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United States v. Cooper

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

April 23, 2018




         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Dexter Durrell Cooper's motion to suppress evidence seized from his person and vehicle on September 22, 2016. (DE 176) For the reasons discussed below, Cooper's motion is denied.

         I. Procedural Background

         Cooper is charged in this action with possessing heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine with intent to distribute. He is also charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm and possessing a firearm during and in furtherance of the charged drug trafficking crime. These charges arise from an encounter between Cooper and law enforcement that occurred in the early morning hours of September 22, 2016 and which resulted in a search of his vehicle where the narcotics and firearm were ultimately located. Cooper previously, while represented by attorney Matthew Malone, filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained from that search, arguing that the length of his detention was unreasonable, the number of frisks extended beyond the purpose of the stop, and the search warrant allowing officers to search his vehicle lacked probable cause. (DE 24.) A suppression hearing was held before Magistrate Judge Edward B. Atkins, (DE 38), and the Magistrate Judge issued a recommended disposition denying Cooper's motion, (DE 44.) Prior to the issuance of the recommended disposition, Cooper expressed his desire to proceed pro se and his attorney filed a motion to withdraw. (DE 43.) The Court stayed the deadline for filing objections to the recommended disposition while a competency evaluation was performed. (DE 46.) After the stay was lifted, the Court considered Cooper's pro se objections to the Magistrate Judge's decision. Cooper primarily objected to the Magistrate Judge's finding that the officers stop and frisk was lawful in scope and length. After considering these objections de novo the Court denied Cooper's motion to suppress. (DE 107.)

         While proceeding pro se, Cooper filed a number of motions which reasserted arguments made in his motion to suppress. Those motions were addressed and denied by the Court. (DE 158.) Shortly before Cooper's scheduled trial date, attorney John Tennyson filed a motion to appear pro hac vice. (DE 168.) After holding a telephone status conference with Cooper's newly retained counsel, the Court granted Cooper additional time to file defensive motions. (DE 175.) Cooper, through counsel, has filed a renewed motion to suppress. (DE 176.) The United States has responded and Cooper has replied. This matter is now ripe for review.

         II. Factual Background

         The basic facts, as summarized in the Court's prior opinion (DE 107), are as follows:

At approximately 12:37 a.m. on morning of September 22, 2016, Sergeant Jesse Palmer heard gunshots nears his location on Oak Hill Drive. Sergeant Palmer radioed dispatch to report shots fired and drove his vehicle closer to the area where he encountered Mr. Cooper in a Chevrolet Impala. After Cooper made an abrupt turn down Carlisle Drive, turned into a residential driveway, and exited his vehicle, Sergeant Palmer approached him and informed him he was investigating an incident of shots fired in the area. Cooper stated that he was at the residence to visit a friend named “Robert.” Sergeant Palmer conducted a hasty frisk, which did not reveal weapons, and asked Cooper if he could search his vehicle. Cooper refused to permit a search of his vehicle.
Other officers soon arrived on the scene and one of those officers shone a flashlight into the vehicle and observed, in plain view, spent shell casings on the back seat. An officer made contact with a female living in the residence who denied knowing Cooper and stated that no one named “Robert” lived there. Believing that there was a firearm in the vehicle or nearby, the officers cuffed Cooper, frisked him a second time, and read him his Miranda rights. Shortly thereafter, the officers were informed that a report was made of shots being fired into a residence within one quarter mile of the area where Sergeant Palmer encountered Cooper. Officers suspected that Cooper was involved in the shooting and that there was likely a firearm in the vehicle, but were unsure how they could proceed in the investigation. They discovered that the car was a rental vehicle owned by Enterprise Rent-a-Car and contacted a representative from the agency, but were told it would take as long as one-half hour for the rental agent to arrive. Ultimately they decided to seize the vehicle, seek a search warrant, and release Cooper. Before doing so, they frisked Cooper for weapons a third time and drugs were discovered in his front pocket. They then decided to formally arrest Cooper and impound the vehicle until they could obtain a search warrant. The encounter ended at approximately 2:20 a.m.

(DE 107, at 2-3.)

         III. Analysis

         Cooper argues that Sergeant Palmer lacked reasonable suspicion to initially detain him. He therefore seeks to suppress all evidence obtained from the later search of his person and vehicle as fruit of the poisonous tree. See generally Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471 (1963). He asserts that the Court's prior opinion relied incorrectly on the fact that Cooper was the only individual in the area after Sergeant Palmer heard shots fired. He claims that discovery has revealed that officers had in fact stopped another vehicle in the area.

         As a threshold matter, the United States argues that the Court has already heard evidence concerning the second vehicle stop and therefore reconsideration is not warranted. As the United States notes, officers testified extensively about the second vehicle stop during the suppression hearing on July 11, 2017.[1] In Cooper's first motion to suppress, however, he did not argue that the officers lacked reasonable suspicion to briefly detain him for investigative purposes. (DE 44, at 4.) Accordingly, and consistent with the Court's prior Order permitting additional defensive motions (DE 175), the Court will consider Cooper's new arguments regarding the second vehicle stop.

         It is also necessary for the Court to further discuss the facts related to the traffic stop of the second vehicle, which was not a focus of the Court's prior opinions. At the evidentiary hearing before the Magistrate Judge, Sergeant Palmer testified that he was aware that another officer made a traffic stop, which he heard over the radio when he was arriving at the Carlisle Avenue residence to make initial contact with Cooper. (July 11, 2017 Hr'g, 15:15- 16:00.) He did not know, but assumed, that the traffic stop was related to his dispatch call, and claimed that he was “a bit frustrated” that the officer had stopped another vehicle rather than providing him backup. (Id.) He was not aware that those officers removed the driver from the car and searched his vehicle. (Hr'g 16:00.) Officer Finley also testified that he believed that the reason for the stop was the report of shots fired. (Hr'g 51:50.) Officer Brill testified that Officer Mascoe made the traffic stop at Bryan Road and Glenn Place after Sergeant Palmer's dispatch call, (Hr'g 59:30-45.) That intersection, however, ...

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