Thomas A. Sosnowski, Appellant,
State of Florida, Appellee.
final until disposition of any timely and authorized motion
under Fla. R. App. P. 9.330 or 9.331.
appeal from the Circuit Court for Santa Rosa County. Ross M.
Thomas, Public Defender, and Megan Long, Assistant Public
Defender, Tallahassee, for Appellant.
Jo Bondi, Attorney General, and Samuel B. Steinberg,
Assistant Attorney General, Tallahassee, for Appellee.
Sosnowski appeals his convictions and sentences for battery
on a law enforcement officer and resisting an officer with
violence, contending that the trial court erred by denying
his motion for judgment of acquittal. He argues that at the
time of their encounter with him, the police officers were
not engaged in the lawful performance of a legal duty and
that there was neither probable cause nor exigent
circumstances to support the officers' warrantless entry
into his backyard. We disagree and affirm. 
confrontation that ended in Sosnowski's arrest began when
his wife Gina Garza called the Department of Children and
Families (DCF) because she feared for her safety and the
safety of their five-year old son. Ordinarily, a DCF employee
would respond to the call and perform a welfare check.
However, this was not DCF's first encounter with
Sosnowski. Sosnowski had previously threatened DCF employees,
and during this particular call, Garza reported that
Sosnowski threatened to dismember DCF employees and to throw
their body parts into a neighbor's yard if DCF entered
his home. Garza was concerned that if a DCF employee
responded without backup, Sosnowski would become violent and
lock the employee and Garza inside the home. Based on
Garza's reports, DCF requested assistance from the police
to perform the welfare check.
the DCF employee and the police arrived at the home, they
were unable to approach the front door. The home was a
fortress. Sosnowski had erected a number of barriers,
including a sharp, padlocked, picket-style fence around the
front yard. He had equipped the home with customized locking
doors and opaque, inoperable windows. The police officers
called Sosnowski on the phone, and he emerged from the home
with his son on his shoulders. The DCF employee and the
officers were unable to talk to the child or physically
assess the child for injuries because Sosnowski remained on
the opposite side of the fence. When the police officers
informed Sosnowski they were conducting a welfare check on
Garza and his son, Sosnowski reentered the home with his son,
ordered Garza to go outside, and then locked the doors behind
Garza exited the home and slowly approached the fence where
the officers were standing, she appeared to be terrified. The
officers observed fresh bruises on her face, chest, and neck.
Garza told them that the injuries were inflicted by
Sosnowski. As Garza spoke to the DCF employee, the officers
heard a loud noise, and Garza exclaimed, "He just locked
me out of the house. He just put the bar across the
door." Garza was concerned for her child's safety
because Sosnowski told her that she would never see her son
officers attempted to reestablish contact with Sosnowski. But
because Sosnowski had customized the windows with double-ply
plexiglass to prevent outsiders from seeing in, the officers
were unable to see inside the home to ascertain the
was clear to the officers that they could not safely enter
the home, they commanded Sosnowski to come outside. Sosnowski
refused. He also declined to answer multiple telephone calls.
Based on Garza's initial report, their observations of
her injuries, their interaction with Sosnowski,
Sosnowski's retreat into the home, their knowledge of the
home's many fortifications, and Garza's fear that she
would never see her son again, the officers requested backup
assistance from the SWAT team. When the team arrived, the
officers briefed them on Sosnowski's prior violent
threats to DCF. The team learned of the domestic violence
allegations, the home's fortifications, Sosnowski's
access to weapons, and the existence of a possible hostage
situation. Their primary objective was to ensure the
five-year-old child's safety.
SWAT team quickly established a perimeter around
Sosnowski's backyard, which was enclosed by a six-foot
privacy fence. At this point, Sosnowski reemerged and was
walking back and forth from inside the home to the backyard.
The SWAT team announced their presence and commanded
Sosnowski to get on the ground. Sosnowski refused to comply
and retreated towards the home. After several unheeded
commands to halt, one of the officers deployed a foam baton,
striking Sosnowski. Sosnowski started low-crawling back
towards the home to avoid the shots. The officers again
commanded Sosnowski to stop, but to no avail. The officers
then scaled the fence to prevent Sosnowski from reentering
the home. Sosnowski physically fought with the officers
before they were able to detain him. As two officers secured