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United States v. Brooks

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

April 30, 2013

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
DENA LYNN BROOKS, MARCUS JESSIE ADKINS, and COURTNEY NOBLE, JR., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

JOSEPH M. HOOD, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court upon a Motion to Suppress [DE 27] filed by Defendant Courtney Noble, Jr., in which Defendant Deena Lynn Brooks and Marcus Jessie Adkins have joined [DE 32, 34, 36, 38]. The United States of America has filed a Response [DE 39], stating its objections, Defendants have filed a Reply in further support of their motion [DE 55], and the United States has filed a Surreply [DE 56], further stating its objections to the arguments set forth in Defendants' Reply. The Court has also had the benefit of the parties' arguments and the evidence presented during a hearing on April 15, 2013 [DE 43, 50]. The Court being adequately advised, the Motion will be denied for the reasons which follow.

I.

On January 28, 2013, Drug Enforcement Agency ("DEA") Task Force Officer ("TFO") Scott D. McIntosh received information from a cooperating defendant about drug trafficking activity that was going to occur that day involving Defendants Dena Brooks and Marcus Adkins. [DE 50, Transcript, at 11-12.] The cooperating defendant had previously provided information to TFO McIntosh about drug trafficking activities undertaken by Brooks, Adkins, and others and had personally observed Brooks to be in possession of two plastic bags of methamphetamine in the period prior to January 28, 2013. [ Id. at 7-11.] Specifically, he had met Ms. Brooks while she was staying at a motel in Lexington to help her change a flat tire and had seen a quantity of methamphetamine in her motel room at that time. [ Id. at 14.]

On the day in question, the cooperating defendant told TFO McIntosh that Brooks would be travelling to Louisville to acquire a quantity of methamphetamine from her source of supply and that she would likely be in her vehicle, a white Jeep Cherokee. [ Id. at 10-12.] When surveillance on the Interstate 64 ("I-64") corridor between Louisville and Lexington came up empty, the cooperating defendant informed TFO McIntosh that Brooks might be in Adkins' vehicle, a dark colored Chevrolet Tahoe. [ Id. at 12-13.] He also advised that, in the past, Brooks and Adkins had obtained a motel room at Exit 115 off of Interstate 75 ("I-75") in Fayette County and that Adkins would travel back to eastern Kentucky while Brooks would remain in Lexington at the motel.[1] [ Id. at 13-14.]

That evening, having received information from TFO McIntosh, DEA TFO Rob Hart observed vehicles-"a dark-colored SUV" and a white Jeep Cherokee-parked at the LaQuinta Inn on Stanton Way, near Exit 115, which matched the description provided to him by TFO McIntosh. [ Id. at 15-16, 31.] No sooner than TFO Hart had set up surveillance from a distance, the Tahoe exited the parking lot. [ Id. at 16-17, 32.] Since Hart was not in a marked law enforcement vehicle at that time, he contacted a uniformed officer with the Lexington Division of Police to conduct a traffic stop. [ Id. at 17, 32, 57.] He contacted Officer Adam Ray, who was on patrol, and relayed to him that he was involved in conducting surveillance on a group involved in distributing methamphetamine, that there was potentially methamphetamine in the vehicle that he was pursuing, that he did not know who was in the vehicle or anything about weapons. [ Id. at 33, 57-58.]

At some point, the Tahoe entered traffic and travelled eastbound from Exit 115 on I-64 in the direction that one would expect if one was traveling to Wolfe County from Lexington, Kentucky. [ Id. at 16-17.] TFO Hart and, eventually, Officer Ray followed Adkins' vehicle as it headed eastbound on I-64 in Fayette County, "just past the southern split" of I-75 from I-64 eastbound. [ Id. at 41, 58-59.] Ray observed the vehicle cross the center lane briefly into the right lane and return to its original lane and, from a position in traffic next to the Tahoe, that the front window tinting appeared excessively dark. [ Id. at 59.]

Officer Ray activated his emergency equipment and stopped the Tahoe on the grounds that it had excessive window tinting and had crossed from the center lane into the right lane. [ Id. at 59.] Once the vehicles were stopped on the side of the road, Ray approached from the passenger side of the vehicle. [ Id. at 58-60.] He spoke with the driver, Marcus Adkins, and advised him that he had been pulled over for a lane violation and for a window tinting violation. [ Id. at 60.] Adkins denied being under the influence of alcohol or any medication but said that he had been looking at his cell phone at that time. [ Id. at 60-61.]

During that time, Officer Ray observed that Courtney Noble, Jr., the passenger in the Tahoe, was extremely nervous. Noble was holding a can of soda-an Ale-8-One, to be exact-in his right hand. [ Id. at 61.] Officer Ray observed that Noble "held it in his lap and it was shaking a lot more than it should have been, even some more that I haven't even addressed him yet." [ Id. ] Based on his experience as a patrol officer and armed with the limited information that Hart had provided about why the vehicle was of interest to law enforcement, Ray felt that this evidenced an individual who was far more nervous than someone would ordinarily be during a traffic stop "unless something else is going on." [ Id. ]

After obtaining Adkins' driver's license and registration, Ray went to his cruiser to retrieve a tint meter. [ Id. at 62.] He returned to the Tahoe and tested the window. [ Id. ] Upon concluding that the tint level was in violation of the applicable law, he asked Adkins to step out of the vehicle and observed him to determine whether he was driving the vehicle under the influence of alcohol or another intoxicating substance. [ Id. at 62-63.] Having assured himself that Adkins was not under the influence, Ray asked Adkins why his passenger was so nervous. [ Id. at 63.] Adkins told Ray that he did not know why. [ Id. ] Officer Ray then asked if there was anything illegal in the vehicle of which he needed to be aware, and Adkins replied, "Not to my knowledge." [ Id. ]

Ray then asked Adkins for consent to search the Tahoe, which Adkins granted. [ Id. ] Ray conducted a Terry frisk on Adkins. [ Id. ] Then Hart pulled up behind him, approached the scene, and waited with Adkins while Ray approached Noble on the passenger side of the Tahoe. [ Id. at 63-64.] Ray explained to Noble that he had been given consent to search the vehicle by Adkins and asked Noble to exit the vehicle. [ Id. at 64.] He described Noble as "extremely nervous." [ Id. ] After Noble exited the vehicle, Ray explained to Noble that he would pat him down for weapons and began to conduct what Ray described as a " Terry frisk" using his usual method, by taking Noble's hands and placing them behind his back, grasping Noble's index fingers, and having him separate his feet. [ Id. at 65.] Officer Ray knew, "[t]hrough [his] training and experience [that] subjects that are involved in narcotics more times than not will carry a weapon to protect themselves from being robbed, knives, guns, etc." [ Id. at 75.] As was Ray's usual procedure, he first went to Noble's "right pocket, right waistband." [ Id. at 65.] Ray testified that "[m]ost people are right-handed, that if they were to have a weapon, that's where it would be." [ Id. ]

There, at first contact, he felt what he thought was crack cocaine. [ Id. at 65-66.] He "heard the crumpling of a plastic bag, and it just had the feel and texture of suspected crack cocaine" based on his training and experience. [ Id. at 66.] When Noble denied knowledge of what was in his pocket, Ray placed handcuffs on Noble and removed the plastic bag from Noble's pocket. [ Id. at 66-67.] Once Ray had the substance "under the light, it looked like methamphetamines" to him. [ Id. at 67.] With Noble in handcuffs, Ray continued his pat down, locating two more plastic bags, each containing suspected methamphetamine, a pill bottle, a glass smoking pipe, and a small pistol, "loaded with one in the chamber, " tucked in his waistband. [ Id. ]

II.

There is no real dispute among the parties that Officer Ray permissibly stopped Adkins' vehicle in keeping with the Fourth Amendment because he "[knew] or reasonably believe[d] that the driver of the car [was] doing something that represent[ed] a violation of law" - in this case committing a lane violation or having excessive window tinting in violation of Kentucky law. United States v. Hughes, 606 F.3d 311, 316 (6th Cir. 2010); United States v. Street, 614 F.3d 228, 232 (6th Cir. (2010) ("When law enforcement officers witness a traffic violation, they may stop the driver and his car."); Jackson v. Commonwealth of Ky., No. 2009-CA-001522-MR, 2011 WL 831704, *4 (Ky. Ct. App. Mar. 11, 2011) (citing KRS 189.110). Defendants argue, however, that Officer Ray outstepped the boundaries set for him by ...


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