with a police officer while that officer is performing his official duties.  (Other parts of the statute make it illegal to assault, resist, oppose, impede, or intimidate an officer.)

Surrounded by a “large, disorderly crowd of 20-30 people,” D.C. police officers were breaking up a fight between two women when they were approached by another woman who yelled at them.  The officers ordered her away and she complied.  The officers were then approached by Edwin Cheek who, upset over the way police had treated the woman and clearly intoxicated, yelled and cursed at them.  Cheek “did not heed Officer Blier’s repeated orders to back up, moving away only when another citizen led him away from the scene.”  Cheek then came back several minutes later, screaming and cursing and again ignoring the officers’ order to back up.  He was thus arrested and later convicted of APO for “interfering with Officer Blier’s investigation of the fight.”

The D.C. Court of Appeals has previously held that to violate the APO statute, the conduct “must go beyond speech and mere passive resistance or avoidance, and cross the line into active confrontation, obstruction or other action directed against an officer’s performance in the line of duty.”  Whether conduct meets the “active and oppositional” standard requires “an intensely factual analysis.”

The Court concluded that, in this case, Cheek’s conduct “crossed the line from passive to active and oppositional conduct.” Specifically, it held that:

appellant approached Officer Blier as he was speaking with an arrestee and conducting an investigation of a violent fight.  Appellant appeared “extremely” intoxicated as he approached the officer from behind, yelling and cursing.  He was within ten feet of the officer and repeatedly disregarded his orders to back up.  Appellant’s conduct was sufficiently disruptive, that appellant was eventually led away by a fellow citizen bystander.  Nevertheless, appellant angrily returned to the already “contentious” scene and repeated the conduct.  There was “so much going on” and “so much noise” that with only two officers present to control the “large disorderly crowd” of “20 to 30 people,” Officer Blier “had to have [his] head in swivel to observe every direction to make sure no one approached [him] or came up and tried to start an altercation.”  The crowd was angry and aggressive, and when appellant returned to the scene, the officer feared that appellant was “adamant about doing something.”  Officer Blier felt “threatened” and “distracted,” and was concerned for his safety, that of his partner, and the girl he had in handcuffs.  His ability to ensure their safety and conduct an investigation of the fight was severely impeded by appellant’s repeated conduct.