Appeal from the District Court Adams County District Court
No. 16CR2813 Honorable Robert W. Kiesnowski Jr., Judge
Attorneys for Plaintiff-Appellant: Dave Young, District
Attorney, Seventeenth Judicial District Michael Whitney,
Deputy District Attorney Brighton, Colorado
Attorneys for Defendant-Appellee: Douglas K. Wilson, Public
Defender Allen Chaney, Deputy Public Defender Brighton,
When Northglenn police officers went to Defendant Sylvia
Garcia's house to do a welfare check on a child, they
found an elderly woman in distress on the living room floor.
They also noticed a padlock on the refrigerator in the
kitchen and feces and bugs throughout the house. Medical
personnel, additional police officers, firefighters, and a
building inspector soon poured into the residence.
Garcia made several statements to the officers at the house,
including that she was a caretaker of the elderly woman (her
mother) and that the padlock was to keep her brother from
eating food in the refrigerator. Garcia was later charged
with two offenses relating to neglect of her mother and one
count of child abuse.
The trial court granted Garcia's motion to suppress the
statements she made during this encounter with the police at
her house, concluding Garcia had been subjected to custodial
interrogation and had not received a Miranda
advisement. The People appeal that order.
Because we conclude Garcia was not in custody for
Miranda purposes during the encounter, we reverse
the trial court's order suppressing the statements.
Facts and Procedural History
The following facts are based on the trial court's
findings and undisputed testimony at the motions hearing.
Northglenn police officers received a report of a child
living in dangerous conditions at Garcia's home. This
prompted officers to conduct a welfare check. While speaking
with a teenager who answered the door, three
officers-including Officers Thomas and Smith-heard what
sounded like a woman moaning. They forced entry into the
house and found an elderly woman, Garcia's mother,
a mattress on the living room floor. She was surrounded by
dogs jumping on or around her, and she appeared to be asking
for help. The house smelled of urine, feces covered the
floors, and the walls crawled with bugs. They called for
medical assistance and additional officers.
Garcia came downstairs. Officers Smith and Thomas both asked
Garcia if anyone else was in the house. Garcia told Officer
Thomas no one else was home. Officer Smith said to Garcia,
"Look, I don't want to place the paramedics and
patrol officers in a dangerous situation. Is anybody
home?" Garcia first responded no, but when Officer Smith
asked again, she said her brother was upstairs.
Officers Lauck and Spresser joined the scene. Garcia gave
Officer Lauck permission to go upstairs and search. Officers
conducted a sweep of the rest of the house with their weapons
in a "low ready" position, where the gun is held
ready to fire, but pointed toward the ground. Officers Lauck
and Spresser found Garcia's brother, Joseph, upstairs in
a room filled with cups of urine, broken glass, feces, and
insects. With his fingers stuffed in his mouth, Joseph was
standing on a mattress and shaking. He told the officers he
is schizophrenic. The officers discovered Joseph had an
unrelated outstanding arrest warrant, so they took him into
After coming back downstairs and seeing the padlock on the
refrigerator, Officer Spresser asked Garcia why it was there.
Garcia told Officer Spresser it was to keep her brother from
eating the food in the refrigerator. According to Officer
Spresser, she spoke with Garcia in a conversational tone in
either the living room or the kitchen and that was the only
question she asked Garcia.
Firefighters and a building inspector arrived. At some point
during the incident, the building inspector condemned the
house, put notices on the front door, and said no one could
The trial court found that the police ordered Garcia outside.
Officer Thomas testified at the motions hearing:
I don't remember asking her to come outside. It was kind
of a chaotic scene. There [were] a lot of people there coming
in and out. I don't know if she was already outside and
then I approached her outside. I don't remember asking
her to step out and talk.
to Officer Thomas, he was a couple of feet away from Garcia
outside the house and there were likely two other officers
around. Garcia largely ignored Officer Thomas, just
responding, "I don't know, " to his questions.
She also kept using her phone. Officer Thomas couldn't
recall whether he asked her or told her to stop using her
phone and to talk to him. Regardless, she continued using her
phone. Officer Thomas asked Garcia who took care of the
mother. Garcia responded she was the caretaker. The
conversation lasted a few minutes.
Officer Smith also spoke with Garcia outside, although he
could not recall whether it was before or after Garcia spoke
with Officer Thomas. He admitted he raised his voice when
Garcia kept denying knowing what was going on and said
something along the lines of "Come on, seriously?"
Officer Smith also testified that he said, "Look, just
tell me what's going on here. It's obvious this
situation isn't good." Garcia told Officer Smith
that she and her sister were the caretakers of the mother,
but otherwise, continued to deny knowing what was going on.
According to Officer Smith, the conversation lasted five to
seven minutes, he was three or four feet away from Garcia,
and there were several other officers outside during this
No one restrained Garcia during this encounter. Although the
police officers were armed, they did not direct any of their
weapons at Garcia. ...