from the United States District Court for the Eastern
District of Kentucky at Covington. No. 2:17-cr-00034-1-David
L. Bunning, District Judge.
A. Ray, BURDON & MERLITTI, Akron, Ohio, for Appellant.
Charles P. Wisdom, Jr., James T. Chapman, UNITED STATES
ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Lexington, Kentucky, for Appellee.
Before: BATCHELDER, DONALD, and READLER, Circuit Judges
A. READLER, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
informants play an important role in combatting drug
trafficking. Reflecting as much, our cases reveal numerous
examples of confidential informants providing critical
information to support search warrants targeting drug crimes.
same issues were at play in the investigation that resulted
in Richard Crawford's drug trafficking conviction. Almost
all the evidence used to justify the search warrants that
resulted in Crawford's arrest was provided by a
confidential informant. Challenging that practice, Crawford
contends that the officers who sought the warrants did not
verify sufficiently the informant's reliability. Crawford
is correct to emphasize the point-informants must be
trustworthy and credible. But he is wrong in his conclusion.
Here, the informant's reliability was confirmed both by
law enforcement agencies and through the affiant
officer's own research. Adding in the fact that the key
information disclosed by the informant proved to be credible,
there were many reasons to deem the informant reliable,
thereby justifying the warrants. Accordingly, we
AFFIRM the judgment below.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Erik Nelson of the Blue Ash (Ohio) Police Department learned
that Richard Crawford was dealing cocaine. That information,
however, was not obtained first-hand. Instead, it came from a
confidential informant, Jerry Heard, who was previously
unknown to Nelson. To help establish his credibility as an
informant, Heard identified Crawford from Crawford's
driver's license photograph, and provided Nelson with
Crawford's telephone number.
took additional steps to verify Heard's credibility as an
informant. Nelson contacted two law enforcement officers who
had experience working with Heard-Sergeant Dave Lewis of the
Drug Abuse Reduction Task Force, and Agent Josh Schlie of the
Hamilton County (Ohio) Heroin Coalition Task Force. Both
officers confirmed Heard's reliability, based upon their
past interactions with him as an informant.
these assurances, Nelson communicated with Heard a second
time. After affirming that Crawford's telephone number
was unchanged, Heard told Nelson that Crawford had twenty
ounces of cocaine he was going to sell. That prompted Nelson
to review Crawford's background. Doing so revealed
Crawford's prior convictions for drug-trafficking
continued to gather evidence incriminating to Crawford. Chief
among that evidence, Crawford told Heard that Crawford could
buy a kilogram of cocaine for $42, 000 from a criminal
organization in Columbus, and that Crawford would sell Heard
an ounce of that cocaine for $1, 500, should the sale with
the Columbus organization come to pass. Heard relayed this
information to Nelson. And he affirmed that Crawford's
telephone number was unchanged, this time by showing Nelson
text messages between Crawford and Heard.
First Search Warrant.
on this collection of information, Nelson obtained a warrant
from an Ohio state court judge to electronically track
Crawford's cellphone-the first of three warrants officers
would obtain to investigate Crawford. In his affidavit
attached to the first warrant application, Nelson detailed
the conversations he had with a confidential informant
(Heard) as well as the steps he took to verify the
informant's reliability. But he did not name Heard in the
next day, Heard told Nelson that Crawford drove a silver 2003
BMW X5. Using that information as well as the license plate
number provided by Heard, Nelson learned that the vehicle was
registered to Crawford at a residence in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Temporal cellphone data, however, placed Crawford near an
apartment in Florence, Kentucky, leased to Crawford's
wife. So Nelson surveilled the apartment. He saw Crawford
walk out of the apartment and drive away in the BMW
previously identified by Heard. Heard later told Nelson that
Crawford had again offered to sell him cocaine, this time for
$1, 400 an ounce.
Second Search Warrant.
Chris Boyd of the Norfolk (Kentucky) Police Department
assisted Nelson in investigating Crawford. Boyd sought a
second warrant-one that would allow officers to place a
tracking device on Crawford's vehicle. In his affidavit,
Boyd included both the information Nelson received from Heard
as well as the information Nelson independently gathered.
Relying on Boyd's affidavit, a Kentucky state court judge
issued a warrant authorizing officers to use the GPS device.
weeks later, Heard, with the aid of law enforcement,
completed a controlled drug-buy from Crawford. During a phone
call monitored by law enforcement, Heard and Crawford agreed
to meet at a nearby gym. Officers surveilling Crawford saw
him leave his apartment holding a small black duffle bag.
Heard had previously informed officers that Crawford kept his
cocaine inside a similar bag. After confirming that Heard was
not in possession of any controlled substances or U.S.
currency, officers provided Heard with $1, 400 in cash, the
serial numbers of which had been recorded by the officer. The
officers also placed a listening device on Heard. Once Heard
was inside the gym, however, the device did not function,
meaning the police could not monitor Heard's interaction
with Crawford. But Heard filled in the gaps. According to
Heard, he followed Crawford's instructions and went to
the locker room, where Crawford was storing cocaine in a bag.
Heard put the money in that bag, took out the cocaine, and
gave the bag back to Crawford. GPS tracking information
revealed that Crawford drove back to his apartment following
the locker room exchange.
Third Search Warrant.
days later, Boyd obtained a third search warrant regarding
Crawford. This one was for Crawford's apartment. In the
supporting affidavit, Boyd included the facts used to obtain
the prior warrants as well as the details of the controlled
buy. With respect to the latter, the affidavit noted that the
call participants "discussed meeting in order for
Crawford to sell [Heard] cocaine." The affidavit also
set forth the details of the buy itself.
that day, officers executed the warrant and searched
Crawford's apartment. During the search, officers found
cocaine. They also found $3, 705 in cash, which included $1,
390 in tagged bills used in the controlled buy. Crawford was
detained, Mirandized, and interviewed by officers at the
scene. Crawford incriminated himself, admitting that he sold
on consignment an ounce of cocaine to "Jerry," and
that he had placed cocaine under his sink.
September 14, 2017, the grand jury returned a three-count
indictment in which Crawford was charged as follows:
• Count One: Knowingly and Intentionally Distributing a
Mixture or Substance Containing Cocaine, in violation of 21
U.S.C. § 841(a)(1).
• Count Two: Knowingly and Intentionally Possessing a
Mixture or Substance Containing Cocaine With Intent to
Distribute it, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1).
• Count Three: Knowingly and Intentionally Possessing 28
Grams or More of a Mixture or Substance Containing Cocaine
Base Crack With the Intent to Distribute, in violation of 21
U.S.C. § 841(a)(1).
filed three motions with the district court-two to suppress
evidence, and a third, a variation of the first two, which
elaborated on Crawford's argument that each warrant
lacked probable cause. Through these motions, Crawford argued
that none of the warrants should have issued. With respect to
the warrant authorizing the search of his home, Crawford
argued that Boyd, in the affidavit attached to the third
warrant application, ...