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United States v. McClain

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

April 12, 2017



          Joseph H. McKinley, Jr. Chief Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendant LaMichael McClain's motion to suppress evidence seized and statements made during various searches during the spring and summer of 2015. (DN 17.) This matter is now ripe for decision. For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I. Background

         On May 16, 2015, Louisville Metro Police Department (“LMPD”) received reports of a home invasion and robbery at a residence on Magazine Street in Louisville, with possible shots fired. (Tr. Suppression Hr'g [DN 37] at 72:23-25.) After witnesses provided a description of a vehicle that may have been used by a suspect, officers located and stopped a vehicle matching that description. (Id. at 5:5-10, 39:24-40:9.) However, officers soon discovered that the individual driving the vehicle, Defendant LaMichael McClain, was a victim of the robbery, rather than a suspect. (Id. at 41:6-15.) After making this discovery, McClain was allowed to drive his own vehicle back to the Magazine Street residence, where LMPD officers were investigating the robbery. (Id. at 42:17.)

         Through discussions with both McClain and two other individuals who had been present during the robbery, officers became aware that one male victim of the robbery was unaccounted for. (Id. at 5:11-13, 6:19-7:3.) Having found shell casings by the side door to the home and aware of the prior reports of shots having been fired, LMPD officers feared that this missing victim was possibly injured inside the house and decided that a “protective sweep” must be made of the residence. (Id. at 8:18-20, 43:21-44:3.) However, the doors were locked, and McClain had no keys. (Id. at 7:19-21.) The officers made clear to McClain that they “were going in the house” regardless of the method of entry that was required. (Id. at 37:16-17.) McClain ultimately entered through a rear window that was unlocked with some assistance from an officer and opened the side door once inside. (Id. at 45:4-14.) The officers entered the residence while McClain exited the house so that they could perform the protective sweep. (Id. at 10:14-18.)

         Officers completed the protective sweep within two minutes of entering the residence, looking only in spaces where an individual could be located. (Id. at 9:20-10:5, 76:18-24, 98:3- 4.) This included a storage closet in the hallway near the side door. (Id. at 47:1-8.) No individuals were discovered in the residence. (Id. at 9:20-10:5.) During the protective sweep, however, the officers found drug paraphernalia and other evidence of narcotics trafficking. (Id. at 11:8-12.) This included a knife with suspected cocaine residue, plastic bags with suspected cocaine residue, and rolling papers in the kitchen; a large scale, money counter, and vacuum sealer in the living room; and a safe, two large suitcases, and another scale in the hall closet. (Id. at 98:8-24.) All of these items were allegedly unconcealed and in plain view when the officers entered the residence. (Id. at 11:14-17.)

         After the protective sweep was completed, McClain was allowed back in the residence, and officers began seeking his assistance in accessing a surveillance system that may have recorded the earlier robbery. (Id. at 15:4-9.) However, the system required a password to access the data contained within it, and McClain did not know the password, as the system had been set up by his stepfather and belonged to his mother. (Id. at 17:6-9, 51:4-5, 187:16-20.) After McClain's mother arrived, LMPD obtained consent from both McClain and his mother to take the surveillance system hard drive to investigate the robbery. (Id. at 16:12-20.) Officers recorded both McClain and his mother consenting to LMPD taking the hard drive. (Id.)

         LMPD officers also obtained McClain's consent to search the residence following the protective sweep, as the discovery of the drug paraphernalia led the officers to “split into a multifacet[ed]” investigation of both the robbery and narcotics trafficking. (Id. at 18:13-18, 103:17-21.) However, McClain signed the consent-to-search form at 9:40 p.m., roughly an hour after the officers had presumably completed the protective sweep. (Id. at 66:7-21.) One officer did at least spend some of this time working with McClain on accessing the surveillance footage. (Id. at 53:22-54:5.) McClain denied ownership of the safe or knowledge of how to unlock it, and he gave verbal consent for the officers to take it. (Id. at 82:19-23, 83:15-21.) LMPD applied for a warrant to search the safe on May 19, 2015, which was granted and executed. (Search Warrant Aff. [DN 17-3] at 5; Tr. Suppression Hr'g [DN 37] at 83:15-21.) Cocaine and personal documents associated with McClain were found in the safe. (Tr. Suppression Hr'g [DN 37] at 84:1-5.) McClain was not arrested or charged with any offenses on May 16. (Id. at 19:12-14.) However, he did give officers his phone number so that they could further discuss the robbery, although no further discussions occurred. (Id. at 56:25-57:11.)

         On June 9, 2015, McClain was stopped by an LMPD officer for reckless driving and having tinted windows. (Id. at 133:3-11.) After approaching McClain and requesting he exit the vehicle, McClain sped off. (Id. at 134:2-17.) A gold car that had been parked in front of McClain before he was stopped was registered to an individual named Kiera Bradley, and when officers contacted Bradley, it was discovered that she was in the car with McClain when he sped off from the traffic stop on June 9. (Id. at 133:25-134:1, 136:20-137:2.) She gave officers McClain's phone number, which officers learned was the same number as the one given by McClain following the robbery on May 16. (Id. at 136:20-137:11.)

         Based on the traffic incident, the evidence of narcotics trafficking discovered on May 16, and McClain's known involvement in narcotics trafficking, LMPD officers applied for and obtained a “ping” order allowing them to remotely track McClain through the GPS system in his phone. (Id. at 137:20-23.) This remote surveillance revealed that McClain spent significant time at an apartment on Ashby Farm Drive in southwest Louisville. (Id. at 138:19-23.) On July 1, officers tracked McClain to a Circle K gas station in Louisville and, upon arriving at the location, observed McClain driving a blue Chevy Silverado. (Id. at 140:2-8.) On July 2, officers obtained the rent roll to the apartment complex where McClain was spending time and learned that the apartment in question was leased to an individual named Kasey Taylor, who was known to officers as McClain's girlfriend. (Id. at 140:19-24, 166:22-23.)

         After conducting further surveillance on the apartment, officers obtained a warrant to search the Ashby Farm Drive apartment on July 15, and it was executed the next day. (Id. at 142:19-22.) Upon searching the apartment, officers discovered a large quantity of marijuana and a handgun. (Id. at 170:13-19.) Meanwhile, McClain was arrested leaving a residence on Garland Avenue in Louisville on an outstanding warrant at the same time as the search warrant was being executed. (Id. at 142:24-143:8.) He was taken to the Ashby Farm Drive apartment, where he signed a consent form to search the blue Chevy Silverado that was parked outside the apartment and in which officers had previously observed him. (Id. at 171:9-25.) Inside the vehicle, officers found three firearms. (Id. at 146:24-147:5.)

         On May 4, 2016, McClain was indicted on two counts of possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute and one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. (DN 1.) McClain moved to suppress all evidence seized and statements made as a result of the searches of the Magazine Street residence, the safe seized from his residence, the Ashby Farm Drive apartment, and the blue Chevy Silverado. (DN 17.) An evidentiary hearing was conducted on December 22, 2016 (DN 37), and the matter is now ripe for decision.[1]

         II. Discussion

         A. Search of Magazine Street Residence

         1. Entry Into Residence

         McClain first contests the entry into his residence on Magazine Street and the seizure of any evidence of narcotics trafficking from the residence. He argues that there was no justification for entering his residence and seizing any evidence, and that even if any exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement permitted the officers to enter the residence, their conduct once within the residence was impermissibly intrusive. Finally, he argues that any consent given to search the premises or seize any evidence was not validly obtained.

         While the Fourth Amendment typically requires law enforcement to obtain a warrant before entering an individual's home, there are a number of exceptions to the warrant requirement. United States v. Archibald, 589 F.3d 289, 294 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting United States v. United States District Court, 407 U.S. 297, 318 (1972)). One such exception, known as the “emergency aid” exception, allows officers to “enter a home without a warrant to render emergency assistance to an injured occupant or to protect an occupant from imminent injury.” Michigan v. Fisher, 558 U.S. 45, 47 (2009) (per curiam) (quoting Brigham City v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398, 403 (2006)). If there is “an objectively reasonable basis for believing that a person within the house is in need of immediate aid, ” then officers may enter the home without a warrant. Id. (internal quotations and brackets omitted). While the exception is only applicable when there is “credible and reliable evidence” of the need to render emergency aid, Nelms v. Wellington Way Apts., LLC, 513 F. App'x 541, 546 (6th Cir. 2013), “[o]fficers do not need ironclad proof of a likely serious, life-threatening injury to invoke the emergency aid exception.” Fisher, 558 U.S. at 49 (internal quotations omitted). The burden is on the government to establish that circumstances existed to justify the entry. United States v. Barclay, 578 F. App'x 545, 548 (6th Cir. 2014) (citations omitted).

         Here, the officers were justified in entering the Magazine Street residence under the emergency aid exception. The responding officers had received reports of an armed robbery and home invasion at the Magazine Street residence, with possible shots fired. Multiple witnesses, including McClain, informed the officers that a male victim of the armed robbery was unaccounted for. Upon arriving at the residence, shell casings were found near the side door where the robbery was said to have taken place. This evidence is sufficient proof “of a likely serious, life-threatening injury to invoke the emergency aid exception.” Fisher, 558 U.S. at 49.

         First, the crimes to which officers were responding, armed robbery and home invasion, were sufficiently serious for officers to consider the need of entering the home without a warrant. Compare Schreiber v. Moe, 596 F.3d 323, 330 (6th Cir. 2010) (preventing physical abuse qualifies as exigent circumstance) with Nelms, 513 F. App'x at 546 (responding to property damage does not qualify as exigent circumstance). Second, the officers were able to confirm that shots were likely fired during the commission of the crime upon arriving at the residence, as shell casings were found near the entry way, along with what was possibly a bullet hole entering the house. (Tr. Suppression Hr'g [DN 37] at 34:22-35:2.) The Sixth Circuit has consistently found that the presence of shots fired at a crime scene weighs in favor finding an exigent circumstance that would justify entry to render emergency aid. See Barclay, 578 F. App'x at 549 (“Here, the officers knew that shots had been fired”); United States v. Huffman, 461 F.3d 777, 779 (6th Cir. 2006) (“When the officers arrived, they observed bullet holes” after receiving a report of shots fired); Causey v. City of Bay City, 442 F.3d 524, 529 (6th Cir. 2006) (officers “had a report that shots had been fired from the residence”). Finally, the officers were unable to account for a victim of the crime in which shots had been fired, and the residence was the most likely place where he may have been found.

         The lack of visual confirmation that the unidentified victim had been shot does not defeat the reasonable belief that an injured individual may have been inside ...

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