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United States v. Bell

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Bowling Green Division

September 10, 2019



          Greg N. Stivers, Chief United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Objection (DN 49) and Defendant's Objection (DN 50) to the Magistrate Judge's Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Recommendation (DN 45), and Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Seal Exhibit (DN 36). For the following reasons, the Court ADOPTS IN PART and REJECTS IN PART the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation (“R&R”), SUSTAINS Plaintiff's Objection, OVERRULES Defendant's Objection, and GRANTS the motion to seal.


         This matter arises from the arrest, search, and interrogation of Defendant Damone Domonique Bell (“Bell”). On July 30, 2018, Logan Cesler (“Cesler”) purchased one-half gram of heroin for use by himself and Kaitlin McKinney (“McKinney”). (R&R 2, DN 45). McKinney fatally overdosed after using this heroin. (R&R 2). After investigators reviewed security footage, Cesler's testimony, and text message conversations, they identified Bell as a suspect in the sale of the heroin to Cesler. (R&R 2).

         While the exact timing of the photo identification is uncertain, [1] on July 31, 2018, Cesler identified Bell in a photograph lineup of six people as the one who sold him heroin on the previous evening. (R&R 2). Cesler then texted the suspect on direction by the police to set up another drug purchase. (R&R 2). When Bell arrived near the identified meeting point, he was arrested and taken into custody. (R&R 2). Upon approaching Bell's vehicle, officers reported smelling marijuana and a drug-sniffing canine officer signaled the presence of narcotics in the automobile. (R&R 2). As such, the police searched Bell's vehicle and discovered marijuana and heroin. (R&R 2).

         Once at the station, Bell was questioned by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Special Agent David S. Hayes and Bowling Green Police Department Officer Clifton Phelps. (R&R 3). Bell was read his Miranda rights, and he signed a waiver acknowledging those rights and his willingness to continue with questioning. (R&R 3). Fourteen minutes and 45 seconds into this interview, Bell said: “I don't want to be like a jerk or anything but can I . . . I really . . . can I just not say anything . . . else? Like I really don't know what to say. It's nothing, like I said, it is what it is. There's nothing really. There's no fixing it.” (Pl.'s Suppression Hr'g Ex. B, at 14:45-15:00). The officers continued questioning him. Eighteen minutes and fourteen seconds into the interview, Bell stated, “You said I have the option to remain silent, right? I'm trying to remain silent. I'm not trying to be a jerk or anything, I'm just trying to remain silent.” (Pl.'s Suppression Hr'g Ex. B, at 18:14-18:21). Shortly after this exchange, the officers ceased their questioning of Bell and ended the interrogation. (Pl.'s Suppression Hr'g Ex. B, at 20:30).


         Bell has moved to suppress: (1) physical evidence seized during the search of his automobile; (2) statements made while in police custody; and (3) photographic and in-court identification. (Def.'s Mot. Suppress, DN 33; Def.'s Mot. Suppress, DN 34). The United States responded. (Pl.'s Resp. Def.'s Mot. Suppress, DN 35; Pl.'s Resp. Def.'s Mot. Suppress, DN 37). The Magistrate Judge conducted an evidentiary hearing on the motions and issued his Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Recommendation. Specifically, the Magistrate Judge recommended that the motion to suppress physical evidence be denied, the motion to suppress statements made after the 14:45-minute mark be granted, and the motion to suppress photo identification be denied. (R&R 11).


         A. Motions to Suppress

         A magistrate judge's report and recommendation on dispositive motions, such as a motion for the suppression of evidence, is subject to de novo review by the district court. United States v. Curtis, 237 F.3d 598, 603 (6th Cir. 2001).

         1. Bell's Stop, Arrest, and the Search of his Automobile

         Bell objects to the Magistrate Judge's finding that the police had reasonable suspicion to stop him, arrest him, and search his automobile. (Def.'s Obj. R&R 7, DN 50). Specifically, Bell takes issue with the Magistrate Judge's characterization of Bell as being apprehended at the “agreed upon location.” (Def.'s Obj. R&R 7; R&R 4). The defense argues that because Bell drove past the meeting point, his proximity to the meeting point should not support a finding of reasonable suspicion or probable cause. (Def.'s Obj. R&R 8-9).

         An investigatory stop of a vehicle is permissible when supported by reasonable suspicion that a crime has or is being committed. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 22 (1968). The detaining officers must have a reasonable suspicion based on a “particularized and objective basis” as reviewed under the “totality of the circumstances.” United States v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 273 (2002). An automobile can be searched without a warrant if the officer has probable cause to believe that a crime has been or is in the process of being committed. Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132, 158 (1925).

         The United States here has more than met its burden. As thoroughly analyzed by the Magistrate Judge, Cesler described his drug purchase transaction with the suspect and provided a physical description of Bell and his automobile. This story was further verified by nearby security cameras. Moreover, Cesler's phone revealed drug-related text message conversations with a No. linked to Bell. This No. was then used to lure the suspect to a meeting point for another drug transaction. It was near this meeting point that Bell was ultimately stopped and then arrested. After the arrest, officers reported smelling marijuana and a canine officer alerted for drugs in the vehicle.

         Under the totality of the circumstances it is clear to this Court, as it was to the Magistrate Judge, that the officers acted under particularized, reasonable suspicion when stopping Bell's vehicle. The officers then had sufficient probable cause based on the above-stated facts to arrest Bell and search his vehicle. Based on this overwhelming evidence, it matters little whether Bell was arrested at the agreed upon location or near the agreed upon location as described by Bell. Moreover, Bell's characterization of the facts is not wholly accurate. Based on text messages conversations between Cesler and the suspect, it appears the meeting location was in ...

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