GEORGE ELLIS BROWN, JR.
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA
THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF RICHMOND W. Reilly Marchant,
S. Cooley for appellant.
Christopher P. Schandevel, Assistant Attorney General (Mark
R. Herring, Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.
Present: Chief Judge Huff, Judges Petty and Beales Argued at
RANDOLPH A. BEALES JUDGE.
bench trial, the trial court convicted George Ellis Brown,
Jr. ("appellant") of one count of common law
involuntary manslaughter related to the death of Philip
Whitaker. The court sentenced appellant to ten years in
prison, with eight years suspended. In his first assignment
of error, appellant argues that the trial court erred
"by applying a less demanding legal definition of
'criminal negligence' than required by Virginia case
law." In his second assignment of error, appellant
contends that the "evidence was insufficient as a matter
of law to establish the element of criminal negligence in the
offense of involuntary manslaughter." For the following
reasons, we affirm the trial court.
consider the evidence on appeal "in the light most
favorable to the Commonwealth, as we must since it was the
prevailing party" in the trial court. Beasley v.
Commonwealth, 60 Va.App. 381, 391, 728 S.E.2d 499, 504
(2012) (quoting Riner v. Commonwealth, 268 Va. 296,
330, 601 S.E.2d 555, 574 (2004)). So viewed, the evidence
established that appellant worked as a security guard at the
VCU Health System Ambulatory Care Center Pharmacy ("the
pharmacy"). Whitaker, the victim in this matter, was a
64-year-old man suffering from heart disease. At the time of
his death, Whitaker was taking blood thinner medication. On
August 7, 2015, Whitaker arrived at the pharmacy to pick up a
prescription that he had been told would be available for
pickup at 2:00 p.m. When Whitaker arrived, his medication was
not yet ready. Whitaker became agitated and asked to speak
with a supervisor.
LeFever, a pharmacist, responded to Whitaker's complaint.
LeFever had known Whitaker for "a number of years"
and described him as "one of my friendlier
patients." Whitaker told LeFever that he was waiting for
a prescription and that he was in a hurry because his ride
was waiting for him outside. LeFever agreed to investigate
why Whitaker's medication was not yet ready so that it
could be taken care of quickly. LeFever informed Whitaker
that he could wait at the front window or he could have a
seat and return when his name was called. Once LeFever
verified the order, he called Whitaker's name on the
pharmacy's intercom, directing him to join the back of
the pickup line.
was working as a security guard at the pharmacy on the
afternoon of August 7, 2015. When Whitaker's name was
called, appellant was standing between the front of the
pickup line and the front window. Appellant's job
responsibilities included keeping the peace in the line area
of the pharmacy by making sure that people did not cut in
line. Appellant's job training and instructions required
him to resolve disturbances verbally and precluded him from
placing his hands on anyone inside the pharmacy.
had observed Whitaker's interactions with the cashier and
LeFever. When Whitaker's name was called on the intercom,
Whitaker began to walk back to the cashier window to pick up
his medication. On his way to the front window, Whitaker
walked in front of appellant. Witnesses testified that
appellant ordered Whitaker to go to the back of the pickup
line. One witness testified that appellant "clutched his
fist" when he issued the directive. Whitaker informed
appellant that he would not wait in line because he had
already spent a long time waiting for his medication.
then took a couple of steps away from appellant toward the
front window to pick up his medication. Appellant followed
Whitaker from a position behind and to the right of Whitaker.
Appellant then suddenly reached out and grabbed Whitaker from
behind with both arms. Appellant used his right hand to grab
Whitaker's chest right below the neck - pinning
Whitaker's right arm against his body. At the same time,
appellant used his left arm to grab and hold on to
Whitaker's left arm. One witness described
appellant's hold as a "bear hug." Another
witness stated that it appeared that appellant's teeth
were clenched at the time. Appellant then violently threw
Whitaker backwards and down to the floor. Vicki Fields, a
witness in the prescription pickup line, testified, "At
that point, I saw Mr. Whitaker coming up into the air. His
head kind of hit first. I was stunned. I looked over at Mr.
Brown like what have you done." Ms. Fields added,
"He flew in front of me. I kind of backed up, but he
fell in front of me. He was directly at my feet." The
trial court found, "[Appellant's] hurling of the
decedent was, in fact, so forceful that [appellant's]
arms were cast out up and away from his body after he let go
of the decedent from the very momentum and force by which he
threw him or hurled him."
appellant had pinned both of Whitaker's arms, Whitaker
was unable to break his fall when he was hurled to the
ground. When Whitaker hit the ground, his head struck either
the hard linoleum floor or the circular metal base of one of
the posts that formed the pickup line. Witnesses testified
that Whitaker's impact with the floor or the metal base
caused a very loud clap or thump sound. Onlookers
collectively gasped and moved away from the area where
appellant had thrown Whitaker. Appellant then walked over to
the area near Whitaker's head. After kneeling down to
look at Whitaker, appellant looked around and threw his hands
up in the air. After checking Whitaker's pulse, appellant
told one of the pharmacists to call 911.
responders transported Whitaker to the emergency room and
then to an operating room to be treated for a severe head
injury caused by blunt force trauma. Dr. William Broaddus, a
neurosurgeon at Virginia Commonwealth University's
Medical College of Virginia, treated Whitaker's injuries.
He testified that Whitaker's most serious injury was a
large acute subdural hemorrhage, which ...