United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. Reeves United States District Judge
Jameel Sleet has moved to suppress all evidence discovered on
his person following a traffic stop on November 14, 2018.
[Record No. 24] The motion was referred to United States
Magistrate Judge Matthew Stinnett for the issuance of a
Report and Recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
636(b)(1)(B). Magistrate Judge Stinnett held an evidentiary
hearing and issued an opinion, recommending that Sleet's
motion to suppress be denied. [Record No. 34] No. objections
reviewing the record and the Report and Recommendation, the
Court will deny the defendant's motion.
Unit Detective Jody Kizis began an investigation regarding
Tavis Chenault in mid-2018. On November 14, 2018, Kizis
briefed Detective Luke Valdez and Officer Brandon Hazlewood
regarding his findings. He explained that Chenault: (i) was a
gang member of the Kill or Be Killed gang; (ii) bragged on
social media about carrying firearms; (iii) was suspected of
drug trafficking; (iv) may be associating with armed and
dangerous individuals; and (v) was carrying a weapon during
his last interaction with law enforcement.
Sleet was traveling in a car with Chenault on November 14,
2018, while Kizis and other members of the Lexington Police
Department conducted surveillance. Police observed Chenault
and three others traveling in a silver Buick heading toward
North Broadway Street in Lexington. Hazlewood noticed that
the license plate on Chenault's car was not illuminated
and stopped the vehicle. Valdez arrived on scene and
approached the driver side while Hazelwood approached the
passenger side of the car. Hazlewood and Valdez detected the
odor of marijuana and directed the four individuals to exit
the vehicle. The occupants included Sleet, Chenault, Angela
Renfro (Chenault's mother), and Devin Lovette. Sleet and
the other individuals exited the vehicle as ordered.
recognized Sleet from a prior interaction at a residence on
Hinton Road where multiple guns were recovered. Valdez
conducted a pat down and felt something in Sleet's
pocket. Valdez testified at the suppression hearing that he
immediately recognized the item as a plastic bag, likely
containing narcotics. He instructed Sleet to remove the bag
from his pocket, confirmed that it contained narcotics, and
placed Sleet under arrest. Later, the defendant also removed
cocaine base, cocaine hydrochloride, and fentanyl from his
Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and
seizures. U.S. Const. amend. IV. Sleet contends that his
Fourth Amendment rights were violated because: (i) there was
no valid reason for the traffic stop; (ii) officers lacked
reasonable suspicion that he was armed and dangerous to
justify the pat down; (iii) the officer conducting the search
of his person exceeded the scope of a Terry pat down; and
(iv) he did not voluntarily remove the narcotics from his
There was a lawful reason for the stop.
traffic stop constitutes a seizure of the driver and all of
his passengers within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.
Brendlin v. California, 551 U.S. 249, 259-69 (2007).
An officer may stop a car when there is probable cause to
believe that a traffic violation has occurred. United
States v. Blair, 524 F.3d 740, 748 (6th Cir. 2008). And
if a traffic stop is supported by probable cause, the
subjective intent of the officer's is irrelevant.
Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 813 (1996).
“Police officers [may] stop vehicles for any
infraction, no matter how slight, even if the officer's
real purpose was a hope that narcotics or other contraband
would be found as a result of the stop.” United
States v. Mesa, 62 F.3d 159, 162 (6th Cir. 1995).
However, an officer may not “further detain the vehicle
or its occupants unless something that occurred during the
traffic stop generated the necessary reasonable suspicion to
justify a further detention.” Blair, 524 F.3d
at 752 (quoting United States v. Perez, 440 F.3d
363, 370 (6th Cir. 2006)).
the officers stopped the vehicle driven by Chenault because
the license plate was not illuminated. As Magistrate Judge
Stinnett noted, it is hard to see the license plate in the
body cam footage, but the footage appears to show that the
license plate was not illuminated. [Body Cam Footage USA-217
at 1:47; 9:10] Hazlewood also testified that the license
plate was not illuminated.
there was a continued justification for the stop because the
officers smelled marijuana. Both Valdez and Hazlewood
testified that they approached the vehicle and immediately
smelled marijuana. [Audio Recording of Suppression Hearing
(“Rec.”) at 47:50; 1:16:29] As Magistrate
Judge Stinnett correctly noted, “an officer's
detection of the smell of marijuana in an automobile can by
itself establish probable cause for a search.”
United States v. Elkins, 300 F.3d 638, 659 (6th Cir.
officers were justified in initially stopping the car for a
legitimate civil violation. Also, the officers had probable