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United States v. Keeling

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

June 8, 2017



          Thomas B. Russell, Senior Judge.

         This matter is before the Court upon Defendant Eric Scott Keeling's motion to suppress. [DN 13.] The Court held a suppression hearing on March 29, 2017 and received post-hearing briefs from the parties. [DN 21; DN 25.] Keeling's motion is ripe for adjudication. For the following reasons, his motion to suppress is DENIED.


         This case arises from Eric Keeling's arrests on February 15 and July 29, 2016. As a result of those arrests, Keeling stands charged with one count of possession of methamphetamine with the intent to distribute, one count of being a felon in possession of firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, and two counts of being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition. See [DN 1.] Keeling moves to suppress the evidence and statements stemming from each arrest.


         In 2014, the Greater Hardin County Narcotics Task Force began investigating the trafficking of crystal methamphetamine through Bloomfield and Chaplin, two small towns in Nelson County, Kentucky. [DN 16 at 5.] Early in its investigation, the task force suspected that Eric Keeling was possibly manufacturing methamphetamine. [Id.] On February 15, 2016, the task force received information from a confidential source (CS) that Keeling would be bringing methamphetamine from Louisville to Chaplin. [Id. at 6-8.] Michael Watts, a narcotics detective employed by the Nelson County Sheriff's Department, testified that the CS had previously provided Watts with reliable information regarding the task force's narcotics investigation. [Id. at 8.] On this occasion, the CS told the task force Keeling was driving a green truck, delivering a quantity of methamphetamine from Louisville to Chris Evans' house in Chaplin. [Id. at 6-8, 10.] After receiving this information, the task force attempted to get back in touch with the CS to set up a controlled narcotics purchase, but they were unable to reach the CS. [Id. at 9.]

         Instead, the task force set up surveillance on Evans' home. [Id. at 9-10.] Like Keeling, Evans was a person of interest in the task force's investigation. Law enforcement had received complaints that Evans was dealing methamphetamine, and Evans had recently been arrested by the Bloomfield Police Department. [Id. at 10.] Detective Watts characterized Evans' residence as a “drug house.” [Id.] The task force also knew Evans and Keeling had a close relationship, and Keeling had borrowed Evans' vehicle on a prior occasion. [Id.]

         Based upon the information they received from the CS and their suspicion that Keeling and Evans were trafficking methamphetamine, members of the task force decided to stake out Evans' house, in hopes Keeling would arrive. Several law enforcement officers were involved in the operation: Detective Michael Watts, Captain McKenzie Mattingly, Bardstown Police Department Sergeant Kyler Wright, and Nelson County Sheriff's Deputies A.J. Lewis and Levi Preston. [Id. at 11.] Watts told his fellow task force members Keeling was a “key player” in methamphetamine trafficking, he had previously resisted arrest, and there was a possibility Keeling could be armed. [Id. at 11-12.] The task force was also aware Keeling was a convicted felon. [Id. at 12.]

         That evening, Detective Watts and Captain Mattingly positioned themselves across the street from Evans' house, about fifty to one hundred yards away. [Id. at 29.] They were not observing Evans' residence directly, but rather were viewing live video from a pole camera put up specifically for this investigation. [Id. at 30-31.] The other officers were stationed west of Evans' house on Lawrenceburg Road. [Id. at 14.] Around 11:00 p.m., Keeling arrived at Evans' house in a green truck. [Id. at 15, 29.] Viewing the video stream on an iPad, Watts and Mattingly saw Keeling go inside Evans' residence. [Id. at 31-32.] They could not see if Keeling was carrying anything. [Id.] Keeling stayed inside for fifteen to twenty minutes. [Id. at 14-15.] Detective Watts testified that this time frame was sufficient for Keeling and Evans to “sit down and conduct business.” [Id. at 15.]

         Keeling left Evans' house and headed east on Lawrenceburg Road. [Id. at 15.] At this point, Watts testified that the task force had decided to attempt a traffic stop. [Id.] Watts radioed the other officers, but they lost sight of Keeling's vehicle before they could pull him over. [Id. at 16.] Believing Keeling couldn't have gone far, the task force officers continued to patrol the Chaplin area. [Id.] Watts and Mattingly drove to a nearby house belonging to Johnny Janes. [Id. at 16-17.] The task force believed Janes was also involved in drug activity, as they “had several arrests [and] people with drug charges pulled out of [his] residence.” [Id. at 17.] Further, Watts believed Keeling was dating Janes' daughter, Amanda Bivens. [Id.] As they passed Janes' house, located at the corner of Lawrenceburg Road and Broadway Street, Watts and Mattingly saw Keeling's truck in the driveway. [Id.] They took up a position further down Broadway, from which they could observe Janes' house and Keeling's truck. [Id. at 18.]

         About twenty minutes later, Keeling and a passenger left Janes' house, got in Keeling's truck, and started driving south on Broadway toward Watts and Mattingly. [Id.] The two officers were in Mattingly's unmarked truck, and Mattingly was driving. [Id. at 19-20.] As Keeling approached, Mattingly pulled out in front of Keeling and drove slowly so the other task force officers could catch up. [Id. at 19.] Watts believes this action “spooked” Keeling, and he made a quick turnaround in the parking lot of a school. [Id. at 19.] Watching through the rearview mirror, Watts testified that Keeling did not signal his turn into the parking lot. [Id. at 20.] Watts said Keeling's turn was “abrupt, ” and that Keeling “whipped it in there pretty quick.” [Id. at 19, 20.] Keeling, now northbound on Broadway, attempted to turn back onto Lawrenceburg Road. However, by that time the other officers had reached the location, and met Keeling's vehicle at the intersection of Broadway and Lawrenceburg Road. [Id. at 20.]

         Three marked cruisers stopped Keeling at the intersection. One car was driven by Sergeant Kyler Wright. Wright testified that when he activated his emergency equipment, Keeling “immediately started to reach over towards the center floorboard of the vehicle.” [Id. at 46.] Wright exited his cruiser, drew his weapon, and told Keeling to show his hands. [Id. at 49.] By this time, Deputy A.J. Lewis had arrived on the scene and blocked Keeling's vehicle in from the rear. [Id. at 65.] Lewis testified he also saw Keeling lower his right hand towards his waistline. [Id. at 66.] In response, Lewis drew his own weapon and ordered Keeling to put his hands back up. [Id.] Lewis then opened the truck's door, took Keeling out of the vehicle, and put him on the ground. [Id.] Lewis handcuffed Keeling and walked him back to Lewis's cruiser. [Id.] There, he conducted a pat-down search of Keeling's person and discovered a small handgun in Keeling's right coat pocket. [Id. at 66-67.] Deputy Preston secured Amanda Bivens, Keeling's passenger. [Id. at 67.]

         Shortly after the officers secured Keeling and Bivens, Detective Watts and Captain Mattingly caught back up. They asked Sergeant Wright to walk his drug-sniffing dog Zeus around Keeling's truck. [Id. at 50.] Wright testified that Zeus, now retired from the police force, was trained to detect methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, and marijuana. [Id. at 47.] According to Wright, Zeus was trained to indicate the presence of narcotics by sitting down. [Id. at 52-53.] Zeus first indicated on the driver's side door of Keeling's truck. [Id. at 52.] Based upon that indication, Wright led Zeus into the truck's interior, where he again alerted to the presence of narcotics on the center floorboard area. [Id.] Wright returned Zeus to his cruiser and the officers searched Keeling's truck by hand, discovering two additional firearms and narcotics under the passenger seat. [Id. at 59-60.] Following his February 15 arrest, ...

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