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United States v. Martin

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

February 22, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
LOUIS L. MARTIN, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Danny C. Reeves United States District Judge

         Defendant Louis Martin has moved to suppress all evidence recovered by law enforcement during a warrantless search of his apartment on June 12, 2017. [Record No. 12] A hearing was held on the motion on February 21, 2018. [See Record Nos. 20-22] The motion will be denied for the reasons that follow.

         I.

         The Lexington Police Department received a 911 call on June 12, 2017, stating that a woman was being held against her will with a gun to her head. Officers Lusardi and Patterson were dispatched to meet with the complainant, Tia Payne, at a Speedway gas station and convenience store at the corner of Liberty and New Circle Roads. The officers arrived at approximately 7:25 p.m., and Payne arrived shortly thereafter. The officers testified, and video evidence confirms, that Payne was “clearly distraught.” Payne advised officers that her friend, Sarah Williams, was being held against her will by Defendant Louis Martin at 1749 Liberty Road, Apartment 45. Payne indicated several times that Martin had assaulted Williams, who was pregnant, that there was “blood everywhere, ” and that Ms. Williams had broken bones, blood running down her face, and was sitting in the back bedroom of the apartment on a “narcotic high.”

         Payne was concerned about Williams' safety and repeatedly asked the officers for help. However, she continued to warn that if the officers were not cautious, Martin could pose an additional risk of danger to them and Williams. Payne told the officers that Martin “did 18 years for murder and got convicted.” She stated that she was only allowed to leave the apartment to get food and that if she did not return soon, or if Martin saw the officers approaching, he would shoot the officers and/or Williams.

         The officers found Payne to be credible. Although Payne was clearly distraught and upset, she did not appear to be intoxicated, and the officers believed, based on their observations and training, that she had a legitimate, true fear for her friend's safety. Officer Patterson confirmed that Martin lived at the address that Payne provided, and that Martin had previous charges for violent crimes. The officers also found that that Martin had been arrested a few months earlier for assault based on allegations that he hit another person in the head with the butt of a gun and had held that person against her will. Officer Bereznak, who later responded to the scene, stated that this bolstered the credibility of Payne's story, since it appeared to indicate a pattern of behavior or modus operandi.

         Officers Lusardi and Patterson met with Officers Bereznak, Burch, Yoder, and Lieutenant Brotherton at the apartment complex. Payne also came to the apartment complex, and consistently repeated the same version of events she had related in her 911 call and in her conversation with Officers Lusardi and Patterson. Officer Bereznak and Lieutenant Brotherton did not observe any signs that Payne was intoxicated. Instead, Officer Bereznak stated that he found the threat to be very real and very credible.

         Lieutenant Brotherton, the senior supervisor on the scene, decided that it was necessary to make a relatively immediate tactical entry into the apartment to protect the safety of the victim inside as well as others living in the area. He determined that there was not enough time to call in a rapid response (or SWAT) team to carry out the entry, which likely would have taken in excess of thirty to forty-five minutes, or to seek a warrant, which could have taken considerably longer. As a result, he arranged for the officers to make a tactical entry into the apartment designed to avoid a shootout or hostage situation. The plan was for Payne to enter the apartment first with a brown paper bag that appeared to contain food, and a cell phone that allowed her to stay in contact with police. Then, after confirming that Martin and Williams were still inside the apartment and the situation was ongoing, Payne was to unlock the door to the apartment so that the officers could make entry without the use of force.

         Payne unlocked the door and the officers executed the tactical entry without discharging their weapons. They found Martin seated on the couch with a loaded gun in plain view. Williams was in the back bedroom as Payne had predicted. Although Williams was “very uncooperative in relaying any information” when questioned by officers, the officers observed an open wound on her forehead which was severely swollen. It appeared as though the wound was the result of being struck with the handgun. Her face was already bruising around one eye and swelling likely from broken facial bones. Officer Bereznak and Lieutenant Brotherton testified that they observed blood on the walls in the hallway and bedroom. Additionally, officers discovered a bloody rag and an area on the bed that was soaked with blood.

         Martin was immediately arrested, the firearm was seized, and Williams was taken away to receive medical treatment. A forensics unit then arrived and officers re-entered the apartment and “took photos for evidence.” [Record No. 12-2] Martin argues that the warrantless entry into his apartment was an unconstitutional search in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and was not justified by exigent circumstances. [Record Nos. 12, 22] The United States responds that the officers were justified in entering the apartment because they reasonably believed that a person inside had been seriously injured or threatened with such injury and was in need of immediate aid.[1] [Record No. 20] After considering all evidence submitted, the Court concludes that Martin is clearly wrong in his assertions. Exigent circumstances justify the actions of the Lexington police department whose officers performed admirably in responding to - and defusing - a very dangerous situation.

         II.

         “A police officer's entry into a home without a warrant is presumptively unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment. Warrantless entries are permitted, however, where ‘exigent circumstances' exist.” Ewolski v. City of Brunswick, 287 F.3d 492, 501 (6th Cir. 2002). “One exigency obviating the requirement of a warrant is the need to assist persons who are seriously injured or threatened with such injury.” Brigham City, Utah v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398, 403 (2006) (citing Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385, 392 (1978)). To satisfy the exigent circumstances exception, the government “must show that there was a risk of serious injury posed to the officers or others that required swift action.” United States v. Huffman, 461 F.3d 777, 783 (6th Cir. 2006). “This ‘emergency aid exception' does not depend on the officers' subjective intent or the seriousness of any crime they are investigating when the emergency arises. It requires only ‘an objectively reasonable basis for believing, ' that ‘a person within the house is in need of immediate aid.'” Michigan v. Fisher, 558 U.S. 45, 47 (2009) (quoting Brigham City, 547 U.S. at 404-06 and Mincey, 437 U.S. at 392).

         In reviewing whether exigent circumstances were present, the Court considers the “totality of the circumstances and the inherent necessities of the situation at the time.” Huffman, 461 F.3d at 783. (quoting United States v. Rohrig, 98 F.3d 1506, 1511 (6th Cir. 1996)). “Indications of the need of aid include reported observations of distress, Schreiber v. Moe, 596 F.3d 323, 330 (6th Cir. 2010), and credible, reliable evidence that someone inside the home is in trouble. Johnson v. City of Memphis, 617 F.3d 864, 869 (6th Cir. 2010).” United States v. Barclay, 578 F. App'x 545, 548 (6th Cir. 2014).[2]

         Payne had recently been in the apartment and told the officers that Williams was being held against her will with a gun to her head, and that “there was ‘blood everywhere, ' and that Ms. Williams had broken bones, [and] blood running down her face.” [Record No. 12-2] Payne consistently reported the same version of events to multiple officers, and appeared to have a legitimate fear for her friend. All of the officers present found her to be credible. The officers confirmed that Martin lived at the address Payne provided, and that he had a previous charge for murder, as Payne had stated. Additionally, the officers found that Martin had recently been arrested for allegedly hitting a victim with a gun, which was similar to the events that Payne described. Payne confirmed that Williams and Martin were still in the apartment before the officers entered, and upon entry the officers ...


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