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United States v. Peguero

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

October 4, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA PLAINTIFF
v.
JUNIS L. PEGUERO DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Charles R. Simpson III, Senior Judge.

         I. Introduction

         This case is before the court on the motion of Defendant, Junis Peguero, to suppress fruits of an allegedly unconstitutional search. DN 36. An evidentiary hearing was held on July 1, 2019 and both parties have submitted post-hearing briefing on the matter. Therefore, this matter is ripe for review. The Court will deny the motion in all respects.

         II. Factual Background and Procedural History

          On January 30, 2015, detectives Chris Lott (“Lott”) and Jason DeWitt (“DeWitt”) radioed detectives Daryl Neese (“Neese”) and Matthew Chaudoin (“Chaudoin”) of the Louisville Metro Police Department (“LMPD”). DN 42 at 6; DN 42 at 31. Lott and DeWitt were conducting surveillance of the McDonald's restaurant located at 3340 Bardstown Road. Id. This McDonald's is located in an area “replete with drugs and some violent crime.” Id. at 7. Lott and DeWitt observed two vehicles pull into the McDonald's parking lot and park next to each other; one of the vehicles was a black Nissan Murano. Id. Lott and DeWitt saw a man exit the other vehicle and enter the Murano. Id. The man stayed in the Murano for a short time then returned to the other vehicle. Id. Lott and DeWitt told Neese and Chaudoin they believed this was a drug transaction. Id. at 7, 31.

         Neese and Chaudoin proceeded to follow the Murano from the McDonald's parking lot in their unmarked vehicle. Id. at 7-8. The Murano pulled onto the Watterson Expressway and then proceeded to Dixie Highway, exiting at Crums Lane. In total, the detectives followed the Murano between seven and eight miles. Id.

         While Neese and Chaudoin followed the Murano, they observed the following: (1) the driver's behavior was “fast, erratic, and dangerous” (Id. at 8, 35) and (2) the Murano had “extremely dark” window tinting (Id. at 8). Chaudoin estimated the vehicle was going between 15-20 miles per hour over the speed limit, and he saw the driver weave in and out of traffic without using turn signals. Id. at 8, 30, 41. Further, Chaudoin testified that the vehicle's window tint was so dark he could not see any features of two individuals in the vehicle. Id. at 8-9. Based on his experience and training, Chaudoin testified that the tint on the vehicle was “well in excess of what's allowed by law.” Id. at 43.

         After the Murano exited onto Crums Lane, the driver pulled into the parking lot of an apartment complex. Id. at 9. When the car approached the building, Neese and Chaudoin turned on their police lights and initiated a traffic stop. Id. Chaudoin testified that the detectives pulled the car over because “the transaction [they] had observed as well as the violation of the window tint and the excessive speed and reckless driving on the interstate.” Id.

         As soon as the detectives turned on the police lights, both the driver and passenger side front doors of the Murano opened; the driver stepped out of the car. Id. Chaudoin testified that this behavior was “very, very unusual.” Id. at 55. The driver was the Defendant, Junis Peguero (“Peguero”), and the passenger was Enrique Echevarria (“Echevarria”). Around this time, Chaudoin activated his digital pocket audio recorder. Id. at 11.

         Chaudoin approached Echevarria on the passenger side of the Murano and asked for his identification. Id. at 13. Chaudoin testified that Echevarria's movements were agitated; Echevarria continued to move around, tried repeatedly to reach back towards the car, and “tensed up”. Id. at 14, 15, 47. Chaudoin testified that he felt this behavior was a “distraction technique.” Id. at 16. Based on Echevarria's behavior, Chaudoin handcuffed Echevarria and moved him behind the Murano. Id. at 47. Once he was in handcuffs, Chaudoin asked Echevarria for permission to search his person and he consented. Id. at 19. Chaudoin found one gram of powder cocaine in Echevarria's pocket. Id.; See DN 45-1.

         At approximately three minutes and fifty seconds after Chaudoin began recording, after Chaudoin placed Echevarria in handcuffs, Neese asked Peguero for consent to search his vehicle. Id. at 45, 51. Peguero responded “I don't consent to any searches.” Id. at 54. At approximately the same time, Peguero and Echevarria began communicating with each other in Spanish; Chaudoin ordered them both to be quiet. Id. at 14. Chaudoin testified that he did not understand Spanish and did not know what Peguero and Echevarria were discussing. Id. at 14-15. Peguero, like Echevarria, continued to try and walk back towards the car and moved in an “agitated” fashion. Id. at 14.

         At some point after Peguero denied consent to search the vehicle, Neese searched Peguero and found a straw with powder residue in his pocket. Id. at 16. At approximately four minutes and forty seconds after Chaudoin began recording, Chaudoin placed Peguero in handcuffs because of his erratic behavior. Id. at 14, 54. Chaudoin then moved Peguero behind the Murano with Echevarria. Id. at 58. At approximately five minutes after Chaudoin began recording, Chaudoin told Neese that he found cocaine on Echevarria. Id. at 54. At some point between Neese asking Peguero for consent and Chaudoin telling Neese he had found cocaine on Echevarria, Neese began searching Peguero's vehicle. Id. at 54.

         Chaudoin testified that Neese searched the vehicle without Peguero's consent for the following reasons: (1) the suspected drug transaction at the McDonald's in a high crime area (Id. at 55); (2) the cocaine found on Echevarria (Id. at 56); (3) the straw with powder residue found on Peguero (Id.); (4) both Peguero and Echevarria opening their doors when the detectives initiated the stop (Id. at 55); (5) Echevarria's agitated movements and his attempts to reach back towards the car (Id.); and (6) Peguero's agitated movements and his attempts to reach back towards the car. Id. Based on these observations, Chaudoin suspected that Echevarria could have a weapon, and this suspicion “furthered our cause to believe that there would be more drugs in the car.” Id. Further, based on Chaudoin's and Neese's experience that “drugs and weapons typically go together, ” both detectives believed that there would be “more weapons in the car.” Id. at 56.

         Neese's search of the vehicle revealed two guns: a handgun and a rifle. Neese found a Taurus, Model PT 745 Pro, .45 semi-automatic pistol, in the glove box in the front passenger side. Id. at 16; DN 1 at 1. The other firearm, a ROMARM/CUGIR, Model Draco, 7.62 x 39-millimeter semi-automatic rifle, Neese found in a camouflage Gucci gym bag behind the driver's side front seat. DN 42 at 16; DN 1 at 1. According to detective Chaudoin, the semi-automatic rifle in the Gucci bag was immediately visible to Neese ...


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