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United States v. Slaughter

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

January 4, 2017



          Greg N. Stivers, Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Objection (DN 28) to the Magistrate Judge Whalin's Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Recommendations regarding Defendant's Motion to Suppress (DN 27). For the following reasons, the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation is ADOPTED and Defendant's Objection is OVERRULED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         At approximately 10 p.m. on July 2, 2015, a group of four Louisville Metro Police officers were traveling in an unmarked Ford Explorer. (Suppress Hr'g Tr. 4:3-14; 17:18, 36:13-23, Aug. 10, 2016, DN 22 [hereinafter Hr'g Tr.]). The officers were travelling southward on 19th Street when Detectives Jason Haywood (“Haywood”) and Tony Benzing (“Benzing”) observed a 2002 Chevy Impala waiting behind another vehicle in the drive through line at West Main Street Liquors, located at the corner of 19th Street and West Main Street. (Hr'g Tr. 44:21-45:11). Haywood recalled that although it was growing dark at the time, the area was adequately lit with street lights so the scene was easily observable. (Hr'g Tr. 30:15-19). Additionally, Haywood testified that he was aware of multiple arrests and shootings in the immediate area of the liquor stores, which he characterized as being a “high crime” area. (Hr'g Tr. 31:8-14). Haywood and Benzing observed what appeared to be a hand-to-hand transaction occurring through the passenger window of the vehicle, which they suspected to be a drug transaction. (Hr'g Tr. 28:4-11, 37:2-5, 39:4-6). Haywood testified that he observed an individual, later identified as Mr. Scott (“Scott”), having a conversation at the passenger window of the car and observed Scott reach into his pocket and then lean into the vehicle. (Hr'g Tr. 28:4-11). Benzing also watched this occur. (Hr'g Tr. 37:2-5). Both detectives testified that they could not see what-if anything-was in Scott's hand when he pulled it from his pocket. (Hr'g Tr. 28:4-11, 45:17-20).

         The officers then activated the unmarked vehicle's police lights, performed a U-turn, and parked “[r]ight on the side of the car, kind of behind it . . . .” (Hr'g Tr. 7:14-19, 34:1-7). Haywood and Benzing quickly jumped out and approached the vehicle's passenger side window while another officer began to pat down Scott. (Hr'g Tr. 7:21-24). Defendant was seated in the passenger seat and had his right hand inside of his right pants pocket. (Hr'g Tr. 37:13-15). Benzing greeted Defendant and then asked him to remove his hand from his pocket. (Hr'g Tr. 22:8-14, 37:23-25). Defendant neither responded to the request nor removed his hand from his pants pocket. (Hr'g Tr. 39:21-22). Haywood stated that Defendant's only reaction was to look over to the female driver with a discouraged look on his face. (Hr'g Tr. 23:4-9). Benzing asked Defendant twice more to remove his hand. (Hr'g Tr. 39:13-20). Finally, Benzing reached into the vehicle and placed his hand on top of Defendant's right wrist. (Hr'g Tr. 37:23-38:2). Benzing felt the shape of a handgun in Defendant's pockets and alerted the other officers that Defendant was armed. (Hr'g Tr. 24:12-14, 26:22-23, 38:1-2). At that point, Defendant removed his hand from his pocket while Benzing took control of it. (Hr'g Tr. 22:24-23:6, 38:7-12).

         Benzing and Haywood removed Defendant from the vehicle. (Hr'g Tr. 38:7-12). Benzing reached into Defendant's right pocket and pulled out a loaded .22 caliber Beretta handgun. (Hr'g Tr. 22:23-24, 38:7-12). Defendant's hands were then placed behind his back while Detective Haywood performed a pat down search. (Hr'g Tr. 31:15-19). The pat down search revealed three bindles of narcotics from the interior change pocket of Defendant's pants located within the same pocket where the gun was found. (Hr'g Tr. 22:25-23:3). Defendant was charged with the knowing and intentional possession of both cocaine and heroin with the intent to distribute the same in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(C). (Indictment 2-3, DN 1). Additionally, Defendant was charged with the knowing possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1), 924(a)(2), and 924(e). (Indictment 2).

         On April 4, 2016, Defendant moved to suppress evidence obtained as a result of the illegal stop and subsequent warrantless search of his person. (Def.'s Mot. Suppress, DN 15). Following an evidentiary hearing, the Magistrate Judge found that facts supporting reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing did exist in order to support the legality of the seizure of Defendant. (Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law & Recommendation, DN 25 [hereinafter “R&R”]). Defendant objects to the R&R's conclusion that reasonable suspicion existed for the warrantless seizure. (Def.'s Objs. to R. & R., DN 28 [hereinafter Def.'s Obj.]). This matter is ripe for adjudication.


         In United States v. Curtis, 237 F.3d 598 (6th Cir. 2001), the Sixth Circuit articulated the proper standard of review for objections to a ruling or recommendation by a magistrate judge, stating:

[Section] 636(b) creates two different standards of review for district courts when a magistrate court's finding is challenged in district court. A district court shall apply a “clearly erroneous or contrary to law” standard of review for the “nondispositive” preliminary measures of § 636(b)(1)(A). Conversely, “dispositive motions” excepted from § 636(b)(1)(A), such as motions for summary judgment or for the suppression of evidence, are governed by the de novo standard.

Id. at 603 (emphasis added) (citations omitted). Thus, the de novo standard applies to the present review.


         In the R&R, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the motion to suppress be denied because reasonable suspicion existed to support the constitutionality of the warrantless seizure of the Defendant. The Magistrate Judge bases his finding of reasonable suspicion on the following facts: an observed hand-to-hand transaction between Defendant and Scott, the time of day, the presence of the suspicious activity in a high crime area, and the fact that Defendant would not comply with the officer's commands to remove his hand from his pocket. Defendant objects to the Magistrate's finding of reasonable suspicion. More specifically, Defendant notes that the Magistrate Judge incorrectly characterized the hand-to-hand transaction that the officers observed as a drug transaction and contests the characterization of the area as a high crime area. (Def.'s Obj. 1-3).

         In accordance with Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), a warrantless stop for questioning is reasonable if “specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant that intrusion . . . .” United States v. Vite-Espinoza, 342 F.3d 462, 466 (6th Cir. 2003) (quoting Terry, 392 U.S. at 21-22). Thus, for the Terry stop of Defendant to be lawful, the law enforcement officers must have a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity at the time when the police car parked behind the vehicle in which Defendant was riding. See United States v. Jones, 673 F.3d 497, 501 (6th Cir. 2012) (noting that reasonable suspicion is to be determined at the time of the seizure).[1] The fundamental inquiry when analyzing the constitutionality of a Terry stop is whether officers “have a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person stopped of criminal activity.” United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S. 411, 417-18 (1981). Assessing whether an officer possesses particularized, objective suspicion requires a two-fold analysis. Id. at 418. First, a court “must look at the ‘totality of the circumstances' of [the] case . . . .” United States v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 273 (2002) (quoting Cortez, 449 U.S. at 417-18). Under this “totality of the circumstances” rubric, officers may “draw on their own experiences and specialized training to make inferences from and deductions about the cumulative information available to them that ‘might well elude an untrained person.'” Unit ...

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