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United States v. Wilson

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division

November 20, 2013


Page 677

For Michael Albert Wilson, Jr., Defendant: James M. West, LEAD ATTORNEY, Martin & West, PLLC, Edgewood, KY.

For USA, Plaintiff: Jason Allen Denney, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. Attorney's Office - Ft. Mitchell, Ft. Mitchell, KY.


Page 678


David L. Bunning, United States District Judge.


This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Suppress (Doc. # 20) physical evidence seized from his laptop computer and statements he made to the police. After the matter was fully briefed (Docs. # 23 and 24), the Court held an evidentiary hearing on the Motion. The parties were instructed to present evidence relating to the initial seizure of the laptop computer from Evergreen Cemetery; to highlight the facts relevant to Defendant's position that he maintained a reasonable expectation of privacy in the suitcase and laptop despite his homeless status; and to clarify the circumstances surrounding the officers' search of the laptop's contents. Attorney James West appeared on behalf of the Defendant, who was also present. Assistant United States Attorney Jason Denney appeared on behalf of the United States. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Court submitted the Motion pending written decision. For

Page 679

reasons set forth herein, the Court will deny Defendant's Motion.


(1) On April 16, 2013, Rena Gearding discovered a plastic-wrapped suitcase while walking her dogs at the edge of a wooded area in Evergreen Cemetery in Southgate, Kentucky. She unwrapped the suitcase, opened it, and discovered a laptop computer, batteries, change and prescription bottles stored inside.

(2) Gearding turned the suitcase over to Cemetery employee J.D. Bishop, who decided to keep it overnight and give it to his supervisor the following day.

(3) On April 17, 2013, Bishop turned the suitcase over to David Smith, the Superintendent of Evergreen Cemetery. Smith took the suitcase to the Southgate Police Department, but he was unable to locate a police officer. He returned to the Cemetery with the suitcase and called the police.

(4) Southgate Police Officer Chad Martin went to Evergreen Cemetery later that day, collected the suitcase from Mr. Smith, and returned to the Southgate police station with it.

(5) Officer Martin looked through the suitcase in hopes of finding contact information for the owner. He found a Social Security card, birth certificate and passport for Michael Albert Wilson, Jr. in the top outer pocket, but no photo identification. He did not inventory the suitcase's contents because he did not believe the items had any evidentiary value.

(6) Officer Martin asked dispatch to run Wilson's name and Social Security number through its database. Although the database did not yield an address for Wilson, it did reveal that he was a registered sex offender.

(7) Because Officer Martin had not yet found an address, he decided to power up the laptop and continue looking for Wilson's contact information. However, he soon discovered that the laptop was password-protected, so he called Steven Schauer, IT Consultant for the Southgate Police Department, and asked him to come to the police station.

(8) Schauer arrived at the police station about fifteen to twenty minutes later. Using Linux software, he was able to bypass the password feature and quickly access the laptop's data.

(9) Police Chief John Christmann and Officer Steve Collingsworth were present as Schauer and Officer Martin browsed the laptop's contents. Officer Martin first directed Schauer to look in the " My Documents" folder for a resume or any other document containing contact information. Finding nothing helpful in that folder, Officer Martin asked Schauer to look in the " My Pictures" folder. When they opened that folder, they saw a list of saved photos with corresponding mid-size icons. They scrolled through this list but did not enlarge any of the photos. However, they could tell from the icons that many of the photos featured the same man, who they assumed to be Wilson. They also saw several photos of nude women, but nothing about these photos suggested that they were contraband. After looking through these two folders for approximately ten to twenty minutes, Officer Martin instructed Schauer to shut the laptop down.

(10) Officer Martin then contacted Kentucky Probation and Parole about Wilson. The probation officer reported that Wilson was staying at 217 West 13th Street in Newport, Kentucky. The probation officer also emailed Wilson's photo to the Southgate Police Department. Police officers went to the Newport address to tell Wilson that they had his suitcase, but they discovered that he was no longer living there.

Page 680

(11) On April 18, 2013, Chief John Christmann was driving along US-27 when he spotted a pedestrian resembling Wilson. Chief Christmann stopped the man, confirmed that he was Wilson, and informed him that the Southgate Police Department had his suitcase. Chief Christmann then asked Wilson where he was staying. Wilson explained that he was staying with his girlfriend K.B. at 120 West Walnut Street in Southgate, Kentucky. After reminding Wilson that he needed to register his new address with Probation and Parole, Chief Christmann continued on his way.

(12) Officer Martin went to visit Wilson at the Southgate address and discovered that it was also invalid. He notified Wilson's probation officer, who called Wilson to ask him about his address. Wilson admitted lying to Chief Christmann and told the officer that he was staying at the invalid Newport address. When the probation officer relayed this information, Officer Martin called Wilson and informed him that he had provided false information to the sex offender registry. Wilson then admitted that he was homeless and promised to tell his probation officer where his campsite was located. He later reported to Probation and Parole that he was camping under the US-27 underpass in front of St. Therese school.

(13) Meanwhile, Officer Martin asked dispatch to run a database search on K.B. The search revealed that K.B. was an eighteen year old high school student living in Wilder, Kentucky. Officer Martin contacted K.B. and asked if she knew Wilson. She replied that she had met Wilson online two years ago and that they had planned for him to come to Kentucky when she turned eighteen. When asked about the nature of this online relationship, K.B. admitted that it was ...

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