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United States v. James

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

January 4, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA PLAINTIFF
v.
KENYATTA TYRONE JAMES DEFENDANT

          Kenyatta James, pro se

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Thomas B. Russell, Senior Judge United States District Court

         This matter is before the Court upon several motions by Defendant Kenyatta James, most notably his motions to suppress and to exclude evidence. [DN 105; DN 102; DN 103.] The United States has responded to those motions, [DN 107; DN 109], and James has replied, [DN 117; DN 115]. The Court held two suppression hearings, on October 17 and December 16, 2016, respectively, receiving testimony from Detective Aaron Browning, Major Kevin Thompson, Detective Chad Stewart, and Crime Scene Unit technician Dona J. Stephenson. Fully briefed, James' substantive motions are ripe for adjudication. James also moves to supplement the record and to strike exhibits introduced by the United States during his first suppression hearing. [DN 168; DN 172; DN 162.]

         For the following reasons, James' motions to supplement the record [DN 168; DN 172] are GRANTED. The Court has considered those supplements in reaching its decision herein. His other motions [DN 102; DN 103; DN 105; DN 162] are DENIED.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         This case arises from Defendant Kenyatta James' arrest on May 8, 2015. That evening, Detective Aaron Browning and Major Kevin Thompson of the Louisville Metro Police Department were on patrol in the Russell neighborhood, located in west Louisville. Both officers testified that, based upon their knowledge and experience, the Russell neighborhood is a high-crime area known for narcotics trafficking and violent crimes. At about 6:00 p.m., Browning and Thompson were in Browning's maroon Ford Explorer, traveling westbound on Stone Alley between South 19th and South 20th Streets. Nineteenth and 20th Streets run roughly north to south, with 19th Street located to the east of 20th Street. Near the 19th Street entrance to Stone Alley, they observed a black Toyota sedan approaching them, traveling eastbound. Browning observed the vehicle's operator, later identified as Kenyatta James, not wearing a seatbelt. Browning testified that he made the decision to initiate a traffic stop of the vehicle at this time. After passing James's vehicle in the alley, Browning then turned his Explorer around in a parking lot and repositioned himself behind James, so that both were facing east at the 19th Street entrance to Stone Alley. James then made a right turn onto 19th Street without using a turn signal. Browning and Thompson followed James onto 19th Street. After traveling south on 19th Street for a half-block, James then turned right onto West Madison Street, which runs parallel to Stone Alley. Once again, James did not use a turn signal. The officers followed James onto Madison Street, and Browning activated his emergency equipment halfway down the block.

         James came to a stop in front of 1939 West Madison, the house nearest to the corner of West Madison and 20th Streets. Browning approached the driver's side of James' vehicle, and Thompson approached the passenger side. After Browning asked James for his driver's license, James, still seated, reached with his right hand toward the right side of his body. Browning testified that at this point, his view of James' right side was obscured, so Browning moved toward the front of James' vehicle to get a better view. When Browning made this movement, James immediately stopped reaching for his pocket and said, “Don't worry, it's just my cell phone.” Neither officer recalls seeing a cell phone in James' hand at this time. James then produced an Indiana driver's license, but told Browning he lived at 1939 West Madison. He also told the officers that the car, which had a Kentucky license plate, was registered to his fiancé.

         At some point after James produced his license, Browning slid it across the roof of the car to Thompson. Browning did not recognize James, but Thompson did. Thompson recalled that several years prior, James' name had been mentioned during internal police department meetings regarding unrelated crimes. Thompson testified that once he recognized James' name, he signaled to Browning that James was known to him as a criminal. However, Browning stated that he did not realize until after he detained James that Thompson knew of James' criminal history.

         Browning testified that at this point, based upon James' statement about the cell phone and the mismatch between James' driver's license, claimed residence, and vehicle registration, he suspected James was involved in criminal activity. Browning asked James whether there were firearms or narcotics in the vehicle. James said no, and declined to give Browning permission to search the vehicle. James also told Browning that he had just been released from prison on narcotics charges. Browning then asked James to step out of the vehicle. At first, James refused, stating that it was his Fourth Amendment right to remain inside. After some discussion between Browning and James, during which Browning explained that Pennsylvania v. Mimms entitled Browning to ask James to step out of his car, James agreed to do so. James was wearing baggy clothing which, in Browning's experience, makes concealing weapons and narcotics easier. After he exited the vehicle, Browning performed a Terry pat-down for weapons on the outer layer of James' clothing, and found a .40 caliber Glock 23 handgun in James's right pants pocket.

         After securing James in handcuffs, Browning performed a full search of James' person, finding two small bags of marijuana in his right coin pocket. Officers also found a digital scale in James' vehicle. During this time, Detective Chad Stewart, who was present at the scene as backup, ran a background check on James. He discovered that James had an outstanding arrest warrant from Cook County, Illinois. Browning did not know about James' outstanding warrant at the time he conducted the Terry pat-down. Based upon James' Illinois warrant, his possession of a handgun, and his possession of marijuana, James was arrested and transported to the detention center by Stewart.

         Browning took the handgun he seized from James' person to the Crime Scene Unit, where it was collected by CSU tech Dona J. Stephenson. On James' original citation, Browning wrote that he recovered a Glock 23 handgun, .40 caliber, with the serial number “DNX930 U.S.” However, in Stephenson's CSU report, she lists the serial number as “DNX903.” Browning admitted during the suppression hearing that he incorrectly transposed the last two digits of the firearm's serial number on the citation. The CSU report lists Kenyatta Tyrone James as the suspect, and the property room voucher lists “Commonwealth of Kentucky Society” as the weapon's owner. Stephenson testified that at the time, it was CSU's standard practice to list “Commonwealth of Kentucky Society” as the owner of all evidence turned into CSU by LMPD officers. After processing and photographing the weapon, Stephenson turned it in to the property room. The weapon itself, the CSU report, and the property room voucher were all introduced into evidence at James' evidentiary hearing.

         At James' second suppression hearing, Detectives Browning and Stewart provided further testimony regarding James' outstanding Cook County, Illinois arrest warrant. Specifically, Browning stated that when he asked for James' driver's license, he intended to use it to run a background check on James. Browning estimated that he runs a background check in ninety percent of the traffic stops he conducts, and he could not recall a specific instance in which he had not run a background check. In a routine stop for a minor traffic offense, Browning testified that he might not perform a warrant check if the driver's personal information and conduct did not raise any suspicion. However, when a driver, like James, provides inconsistent information, Browning said that he would always check to see if the driver had any outstanding warrants.

         Detective Stewart, meanwhile, explained that one of his regular duties as a backup officer is to conduct a background check at the request of the arresting officer. He stated that when he arrived on the scene, Major Thompson handed him James' information, and Stewart entered James' information into the computer system in Stewart's vehicle. Stewart stated that while still at the scene of James' arrest, Stewart's computer indicated that James had an active warrant from Cook County, Illinois in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database. Stewart testified that when his computer shows that a suspect has an NCIC warrant, the next step is to have LMPD dispatch contact NCIC to verify that the warrant is still active and that its issuing jurisdiction still wants the warrant to be executed. Stewart followed this procedure, and LMPD dispatch told Stewart to execute the Cook County warrant. Once NCIC validated the warrant, Stewart testified that he was required to place James under arrest.

         Following his arrest, James was indicted on one charge of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). [DN 1 at 1.] James filed the instant motions, seeking to suppress and exclude from evidence the handgun that Browning took from his person during the Terry pat-down search. See [DN 105; DN 102; DN 103.] The United States has responded to these motions, [DN 107; DN 109], and James has replied, [DN 117; DN 115]. Fully briefed, James' motions are ripe for adjudication.

         A. James' Motion to Suppress

         The United States argues that the weapon seized from James need not be suppressed for two reasons. First, the government contends that Browning had reasonable suspicion under the totality of the circumstances to believe that James was armed, justifying a pat-down search of James' outer clothing pursuant to Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 27 (1968). Second, the United States proposes that even if the search was not justified by reasonable suspicion, the firearm would have inevitably been discovered because of James' outstanding Cook County, Illinois arrest warrant. The Court will address each argument, and two threshold motions, in turn.

         (1) Threshold Issues

         In addition to his motions to suppress and exclude, James also moves to strike the eight exhibits the United States introduced during his first suppression hearing. [DN 162.] James contends that those exhibits are inadmissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 104. The relevant portions of that rule provide that “[t]he court must decide any preliminary question about whether . . . evidence is admissible.” Fed.R.Evid. 104(a). Furthermore, “[w]hen the relevance of evidence depends on whether a fact exists, proof must be introduced sufficient to support a finding that the fact does exist.” Fed.R.Evid. 104(b). James makes his Rule 104 objections in only a conclusory fashion without explaining why Rule 104 bars the admission of the United States' exhibits. See generally [DN 162.] Moreover, James did not object to exhibits 1 - 7 during the suppression hearing, so his objections to those exhibits are waived. Fed.R.Evid. 103(a)(1); see United States v. Collins, 690 F.2d 670, 674 (8th Cir. 1982). As to Exhibit 8, the property room voucher establishing the chain of custody for James' firearm, the Court overruled James' authentication objection during the suppression hearing. To the extent James asks this Court to revisit that conclusion, the Court will treat James' motion as a motion to reconsider. Because James has ...


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