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Tyler Lee Miller v. The State of Texas
Case Number: 02-19-00299-CR
Judge: Bonnie Sudderth
Court: In the
Court of Appeals
Second Appellate District of Texas
at Fort Worth
Plaintiff's Attorney: David Alan Singleton
Gregory P. Lowery
Fort Worth, Texas - Criminal defense attorney represented Tyler Lee Miller with a evading arrest or detention with a vehicle, a deadly weapon charge.
Trooper Jose Gomez testified that while stopped at an intersection, he saw a
pickup pull into an Exxon gas station and stop between two pumps just as a Decatur
police vehicle passed by. As soon as the patrol car cleared, the pickup immediately
exited the parking lot. Suspicious, Trooper Gomez pulled into the Exxon parking lot
with the intention of following the pickup and running its license plates.
The suspicious pickup stopped at a light, turned right, and then drove back into
the Exxon parking lot “that he just came out of.” Because Trooper Gomez believed
that the pickup had not used its turn signal when turning right into the parking lot,
Trooper Gomez initiated a traffic stop.
Trooper Gomez’s car’s dashcam videotaped the stop. Trooper Gomez asserted
that the illuminating taillight seen on Miller’s pickup as Miller pulled into the parking
lot was a brake light, not a turn signal. Trooper Gomez explained that as vehicles
entered the parking lot, a bump forced them to brake.
B. Trooper Gomez’s dashcam video neither confirms nor refutes whether Miller
used his turn signal.
Trooper Gomez’s dashcam video shows him on the service road for
Highways 81 and 287 southbound sitting at the Highway 51 intersection stop light; the 4
Exxon gas station is across the street on the right corner. From Trooper Gomez’s left
on Highway 51, a Decatur police vehicle crosses the intersection and moves to Trooper
Gomez’s right. To Trooper Gomez’s right on Highway 51, Miller’s pickup can be seen
pulling into the Exxon gas station just as the Decatur police vehicle and Miller’s pickup
were about to cross paths.
On the video, Miller’s pickup pulls between two pumps, waits a few moments,
and then somewhat abruptly loops back around toward the same Highway 51 exit that
it had just entered. At the same moment, Trooper Gomez’s traffic light turns green, he
crosses the intersection, and he pulls into the Exxon parking lot from the Highways 81
and 287 service-road entrance; from there, he drives across the parking lot to the
Highway 51 exit.
By the time Trooper Gomez crosses the parking lot, Miller has already left it, and
his pickup can be seen at the intersection that Trooper Gomez had just traversed. The
light is still red, and Miller is in the process of turning right onto the Highways 81 and
287 service road. During this turn, Miller’s right turn signal is blinking.
Trooper Gomez follows Miller, but because Trooper Gomez’s dashcam points
forward, the camera loses Miller until Trooper Gomez completes his right turn onto
the Highways 81 and 287 service road. By the time the camera captures Miller again,
Miller is pulling back into the parking lot using the same Highways 81 and 287 serviceroad entrance that Trooper Gomez had used moments earlier to enter the parking lot.
Because the video captures Miller just as he is completing his turn, whether Miller is5
using his right turn signal or just tapping his brakes as he enters the parking lot is not
Trooper Gomez activates his overhead lights just as Miller enters the parking lot
and while Trooper Gomez is still on the service road. We can determine when Trooper
Gomez activates his overhead lights by the reflections off a road sign and by the
dashcam’s audio’s activating. When Trooper Gomez turns on his car’s overhead lights,
the dashcam records the video for the two minutes preceding the activation but records
the audio only from the moment of activation. Miller was thus already pulling back
into the Exxon parking lot before Trooper Gomez activated his overhead lights.
The video also shows that Miller’s center rear brake light did not work.
C. Trooper Gomez describes what happened next.
As Trooper Gomez drove up behind Miller’s pickup, the car’s passenger door
opened. Trooper Gomez ordered the passenger to remain inside the pickup.
After approaching the vehicle, Trooper Gomez described the driver (Miller) as
aggressive and argumentative. When Trooper Gomez told Miller that he had stopped
him for failing to use his signal when he pulled into the gas station, Miller protested and
insisted that he had signaled. Miller refused to provide his name and admitted that he
was unable to provide a driver’s license, that he had no insurance, that the pickup was
not his, and that he had pulled back into the parking lot because he wanted to stay out
of the officer’s way. 6
At that point, Trooper Gomez decided to separate Miller and the passenger to
see if each independently gave the same name for the driver. Miller responded by
pleading with Trooper Gomez that he just wanted Trooper Gomez to leave him alone.
Miller’s pleading struck Trooper Gomez as odd because not having insurance did not
explain why Miller wanted to avoid him. Trooper Gomez believed that something other
than a lack of insurance was motivating Miller’s behavior.
When Trooper Gomez persisted, Miller then volunteered that he had warrants.
Trooper Gomez informed Miller that the Department of Public Safety was not, at that
time, making arrests for Class C misdemeanor warrants, so if Miller’s warrants were
only for Class C misdemeanors, he would not arrest Miller.
Trooper Gomez directed Miller to get out of the pickup, but Miller remained
inside. Attempting to calm Miller, Trooper Gomez continued to talk to him, and
eventually Miller placed his vehicle in park and turned off the motor.
But by this time, Miller was angry at the passenger, who can be heard on the
video saying something inaudible that prompted Miller to reply, “What do you mean?
Don’t what?” Trooper Gomez told Miller to hand him the keys, but Miller refused and,
instead, turned his pickup back on. Trooper Gomez tried to call for backup, but his
hand-held radio would not work. Trooper Gomez thought that Miller might try to flee.
Unable to get backup and faced with an argumentative and a noncompliant
driver, Trooper Gomez opened the car door and tried to pull Miller out. Miller actively
resisted and grabbed for the pickup’s gears. While they struggled, Trooper Gomez 7
stated that Miller put the car in drive and accelerated forward, dragging him along with
the pickup. Trooper Gomez maintained his feet and eventually freed himself, and
anticipating that Miller would drive off, he ran back to his squad car.
Next, Trooper Gomez saw Miller’s vehicle—without Miller—rolling backwards
through the parking lot. He then observed the passenger run around the pickup to the
driver’s side. At that point, the pickup stopped.
D. Miller flees and hides; Trooper Gomez pursues and tracks down Miller.
In the confusion, Trooper Gomez lost sight of Miller, who had fled on foot, but
he eventually found Miller hiding in some nearby brush. Trooper Gomez ordered
Miller to show his hands; seeing none, Trooper Gomez drew his weapon.
E. Trooper Womack arrives.
Meanwhile, Trooper Chesley Womack arrived and saw Trooper Gomez with his
weapon drawn and aimed at something. Trooper Womack then saw a man (Miller)
come out from behind some bushes, run across a Sonic parking lot, jump a wall, and
continue into a Chicken Express parking lot. Trooper Womack drove into the Chicken
Express parking lot and intercepted Miller.
After getting out of his vehicle, Trooper Womack repeatedly ordered Miller to
stop, but Miller ignored his orders. Trooper Womack then saw Miller reach for a large
knife on his right side, so he took aim and tased Miller. 8
F. Miller circles back.
While Trooper Womack chased Miller, an officer from the Decatur Police
Department had joined Trooper Gomez. The two officers saw Miller running toward
them with Trooper Womack in pursuit. Despite having been tased, Miller continued
to resist the officers’ attempts to place him in handcuffs.
G. Miller’s pickup’s center brake light was out.
After watching his dashcam video at trial, Trooper Gomez said that the center
brake light located on the back of Miller’s pickup’s cab was out. Trooper Gomez stated
that driving without a functioning brake light violated the law.
H. The passenger testifies.
Kymberly Knowles, the passenger, testified that Miller accelerated to get away
from Trooper Gomez. Seeing the officer inside the pickup and his struggling to get
Miller out while the pickup was moving, Knowles testified that she tried to stop the
pickup by grabbing the gearshift and pushing it into park, but instead, she mistakenly
pushed it into neutral. Knowles stated that once the pickup was in neutral, Miller
jumped out and started running. At that point, the pickup rolled backwards, and
Knowles leapt out and ran to the driver’s side, where, she said, access to the gearshift
was easier. Knowles testified that she then managed to stop the pickup.
According to Knowles, when Trooper Gomez pulled them over, Miller tossed a
crumpled piece of paper into her lap, and she stuck that paper into her bra. The Tarrant 9
County Medical Examiner’s Office later tested the contents of the crumpled piece of
paper and determined that it contained methamphetamine.
II. The Detention
We address Miller’s first three issues together because all three turn on why
Trooper Gomez detained Miller.
Whether a detention was proper is a legal issue, not a factual one. Madden v. State,
242 S.W.3d 504, 511 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007). Sometimes though, resolving a factual
dispute is a prerequisite to resolving the legal issue. See id. “[T]he trial judge . . . decides
what quality and quantum of facts are necessary to establish ‘reasonable suspicion.’
Only if one or more of those necessary facts are disputed does the judge ask the jury to
decide whether the officer’s belief in those facts was reasonable.” Id.
In Miller’s case, he maintains that there was a factual dispute over whether he
signaled when re-entering the Exxon parking lot. He contends that (1) the jury should
have been instructed that if it found that he had signaled, it was to disregard all the
evidence that the detention produced because the detention was illegal; see Tex. Code
Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 38.23(a); Rodriguez v. State, 578 S.W.2d 419, 420 (Tex. Crim. App.
[Panel Op.] 1979); (2) whether he signaled should have been submitted in the jury
charge; see Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 38.23(a); and (3) insufficient evidence
supported the implied finding that he had not signaled; see Queeman v. State, 520 S.W.3d
616, 622 (Tex. Crim. App. 2017). 10
For our purposes, because other evidence supported the implied finding that
Trooper Gomez had properly detained Miller, whether Miller had signaled is moot. We
thus deny all three issues. See Tex. R. App. P. 47.1.
A. The nonfunctioning center brake light does not figure into our analysis.
To defeat the argument that other undisputed evidence justified the stop, Miller
argues that we cannot rely on the center brake light’s not functioning because Trooper
Gomez did not notice that until after he reviewed the video. Because Trooper Gomez
did not mention the nonfunctioning brake light until after viewing the video, we will
assume, but not decide, that Miller is correct. Because an officer cannot retrofit laterdiscovered law violations to justify a stop, we do not rely on the nonfunctioning brake
light in our detention analysis. See State v. Houghton, 384 S.W.3d 441, 449–50 (Tex.
App.—Fort Worth 2012, no pet.); State v. Ruelas, 327 S.W.3d 321, 326–27 (Tex. App.—
El Paso 2010, pet. ref’d).
B. Did Miller fail to signal once, or did he fail to signal twice? Only once.
The State argues that Trooper Gomez testified that Miller failed to signal a right
turn twice because Trooper Gomez, when describing Miller’s turning back into the
Exxon parking lot, said, “Once again, when he did that, he failed to use his turn signal.”
According to the State, Trooper Gomez was asserting that this was the second time
that he had observed Miller’s not signaling, first when Miller entered the parking lot to
avoid the oncoming Decatur squad car and second when Miller re-entered the parking
lot to avoid Trooper Gomez. The State argues that because we can rely on the first 11
instance, which Miller does not contest, any factual dispute over the second instance is
moot. We are not persuaded.
In reviewing Trooper Gomez’s testimony in its entirety, we note that he appeared
to use the expression “once again” in the same way other people say “like I said before”
or “as I was saying”:
• “[O]nce again, that’s when I noticed the pickup truck.”
• “I told him. He didn’t want to believe it. He kept saying -- he kept asking,
[‘W]hat did you stop me for?[’] I told him once again, stopped you for the --
for not using your turn signal.”
• “So at that time he tried to -- he tried to plead with me that, you know, all he
was trying to do was get out of my way, to leave him alone. And once again,
that’s another indicator of [‘W]hy are you telling me this?[’]”
• “Well, at that time I believe I asked him to -- to step out again, and once again
he -- he was not compliant in getting out.”
• “I tell him, hey, let me have your keys. And that’s when he tells me, [‘H]ey,
I’m not gonna leave.[’] Once again, I don’t know that.”
• “So once we -- once Mr. Miller got tased, at this point we were trying to get
his -- grab his hands to handcuff him. Mr. Miller once again was not
• “So Mr. -- but Trooper Womack tries again to get compliance with Mr. Miller,
because once again he -- he was noncompliant.”
• “[The pickup] accelerates. So it -- once again, it happened. It -- it was quick.”
• “And he turns the truck back on. So at that time I’m, [‘A]ll right, what he’s
trying to do is he’s not complying,[’] once again.”12
• “I asked him for the keys. Because once again, I was trying to keep Mr. Miller
from leaving the scene.”
• “He -- he turned on the truck. And at this time, I believe, as I was listening
to the other radio traffic, I was listening to Trooper Womack’s radio traffic
at that time. So at that time, I was trying to once again calm the whole
• “So at that time we were not taking any -- we were not even confirming Class
Cs. No, I was -- I was not lying. I was being honest during the whole traffic
stop. I said -- I told him -- warning -- I told him, [‘N]o, I did not -- I do not
care about the warrants[,’] because once again, I can’t take him to jail if I’m
not confirming on the Class C tickets, which all the agencies are doing
We also note that Trooper Gomez did not activate his overhead lights until after Miller
had re-entered the Exxon parking lot. Had Trooper Gomez seen Miller’s not signaling
his turn when avoiding the Decatur patrol car, given Trooper Gomez’s suspicions, he
presumably would have activated his overhead lights long before Miller re-entered the
parking lot. Other than the use of this phrase, there is no other indication in the record
that Trooper Gomez observed two instances of Miller’s failing to signal a turn. For
these reasons, we disagree with the State’s contention that Trooper Gomez, by using
the expression, “once again,” was asserting that he had witnessed Miller’s failing to
C. Trooper Gomez had reasonable suspicion based on Miller’s twice avoiding
law enforcement by pulling into the Exxon gas station.
1. Trooper Gomez needed only reasonable suspicion.
Routine traffic stops are similar to investigative detentions.2 Martinez v. State,
236 S.W.3d 361, 369 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 2007, pet. dism’d, untimely filed). An
officer may initiate a traffic stop if the officer has reasonable suspicion that a crime was
or is about to be committed. See Guerra v. State, 432 S.W.3d 905, 911 (Tex. Crim. App.
2014). For reasonable suspicion to exist, the officer does not have to witness an actual
violation; rather, the officer needs only “a reasonable suspicion” that a violation has
occurred or is about to occur. See Jaganathan v. State, 479 S.W.3d 244, 247 (Tex. Crim.
App. 2015). “In assessing whether the intrusion was reasonable, an objective standard
is utilized: would the facts available to the officer at the moment of the seizure . . .
warrant a [person] of reasonable caution [to] belie[ve] that the action taken was
appropriate.” Davis v. State, 947 S.W.2d 240, 243 (Tex. Crim. App. 1997). “[T]he
subjective intent of the officer conducting the stop is irrelevant.” Garcia v. State,
43 S.W.3d 527, 530 (Tex. Crim. App. 2001). We consider the totality of the
circumstances when assessing a stop’s propriety. Woods v. State, 956 S.W.2d 33, 38 (Tex.
Crim. App. 1997). An officer’s stated reason for the stop is not controlling if the
evidence shows an objectively reasonable basis for the stop. See Garcia, 43 S.W.3d at
Investigative detentions are less intrusive than arrests. Derichsweiler v. State,
348 S.W.3d 906, 916 (Tex. Crim. App. 2011).14
530. “A law enforcement officer can stop and briefly detain a person for investigative
purposes if the officer has a reasonable suspicion supported by articulable facts that
criminal activity may be afoot, even if the officer lacks evidence rising to the level of
‘probable cause.’” Ruelas, 327 S.W.3d at 326. Although the State need not establish
with absolute certainty that a crime has occurred, the State must elicit testimony of
sufficient facts to create a reasonable suspicion that a law has been or is about to be
violated. See Garcia, 43 S.W.3d at 530; Ruelas, 327 S.W.3d at 326. Provided reasonable
suspicion supports a traffic stop, the detention does not violate Texas law. Guerra,
432 S.W.3d at 911.
Appellate courts “review de novo whether the totality of circumstances is sufficient
to support an officer’s reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.” Crain v. State,
315 S.W.3d 43, 48–49 (Tex. Crim. App. 2010); State v. Wood, 575 S.W.3d 929, 932–33
(Tex. App.—Austin 2019, pet. ref’d). In conducting the totality of the circumstances
determination, we use a bifurcated standard of review: (1) we give almost total deference
to a trial court’s determination of historical facts and application of law to fact questions
that turn on credibility and demeanor, and (2) we review de novo application of law to
fact questions that do not turn on credibility and demeanor. Garcia, 43 S.W.3d at 530.
In other words, we give almost total deference to the trial court in determining what
the actual facts are, and we review de novo whether those facts are sufficient to give
rise to reasonable suspicion. Id. 15
Nervous, evasive behavior is a pertinent factor in determining reasonable
suspicion. Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119, 124, 120 S. Ct. 673, 676 (2000). A driver’s
behavior, such as erratic driving or obvious attempts to evade officers, may be relevant
and can support a reasonable suspicion. United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 885,
95 S. Ct. 2574, 2582 (1975); Hernandez v. State, No. 13-17-00649-CR, 2019 WL 5608239,
at *6 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi-Edinburg Oct. 31, 2019, no pet.) (mem. op., not
designated for publication). “Headlong flight—wherever it occurs—is the consummate
act of evasion: It is not necessarily indicative of wrongdoing, but it is certainly
suggestive of such.” Wardlow, 528 U.S. at 124, 120 S. Ct. at 676. “In reviewing the
propriety of an officer’s conduct, courts do not have available empirical studies dealing
with inferences drawn from suspicious behavior, and we cannot reasonably demand
scientific certainty from judges or law enforcement officers where none exists.” Id. at
124–25, 120 S. Ct. at 676. “Thus, the determination of reasonable suspicion must be
based on commonsense judgments and inferences about human behavior.” Id. at 125,
120 S. Ct. at 676.
Conduct that is not criminal in itself can give rise to suspicion that illegal conduct
is taking place. United States v. Sokolow, 490 U.S. 1, 9–10, 109 S. Ct. 1581, 1586–87
(1989); Crockett v. State, 803 S.W.2d 308, 311 (Tex. Crim. App. 1991). Circumstances
may include perfectly lawful acts that in some measure render the likelihood of criminal
conduct greater. Sokolow, 490 U.S. at 9–10, 109 S. Ct. at 1586–87; Crockett, 803 S.W.2d
at 311. For example, in Terry v. Ohio, an officer observed men engaging in what were—16
when viewed separately—innocent acts but which—when taken collectively—looked
suspiciously like men “casing” a business before committing a crime. 392 U.S. 1, 6, 22–
23, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 1872, 1880–81 (1968). The Supreme Court wrote that the dispute
was not over the officer’s detaining the men but, rather, over the officer’s patting the
men down for his own safety as part of that detention. Id. at 23, 88 S. Ct. at 1881.
2. Trooper Gomez had objective reasonable suspicion.
Even without the disputed turn signal, Trooper Gomez had objective reasonable
suspicion to stop Miller.
Trooper Gomez observed Miller pull into the Exxon gas station just as a Decatur
patrol car was approaching Miller. Miller then doubled back to the road without
stopping to get gas after the patrol car had passed. Miller’s action in dodging the patrol
car is what initially caught Trooper Gomez’s attention and made him suspicious.
Trooper Gomez intended to follow Miller’s pickup so that he could run Miller’s
license plates, but even as Trooper Gomez followed Miller, Miller pulled back into the
same Exxon gas station that he had just exited. Objectively, Trooper Gomez now had
two instances of Miller’s conspicuously attempting to avoid law enforcement. Even if
Miller had signaled his turn, Trooper Gomez had a reasonable suspicion that Miller was
engaging in or was about to engage in some sort of illegal activity.
Viewing the totality of the circumstances, even without the disputed failure to
signal, we conclude that Trooper Gomez had reasonable suspicion to detain Miller.
Miller was conspicuously trying to evade detection by law enforcement. “And if other 17
facts, not in dispute, are sufficient to support the lawfulness of the challenged conduct,
then the disputed fact issue is not submitted to the jury because it is not material to the
ultimate admissibility of the evidence.” Madden, 242 S.W.3d at 510. Because other
evidence mooted the disputed failure to signal, we overrule Miller’s first three issues.
See Tex. R. App. P. 47.1.
III. Sufficiency of the Evidence
In Miller’s fourth issue, he argues that the evidence was insufficient to prove that
he acted intentionally to evade detention or arrest. Miller contends that during the
detention, he was trying to cooperate with Trooper Gomez, but his pickup was in drive,
and his foot must have slipped off the brake. Miller also argues that when Trooper
Womack was chasing him, Miller ran toward Trooper Gomez and the other officer, an
act that Miller maintains is inconsistent with fleeing.
A. Standard of Review
In our evidentiary-sufficiency review, we view all the evidence in the light most
favorable to the verdict to determine whether any rational factfinder could have found
the crime’s essential elements beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S.
307, 319, 99 S. Ct. 2781, 2789 (1979); Queeman, 520 S.W.3d at 622. This standard gives
full play to the factfinder’s responsibility to resolve conflicts in the testimony, to weigh
the evidence, and to draw reasonable inferences from basic facts to ultimate facts. See
Jackson, 443 U.S. at 319, 99 S. Ct. at 2789; Queeman, 520 S.W.3d at 622.18
The factfinder alone judges the evidence’s weight and credibility. See Tex. Code
Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 38.04; Queeman, 520 S.W.3d at 622. We may not re-evaluate the
evidence’s weight and credibility and substitute our judgment for the factfinder’s.
Queeman, 520 S.W.3d at 622. Instead, we determine whether the necessary inferences
are reasonable based on the evidence’s cumulative force when viewed in the light most
favorable to the verdict. Murray v. State, 457 S.W.3d 446, 448 (Tex. Crim. App. 2015);
see Villa v. State, 514 S.W.3d 227, 232 (Tex. Crim. App. 2017) (“The court conducting a
sufficiency review must not engage in a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy but must consider
the cumulative force of all the evidence.”). We must presume that the factfinder
resolved any conflicting inferences in favor of the verdict, and we must defer to that
resolution. Murray, 457 S.W.3d at 448–49.
The dashcam shows that while Trooper Gomez and Miller were talking, Miller
turned on his pickup and assured Trooper Gomez that he was not going to “burn off”
on him. But when Trooper Gomez reached into the cab, the pickup did not merely roll
forward, it accelerated forward. Both Trooper Gomez and Knowles thought that Miller
had accelerated to escape.
Furthermore, before the pickup accelerated, Miller had pleaded with Trooper
Gomez to leave him alone. And after the pickup accelerated, Miller ran away. Notably,
he did not check on Trooper Gomez’s safety, as might happen if Miller had accidentally
lurched forward. And when Trooper Womack confronted Miller, Miller ran again. The 19
fact that Miller, when being chased by Trooper Womack, ran in the general direction
of Trooper Gomez and the other officer does not necessarily negate flight. Even after
Trooper Womack tased him, Miller was resistant to arrest. And if Knowles is to be
believed, Miller had a reason to avoid detention because he had methamphetamine on
him. Viewing all the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, we hold that a
rational factfinder could have found Miller intentionally used a vehicle to evade
detention or arrest beyond a reasonable doubt. See Queeman, 520 S.W.3d at 622. We
overrule Miller’s fourth issue.
Outcome: Having overruled Miller’s four issues, we affirm the trial court’s judgment