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United States v. Thorn

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

April 24, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Plaintiff
v.
CHESTER THORN Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          REBECCA GRADY JENNINGS, DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Chester Thorn's Motion to Suppress Any and All Evidence Seized at the Time of His Arrest. [DE 23]. The Court held a suppression hearing on February 13, 2019. [DE 29]. Briefing is complete, and the Motion is ripe. [See DE 26; DE 36; DE 37]. For the reasons below, the Court DENIES Thorn's Motion.

         BACKGROUND

         On March 14, 2017, Louisville Metro Police Department (“LMPD”) Detectives Brad Jones and Joseff Keeling spoke with an individual who complained of drug trafficking at a “drug house” in Louisville. [DE 29, Tr. Supp. Hearing at 107:17-25, 108:1-15]. The complainant admitted that he had previously purchased marijuana from the alleged trafficker but now wanted the drug house to be “shut down.” [Id.].

         Acting on the complaint, Detectives Jones and Keeling drove by the alleged drug house to examine the situation. The detectives witnessed an individual carrying a bag leave the house and get in the passenger seat of a white Lexus that was parked in the driveway. [Id. at 114:13-25, 115:1-4]. Several minutes later, the individual exited the Lexus without the bag and reentered the house. [Id.]. Detective Jones suspected that the activity “could have been some form of payment, some kind of drug transaction activity which, you know, led us to believe the credibility of the complainant that came in and talked to me.” [Id. at 115:8-11].

         When the Lexus left the house, the detectives followed the vehicle and contacted an LMPD K-9 unit while they drove on the Snyder Expressway. [Id. at 126:24-25]. Before the K-9 unit arrived, the Lexus swerved abruptly into the left-turn lane without using a turn signal. Detective Jones stopped the Lexus upon seeing the traffic violation. [Id. at 116:4-10].

         Detective Jones approached the Lexus, introduced himself, and explained to the driver, Thorn, why he pulled him over.[1] Detective Jones asked Thorn for his name and requested his license, registration, and proof of insurance. Detective Jones, looking at the license, asked Thorn if he still lived on Monaco Drive, and Thorn replied “yeah . . ., well that's my address, . . . yeah, that'll work.” Detective Jones sought to clarify, and Thorn responded that he was “stay[ing] with a friend right now.” Detective Jones again tried to clarify, and Thorn eventually provided an address on Wabash Place.

         Detective Jones instructed Thorn to step out of the vehicle and provide proof of insurance, which Thorn said was on his phone. Detective Jones asked Thorn if there were any drugs or weapons in the car. Thorn said no, and Detective Jones asked Thorn if he could look in the car. Thorn declined. Thorn exited the vehicle, pulled up the proof of insurance on his phone, and handed the phone to Detective Jones. Detective Jones examined the insurance information on Thorn's phone, after which Detective Keeling verified the vehicle's VIN No. to confirm that it was the same vehicle listed on the insurance. [Id. at 119:14-15].

         Detective Jones went to his vehicle to conduct a routine background check and write a citation for the traffic violations, while Detective Keeling stood outside the police truck with Thorn. Unlike LMPD's marked vehicles, which are equipped with a mounted computer terminal, printer, and scanner to input driver's license information and print out a citation, the unmarked police truck that Detective Jones was driving relied on a separate computer that the detectives carried in the back seat. [DE 36 at 208-09]. Detective Jones retrieved the computer and logged in to conduct the background check. The computer had trouble connecting to the network, and Detective Jones became visibly frustrated with the delay in obtaining information. Detective Jones explained the delay to Thorn and ultimately exited and logged back into the program, eventually finding the information he sought. [DE 29, Tr. Supp. Hearing at 124-25].

         After reviewing the information from the online database, Detective Jones began filling out a citation for two traffic offenses-improper lane changing and failure to notify the Department of Transportation of a change of address. [Id. at 126:8-9]. While Detective Jones wrote out the citations, the K-9 officer arrived. The K-9 performed a “sniff” around the Lexus and tried to enter the passenger's side through the window. The K-9 officer told Detective Keeling that the K-9 confirmed a hit on the vehicle for the presence of contraband. [Id. at 167:13-23]. After the hit, Detective Keeling and the K-9 officer searched Thorn's car. Thorn became angry and attempted to grab his phone. Detective Keeling handcuffed Thorn to prevent him from destroying evidence on the phone, which had been “constantly going off” during the stop. [Id. at 168:16-25, 169:1- 17]. The detectives searched Thorn's Lexus and found a loaded pistol in the center console, approximately $40, 000 in cash in a leather bag on the passenger-side floorboard, and approximately twelve pounds of marijuana in a plastic tote in the trunk.

         A grand jury charged Thorn with drug and firearm offenses. [DE 1]. Thorn now moves to suppress evidence discovered during the stop and search of his vehicle. [DE 23]. The Court held a suppression hearing [DE 29], and the parties filed post-hearing briefs [DE 36; DE 37].

         DISCUSSION

         Thorn argues that the stop was improper because the police had no arrest or search warrant, saw no misdemeanor or felony committed in their presence, and did not have probable cause to believe that a felony was committed in their presence. [DE 23 at 54]. Thorn also argues that even if the stop were supported by probable cause, the stop was unreasonably extended. [Id. at 55-56]. Finally, Thorn asserts that the “officer learned nothing during the legitimate stop that rose to the level of reasonable suspicion ...


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