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United States v. Shields

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

December 22, 2016



          Danny C. Reeves, United States District Judge

         This matter is pending for consideration of Defendant Robert Shields' motion to suppress certain incriminating statements to law enforcement officers. [Record No. 33] The motion was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Robert Wier for review and issuance of a report and recommendations pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). An evidentiary hearing was held on November 18, 2016. [Record No. 45] On November 29, 2016, Magistrate Judge Wier issued his report, recommending that the motion be denied in full. [Record No. 50] Defendant Shields has since filed objections to the report. [Record No. 52');">52]

         After reviewing all relevant materials, the Court agrees with Magistrate Judge Wier and will deny the motion to suppress.


         On August 24, 2016, officers arrested Shields' co-Defendant Wesley Hamm. [Record No. 1, Ex. 1, p. 2] Lexington agents with the Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”) interviewed Hamm regarding his suspected involvement with the distribution of fentanyl that had caused a number of overdoses in the Central Kentucky area, including one fatality. [Id.] During the interview, Hamm implicated Shields as the individual supplying fentanyl to him. [Id. at 3] Investigators then arranged a controlled buy from Shields. On August 26, 2016, Shields was arrested. [Id.]

         Cincinnati Police Specialist Charles Vanover testified that, after the defendant's arrest and while he was waiting for Lexington DEA agents to arrive, Shields repeatedly attempted to engage Vanover in conversation, asking what was going on and if they could talk. [Record No. 51, p. 7] Vanover gave Shields Miranda warnings, after which Shields seemed “eager to speak with [him]” and interested in cooperating. Vanover, however, declined to engage in any substantive discussions. [Id. at 15] Once DEA agents arrived, Vanover informed the agents that he felt Shields wanted to talk. [Id. at 16]

         DEA Special Agent Jared Sullivan testified that he arrived approximately ten minutes after the defendant's arrest. A Cincinnati investigator informed Sullivan that Shields had been given his Miranda warnings and wanted to talk. [Id. at 24] Agent Sullivan then approached Shields who had been placed in the back of a police cruiser. [Id.] Shields was allegedly concerned with providing Agent Sullivan information while in the police cruiser where he would be visible to numerous passerby. As a result, he asked to be moved to a more secluded vehicle.[1" name="FN1" id="FN1">1] [Id. at 25, 28]

         Once Agent Sullivan transferred Shields to an SUV, Shields began to speak more openly. [Id. at 28] Agent Sullivan asked where the narcotics were located, and Shields voluntarily directed him to a nearby house where officers conducted a search. The search did not produce evidence of any narcotics. [Id. at 28, 33] Based on his training and other information revealed during the investigation, Agent Sullivan felt that Shields had lied and intentionally led law enforcement to a dead end. [Id. at 38-39]

         According to Shields, Agent Sullivan stated that he would “make sure” that Shields received a life sentence unless Shields directed the officers to the drugs, but would ensure that Shields would receive a lesser punishment if he provided accurate information. Shields claims to have viewed these statements as a promise. [Id. at 83]

         Agent Sullivan denied making the statements attributed to him by Shields. [Id. at 31] Instead, Agent Sullivan stated that he would not have discussed (or threatened) a life sentence because he had no way of knowing whether a life sentence was a possibility at that stage of the investigation, especially since he was not yet familiar with Shields' criminal history. [Id.] Agent Sullivan testified that he would have advised Shields that Shields could receive “upward of twenty years” if he were later charged with an overdose death. [Id. at 31] Further, Agent Sullivan stated that he would not have made any promises regarding Shields' charges or sentence because he has no authority to make such promises. [Id.]

         Agent Sullivan testified that Shields never attempted to exercise his right to remain silent, speak to an attorney, or otherwise end the conversation. [Id. at 32, 35] Instead, Shields seem eager to cooperate so that he would receive something in exchange. [Id. at 35] According to Sullivan, Shields continuously attempted to cooperate, even after he informed Shields that he was being taken to jail. [Id. at 32] Additionally, throughout the conversation Shields repeatedly asked Agent Sullivan what Sullivan “could do for him.” [Id. at 34]

         Agent Sullivan stated that Shields expressed significant interest in the effect of his cooperation. In response, Sullivan explained that, if he cooperated, information regarding Shields' cooperation would be shared with the prosecutors and judge and that his cooperation would be helpful. [Id. at 34, 61] Agent Sullivan asserted that he would not have promised that cooperation would have affected Shields' charges or his sentence because Sullivan does not have the authority to decide the substance of any charge and is also not permitted to communicate that cooperation will provide any particular benefit. [Id. at 68, 70] Likewise, when Shields requested something in writing, Sullivan informed him that he lacked the authority to provide written assurances. [Id. at 34] Shields was then taken to jail where he remained for the weekend. [Id. at 61]

         On August 29, 2016, Agent Sullivan and another agent retrieved Shields from jail in Northern Kentucky to bring him to Lexington for processing and an initial hearing before a judicial officer. [Id. at 36] Sullivan did not re-Mirandize Shields. [Id. at 68] During the trip, Shields again expressed interest in cooperating, but Agent Sullivan informed him that the time for proactive cooperating had passed. [Id. at 37] Agent Sullivan explained that, if Shields wanted to cooperate, his only option would be to provide names, phone numbers, and other information that Sullivan could investigate independently. [Id.] Shields then provided the names of several individuals, his familiarity with these individuals, and the substances that were being distributed. [Id.]

         Shields did not indicate that he wished to end the conversation with the agents. Instead, he persistently attempted to engage and cooperate with the agents and continue their discussions. [Id.] In fact, Agent Sullivan testified that, ‚Äúthere may have been times ...

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