United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff.
EDMUND WALKER CHANEY, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
KAREN K. CALDWELL, Chief District Judge.
Edmund Walker Chaney is charged with federal firearms violations, including possession of a machinegun. He filed a motion to suppress all evidence seized from the location of his arrest (DE 12), and on June 15, 2015, the Court held an evidentiary hearing (DE 16). At the conclusion of the evidentiary hearing, the Court denied Chaney's motion for the reasons stated below.
I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
In November 2014, the Lee County Sheriff's Department ("LCSD") conducted an investigation to recover a stolen Ford F250 pick-up truck and enclosed trailer. LCSD received information that the truck was located on property off Larson Road; therefore, LCSD dispatched Deputy Matt Eversole to determine whether he could find the truck.
Larson Road is a rural road in a mountainous area of Eastern Kentucky, but Deputy Eversole knew the area well because he routinely patrolled numerous oil rigs off Larson Road. The owners of the oil rigs asked LCSD to monitor their rigs. The owners gave openended consent to LCSD to enter their properties, examine the oil rigs, and perform other necessary duties. Therefore, Deputy Eversole began his search for the stolen truck on a property that he knew-property containing Charles Booth's oil rigs.
While on Booth's property, Deputy Eversole saw a truck matching the description of the stolen Ford F250. He knew that the truck was on the property of Booth's neighbor and that LCSD did not have open-ended consent to enter the neighbor's property. Deputy Eversole did not know who owned the neighboring property; therefore, he returned to Larson Road, drove his patrol car to the entrance of the quarter-mile long driveway leading into the neighbor's property, and awaited further instructions.
The entrance to the neighbor's property had a gate, and the gate was locked to prevent any cars from entering the driveway. The gate stood alone at the entrance to the property; a fence did not enclose the property. Deputy Eversole waited outside the locked gate.
LCSD Sheriff Wendell Childers arrived. Deputy Eversole described what he saw from Booth's property, and Sheriff Childers instructed Deputy Eversole to contact the county attorney. The property owner, Lacy Tipton, and two females then approached the gate. The females informed Sheriff Childers and Deputy Eversole that two men and a child remained on the property; Sheriff Childers took the women aside. Once Tipton identified himself as the property owner, Deputy Eversole explained why the officers were at the gate and asked Tipton for consent to search the property. He consented. Tipton also aided Deputy Eversole in completing the LCSD consent-to-search form and described the property in detail to Deputy Eversole.
While Deputy Eversole spoke with Tipton and completed the consent-to-search form, Harrison Bush drove down the driveway to the gate. At this time, a number of LCSD officers, Tipton, and the women were outside the gate; Bush was inside the gate. Bush informed the officers that the child remained on the property and he believed that the child was in danger because the remaining individual on the property, Edmund Chaney, was heavily armed.
The officers entered the property because they had received Tipton's consent to search the premises and they feared that a child may be in danger. Bush offered to drive a number of LCSD officers in his vehicle up the driveway to the structure where he claimed he had left the child with Chaney. Tipton offered to take Deputy Eversole and Constable Jonathan Shuler on a "shortcut" through an off-roading path so that they could reach the structure faster. The shortcut was not faster. Other LCSD officers arrived at the structure first; Chaney ran. Tipton, Deputy Eversole, and Constable Shuler intercepted Chaney as they approached the structure. Deputy Eversole detained Chaney and-once secured- another LCSD officer brought Chaney down the driveway to the officers' vehicles. Bush and the other officers located the child.
All present also smelled a strong odor emanating from the structure on Tipton's property. Constable Shuler presumed that the odor came from a methamphetamine laboratory because (1) the odor mirrored what, in his experience and training, a methamphetamine laboratory would produce; (2) he noted that the structure was built like and strategically secluded like other methamphetamine laboratories; and (3) he had been involved with the investigation and prosecution of other methamphetamine laboratories in the vicinity and knew that there were other, undiscovered, laboratories.
Deputy Eversole, Constable Shuler, and Tipton approached the structure. Constable Shuler knew that methamphetamine laboratories are volatile, and he was concerned for the safety of everyone present. As the three men approached the structure, the officers noticed a number of firearms. The three men entered the structure. The officers saw an SKS machinegun, rifles, and handguns. Constable Shuler also discovered that the odor emanated from an operating moonshine still, not a methamphetamine laboratory. Deputy Eversole continuously verified that Tipton consented to the officers' actions, and Tipton consistently provided consent to search the structure and other secured locations on the property. Tipton disabled the moonshine still and told the officers who owned which firearm. Later, he brought the officers to a separate residence away from the structure on the property that he shared with Chaney. Tipton completed a second consent-to-search form for the residence, and he gave the officers keys to the gate so that the officers could return to the property and to the structure with the moonshine still.
A. Conflicting Testimony
At the evidentiary hearing, Chaney called Tipton as a witness. Tipton clarified that he is Chaney's uncle, and Tipton claimed that he never provided consent to search his property. He asserted that he never signed a consent-to-search form before the officers initially entered the property, he contended that the child was in Bush's vehicle throughout the incident, and he claimed that he never signed a form until the officers ...