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People v. Ramadon

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

December 9, 2013

The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellant.
v.
Jasim Mohammed Hassi RAMADON, Defendant-Appellee.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Interlocutory Appeal from the District Court, El Paso County District Court Case No. 12CR2692, Honorable Theresa M. Cisneros, Judge.

Attorneys for Plaintiff-Appellant: Daniel H. May, District Attorney, Fourth Judicial District, Kelson Castain, Deputy District Attorney, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Attorney for Defendant-Appellee: Douglas K. Wilson, Public Defender, Molly Hostetler, Deputy State Public Defender, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

OPINION

HOBBS, JUSTICE.

¶ 1 The prosecution brings this interlocutory appeal challenging the El Paso County District Court's suppression of Jasim Ramadon's statements obtained from a custodial interrogation at the Colorado Springs police station.

¶ 2 Ramadon is a native of Iraq who the United States military brought to this country for his protection as a teenager. He was brought here after members of his immediate family were killed because of his aid to the United States during the Iraq war. During the war, known in the United States as Operation Iraqi Freedom, he acted as an interpreter and informant for the military. In 2012, the Colorado Springs police brought Ramadon— who, for his protection, often used the name Jay Hendrex— to the police station as part of a sexual assault investigation. The police had information identifying Ramadon as one of the perpetrators in the sexual assault. The trial court found and concluded, under the totality of the circumstances, that all of Ramadon's statements after minute forty-two of the interrogation tape were impermissibly coerced and involuntary.

¶ 3 After viewing the videotape of the interrogation, we uphold the trial court's suppression order starting at minute fifty-four, instead of minute forty-two, when the interrogating officer told Ramadon that, if he did not tell the truth, he would likely be deported to Iraq. The record supports the trial court's conclusion that coercive police conduct during the custodial interrogation starting at the fifty-four minute mark played a significant role in inducing Ramadon's inculpatory statements.

I.

¶ 4 On July 27, 2012, pursuant to a warrant, the Colorado Springs police arrested Ramadon in connection with a July 22, 2012, sexual assault on a woman. Officers took Ramadon to the police station to be interviewed by Detective James Allen: it is undisputed that Ramadon was in custody at this time. Allen interviewed Ramadon twice, and Ramadon also met twice with polygrapher Robert Armstrong, although he ultimately declined to take a polygraph.

¶ 5 We have reviewed the videotaped interview of Allen's interrogation of Ramadon. At 10:52 a.m., the start of the interview recording, Ramadon sat alone in an interview room dressed in shorts and a tank top. When Allen appeared fifteen minutes later, Ramadon immediately asked for a shirt and told him he was cold. Allen brought him an orange inmate top for him to wear during the interview. Ramadon appeared tired and

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yawned throughout the interview. Ramadon told Allen that his wife had a court appearance at 1:30 p.m. and asked if he would be able to make it, to which Allen responded, " We probably won't be talking that long.... We should be alright man, I wouldn't worry about that." Ramadon then asked to make a phone call, and Allen told him he would be able to " in a minute," but Ramadon was never allowed to make a call.

¶ 6 At the outset of the interview, Allen did not tell Ramadon that he was under arrest or confirm that there was a warrant for Ramadon's arrest. Instead, he told Ramadon that, if Ramadon did not want to talk to him, he was free to leave, even though the circumstances demonstrated that Ramadon was under arrest and not free to leave. Ramadon explained that he was twenty years old, had just graduated from high school, and was born in Iraq. Ramadon told Allen that he worked for the United States military in Iraq. He explained that in 2004, the military brought him back to the United States for his safety. During these initial exchanges, both Allen and Ramadon were cordial and the tone was conversational.

¶ 7 After Allen gave Ramadon a Miranda advisement, he asked Ramadon what he knew about the assault. Ramadon told Allen a story about being very drunk and in fights throughout the night. After passing out at his friends' apartment, he went downstairs and tried to go home, but he saw a woman lying on the ground, bleeding. Ramadon told Allen that he helped the woman to what he thought was her apartment and pleaded several times for the man inside the apartment to call the police. Ramadon repeated the same story when Allen reframed the question later, telling him that the first time he saw the woman was outside on the ground.

¶ 8 Nearly thirty-two minutes into the interrogation, Allen engaged Ramadon about his background in Iraq, telling Ramadon that he spent time in Iraq during the war as well. Ramadon responded that the Iraqi military had killed his entire family, and he said that his involvement with the United States military was well known, noting there was a book telling his story and that he was going to meet with another author that day about helping with another book.[1] Allen continued, " Yeah, I know, it's a bad place over there. I've lost two of my interpreters over there." Ramadon nodded, saying that he lost a lot of his American friends and saying how sad it was. The interview continued and Ramadon gave the same account he previously had given regarding the woman he saw on the ground outside his friends' apartment.

¶ 9 At forty-two minutes into the interview, Allen told Ramadon:

All I want is for you to be honest with me.... I'm not here to try to get you in trouble, I'm not here to make up stuff or do anything like that.... You've done some honorable stuff.... [T]he last thing I want to do is come here and ruin all of your plans, dreams, hopes, whatever.... But I need you to be honest with me.... Because if you lie ... and I find out later, I'm gonna arrest you.

Ramadon maintained his story and asked for Allen's card so that he could contact him if he remembered any other details later, suggesting that with some rest he might remember more. As the trial court found, this indicated that Ramadon " believe[d] he [would] be going home."

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¶ 10 At forty-four minutes into the interview, Allen asked Ramadon about the injuries he sustained in Iraq, and Allen supplied his own observations about " being blown up over there" :

I understand. I've been injured too. I was injured over there, an IED. Okay, and I don't really use that as an excuse, and no one even knows. But, I've been blown up over there. I've been hit with RPG, all kinds of stuff, not good. So I understand where you are coming from, and like I said, that's all honorable service.

¶ 11 Allen's tone then shifted and started to become more accusatory. He confronted Ramadon, stating that he had talked to his friends who placed Ramadon at the scene of the assault. Allen also said that he needed Ramadon to be honest with him, saying " [I'm giving you] one more opportunity to be completely honest with me, then I'm going to tell you what I know." Allen went on to say, " I'm going to bring some stuff in and show you [what happened]. And it is you, beyond a doubt it is you. [Pointing at Ramadon.] All this stuff you want to do, being a police officer and going to college, it's all about to go away, right now." At forty-eight minutes, Allen told Ramadon that he knew from Ramadon's friends that he was in the apartment with the victim and the other suspects. Ramadon conceded the point, claiming he could not remember what happened because he was drunk, but he was adamant about not touching the woman other than to help her home.

¶ 12 From fifty to fifty-four minutes into the interview, Allen invoked the violent circumstances that triggered the United States military's removal of Ramadon from Iraq after his family was killed. Allen confronted Ramadon with a sheet of paper showing his photo with text underneath, accused Ramadon of committing the rape, and insinuated that Ramadon would not be jailed if he revealed the circumstances of the sexual assault:

Allen: I'm worried about this guy right here. This is who I'm worried about. This guy right here. [Allen held up a sheet of paper to show Ramadon.] Okay? Do you know who that is?
Ramadon: Uh yeah, that's me.
Allen: That's you.
Ramadon: Yeah.
Allen: That's who I'm worried about. This guy right here. Jay. And this is your full name. I understand that. I know this date of birth, and I know your other date of birth. I know everything about you. I've already talked to some people that have worked with you.... And I'm not a dummy. I've got connections in both law enforcement and the military world. Okay? Even right now.
Ramadon: Okay.
Allen: So I know all this about you even before ...

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