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United States v. Bradley

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

August 26, 2019




         This matter is before the Court upon motions by Defendants, James and Sasha Bradley, to suppress evidence sought to be introduced against them in this criminal action by the Plaintiff, the United States of America (the “Government”). (DN 34; DN 36). A suppression hearing was held on May 15, 2019 in Paducah, Kentucky. (DN 42; DN 43). The Court ordered the parties to brief the issue and each party has completed its briefing. Fully briefed, this matter is ripe for review and for the following reasons, the motions to suppress (DN 34; DN 36) are DENIED.


         Defendants, James and Sasha Bradley, were indicted on August 14, 2018 for possession with intent to distribute fifty grams or more of methamphetamine in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2 and 19 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841 (b)(1)(A)(VIII) (Count I), and using/carrying a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2 and § 924(c)(1)(A) (Count II). (DN 1). The indictment followed the February 6, 2018 arrest of the Defendants on Heater Store Road in Livingston County, Kentucky. (DN 48). The Defendants now move the Court to suppress evidence arising out of the Heater Store Road encounter on February 6, 2018. The Court held a suppression hearing on May 15, 2019 in Paducah, Kentucky. At the suppression hearing, the government introduced a number of exhibits and the testimony of: (1) Detective Sergeant Ryan Norman of the McCracken County Sheriff's Department; (2) Officer Daniel Cavanah of the Madisonville Police Department; (3) Detective Cory Jessup of the Kentucky State Police; and (4) Special Agent Keith Varni of the Drug Enforcement Administration. The Defendants also introduced a number of exhibits and the testimony of: (1) Detective Captain Jesse Riddle of the McCracken County Sheriff's Department; and (2) Deputy Brock Martin of the McCracken County Sheriff's Department. The evidence introduced at the suppression hearing establishes the following facts:

         On February 1, 2018, law enforcement officials applied for and obtained a warrant to install a Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) tracking device on a maroon Impala registered to James Bradley. (Government's Exhibit 2). The warrant states in relevant part:

That [Det. Sgt. Jesse Riddle] is reasonably certain and therefor believes that in McCracken County, State of Kentucky license plate 376XHE a maroon 2006 Chevrolet Impala (the subject vehicle), owned by James Bradley, is being used in an ongoing conspiracy to obtain and distribute Methamphetamine and that the use of a GPS electronic tracking device, investigators can track and observe the suspect's vehicular activity for the purpose of gaining evidence to identify the suspect's and their associates in the drug distribution business and/or additional locations, businesses, residences and facilities used to store or distribute Methamphetamine. There is a photo of the above described vehicle attached to this search warrant; taken while it was located at 3735 Metropolis Lake Road in McCracken County KY, where the target of the investigation resides.

Id. The affidavit upon which the warrant was issued discusses, inter alia, the following:

(1) James Bradley was arrested in 2012 for trafficking in methamphetamine.
(2) James Bradley was reporting a fictitious address on Glenn Street in Paducah, Kentucky to his Kentucky Probation and Parole Officer.
(3) Sasha Bradley attempted to bond Clayton Ali, who is James Bradley's son, out of jail with $24, 000 after he was charged with trafficking in methamphetamine. Ali was believed by law enforcement to be involved in the trafficking of large quantities of methamphetamines and detectives seized nearly $10, 000 from him at the time of his arrest. Sasha Bradley's money was seized by police in the ongoing investigation and her father told detectives that he believed some of the money was given to her by James Bradley.
(4) Beginning on January 30, 2018, law enforcement cultivated a confidential source after he was intercepted during the delivery of approximately 81 grams of methamphetamine. The informant told the investigating officers that he had obtained methamphetamine from James Bradley on a number of occasions and traveled with him to Louisville on January 30, 2018, in the maroon Impala where James Bradley purchased two pounds of methamphetamine. The informant told the police that he had seen James Bradley with as much as five pounds of methamphetamine in the past and that James Bradley sold methamphetamine in McCracken County. Finally, the source informed the police that he owed James Bradley $1, 250.00 for methamphetamine that had been seized by the police.
(5) On January 31, 2018, law enforcement coordinated, supervised, and recorded the informant repaying James Bradley the $1, 250.00 drug debt for methamphetamine seized by the police. After the repayment was complete, the informant told investigating officers that James Bradley said he would be going tomorrow or the next day to obtain more methamphetamine.

         The police installed the GPS tracking device on the maroon Impala on February 2, 2018 and began monitoring the vehicle's movement.

         Then, on February 5 and February 6, the GPS indicated that the maroon Impala traveled to Caneyville, Upton, Glendale, Elizabethtown, and Shepherdsville Kentucky. Law enforcement prepared to begin visual surveillance. (DN 43 at 51-52, 133-34). Two officers, Special Agent Varni and Officer Cavanah, traveled to Beaver Dam, Kentucky to try and intercept the maroon Impala and begin visual surveillance. (DN 43 at 134). The officers spotted the maroon Impala (DN 43 at 52, 134) and Varni identified James Bradley as the driver. (DN 43 at 134). The maroon Impala was closely followed by a second car. Based on the second car's license plate, the officers suspected the second car to be operated by Eric McCarty, who the officers knew to be a methamphetamine trafficker. (DN 43 at 135). The investigating officers believed the McCarty car was operating as a “tail gunner” or follow car, which is a defensive tactic commonly used by drug traffickers to avoid encounters with law enforcement. (DN 43 at 52, 136). The officers began to follow the two cars to maintain surveillance.

         As the officers followed them, the maroon Impala and the McCarty car exited the interstate and began driving erratically on a series of rural backroads. (DN 43 at 189). Officers testified that they had to exceed the speed limit to keep up with the suspect cars, that the maroon Impala was being operated recklessly or carelessly on the rural roads, and that the maroon Impala was traveling at speeds that were unsafe. (DN 43 at 10, 189-90). The officers eventually lost sight of the suspect cars. (DN 43 at 189-90). About thirty seconds after losing sight of the cars, the officers came around a blind curve and saw the maroon Impala and McCarty car pulled off to the side, partially on the road and partially off the road. (DN 43 at 190). James Bradley was standing outside of the car with the door open. (DN 43 at 190).

         The officers approached the suspect cars with their guns drawn. James Bradley was intercepted and held at gun point. (DN 43 at 12, 83, 129, 190). He was then patted-down, moved to the front of the maroon Impala, handcuffed, and told he was not under arrest but was being detained. (DN 43 at 190). Another officer approached from the rear passenger side, with his semiautomatic rifle in “low ready position, ” and ordered Sasha Bradley to “show me your hands.” (DN 43 at 56). Sasha Bradley complied with the order, and Officer Cavanah ordered her out of the Impala. (DN 43 at 12, 55). After Sasha Bradley exited the Impala, Officer Cavanah spun her around, patted down the small of her back, placed her in handcuffs, told her she was being detained, and passed her off to Detective Norman, who moved her to the rear of the Impala. (DN 43 at 55-57, 12-13, 18, 27, 56). Norman plainly noticed the bulge of a firearm in the front of her hooded sweatshirt. (DN 43 at 12). Norman seized the firearm. (DN 43 at 12). Sasha Bradley appeared to be under the influence of methamphetamine or a similar substance based upon her unsteadiness, mannerisms, grinding of teeth, and bleeding nose. (DN 43 at 47, 57).

         After the Defendants and those inside the McCarty car were detained, Varni walked around to the open passenger door of the Impala, looked into the open passenger door of the vehicle, and observed a baggie of what he suspected to be crystal methamphetamine stuck between the console and the front passenger seat. (DN 43 at 137-138). Varni pointed out the baggie to Cavanah who testified that the substance appeared to be consistent with the shape, color, and packaging of methamphetamine. (DN 43 at 19-20). After Varni and Cavanah observed the baggie in plain view from outside of the Impala, the officers searched the car and found approximately 200 grams of suspected methamphetamine and more than $3, 000.00 in U.S. currency. (DN 43 at 61, 139) (Government's Exhibit 5).

         After discovering the methamphetamine and U.S. currency in the Impala, a K9 drug dog arrived and conducted a secondary search of the vehicle to ensure that law enforcement had not overlooked any hidden compartments containing methamphetamine. (DN 43 at 61, 139-140). The drug-dog alerted on the Impala but the officers did not find additional methamphetamine. (Id. at 61, 139-43). The officers arrested James Bradley for methamphetamine related offenses and for being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm. (Government Exhibits 3 and 4). The officers arrested Sasha Bradley for methamphetamine offenses and for possessing a concealed firearm. (Id.). The Defendants were indicted by the Grand Jury for possession with the intent to distribute more than 50 grams of methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. Section 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(A)(Viii) and for use/carrying a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1)(A). (DN 1). The Grand Jury also indicted James Bradley for being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1), 18 U.S.C. 924(a)(2), and 18 U.S.C. 924(e). (Id.).


         The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. U.S. Const. amend. IV. Consistent with this, constitutional jurisprudence provides "the basic rule that 'searches conducted outside the judicial process, without prior approval by judge or magistrate, are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment- subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions.'" Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332, 338, 129 S.Ct. 1710, 173 L.Ed.2d 485 (2009) (quoting Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357, 88 S.Ct. 507, 19 L.Ed.2d 576 (1967)). In order to further protect individuals' privacy interests, the Fourth Amendment demands that search warrants, when issued, are only provided upon a showing of probable cause. Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 238, 103 S.Ct. 2317, 76 L.Ed.2d 527 (1983). Probable cause justifying the issuance of such a search warrant exists where, taking the totality of the circumstances, the affidavit supporting the warrant provides the issuant Magistrate with a "substantial believe 'there is a fair probability that contraband or evidence of illegal activity will be found in a particular place.'" United States v. McNally, 327 Fed.Appx. 554, 556 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Gates, 462 U.S. at 238). Moreover, in order "[t]o justify a search, the circumstances must indicate why evidence of illegal activity will be found in a particular place." United States v. Carpenter, 360 F.3d 591, 594 (6th Cir. 2004) (en banc). This requirement demands "a nexus between the place to be searched and the evidence sought." Id.

         Thus, the affidavit which supports the search warrant must actually "contain adequate supporting facts about the underlying circumstances to show that probable cause exists for the issuance of the warrant." United States v. Smith, 182 F.3d 473, 477 (6th Cir. 1999) (citing Whiteley v. Warden, 401 U.S. 560, 564, 91 S.Ct. 1031, 28 L.Ed.2d 306 (1971)). Also, "[t]he supporting facts in an affidavit need not be based on direct knowledge and observations of the affiant, but may come from hearsay information supplied by an informant." Id. (citing Jones v. United States, 362 U.S. 257, 269-70, 80 S.Ct. 725, 4 L.Ed.2d 697 (1960)). The decision of a Magistrate who initially issued the warrant will be reversed by this Court only if her "determinations were arbitrarily exercised." United States v. Archibald, 685 F.3d 553, 557 (6th Cir. 2012).

         The Sixth Circuit has interpreted the Supreme Court's decision in Illinois v. Gates, and has determined that a court, in conducting a review of the sufficiency of the evidence supporting probable cause, is "limited to examining the information contained within the four corners of the affidavit" in light of the totality of the circumstances. United States v. Dyer, 580 F.3d 386, 390 (6th Cir. 2009). In order to deter future violations of the Fourth Amendment, the typical remedy for searches made with a defective warrant is suppression of that evidence. See United States v. Woodbury, 511 F.3d 93, 99 (1st Cir. 2007). Notably though, suppression is not always warranted and, depending upon the circumstances, evidence may be saved where an officer acts objectively in good faith in her execution of an otherwise defective warrant. United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 922, 104 S.Ct. 3405, 82 L.Ed.2d 677 (1984). This means that, in situations where "evidence [is] obtained in objectively reasonable reliance on a subsequently ...

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