United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana
RULING AND ORDER
A. JACKSOH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT CHIEF JUDGE
the Court is the Motion to Suppress (Doc. 16) filed by
Defendant. Defendant seeks to suppress evidence seized as a
result of a stop and frisk that was conducted on June 21,
2016, as well as statements that Defendant allegedly made
after the evidence was seized. The United States of America
("Government") filed a memorandum in opposition to
the Motion. (See Doc. 18). On February 6, 2017, the
Court held an evidentiary hearing on the Motion. The
Government and Defendant subsequently filed post-hearing
briefs. (See Docs. 30, 31). For the reasons
explained herein, Defendant's Motion to Suppress (Doc.
16) is DENIED.
21, 2016, at approximately 10:30 p.m., Officer Nicholas
Collins ("Officer Collins") of the Baton Rouge City
Police Department ("BRCPD") was on a routine patrol
of a neighborhood of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, that is known as
"CC Lockdown." (Doc. 29, Hr'g Tr. at p. 11, 11.
1-4; id. at p. 35, 1. 7). Since he commenced his
employment with BRCPD, Officer Collins regularly has
patrolled the CC Lockdown neighborhood - an area in which
"numerous homicides and violent crimes" have been
committed and in which officers commonly effect arrests for
drug crimes. (Id. at p. 11, 11. 18-19; id.
at p. 12, 11. 5-7). Officer Collins was patrolling the area
in a white, unmarked Dodge Charger. (Id. at p. 13,
1. 5). Although Officer Collins's vehicle did not feature
any external markings identifying it as a police car, it is
"obvious" that the vehicle indeed is a police car
because of the spotlight on the vehicle's driver's
side, the distinctive wheels, and the widely shared knowledge
among residents of the neighborhood that police officers
drive white Dodge Chargers. (Id. at p. 13, 11. 6-7,
Collins was travelling westbound on Seneca Street.
(Id. at p. 15, 11. 8-10). As he crossed Cedar
Avenue, Officer Collins looked to his left and saw
"headlights coming in [his] direction and ... an
individual . . . walking in the middle of the street . . .
directly in front of the headlights." (Id. at
p. 16, 11. 6-9). Officer Collins then observed the
individual, Defendant, "grabQ his waistband and . . .
scurr[y] off, " apparently upon seeing Officer
Collins's vehicle. (Id. at p. 16, 11. 17-18).
Defendant's act of grabbing his waistband piqued Officer
Collins's interest, causing him to believe that Defendant
may have been in possession of contraband because, according
to Officer Collins, "when people have something and they
see law enforcement, they[ will] grab that object, whether it
be something in their pocket, back waistband, back pocket[, ]
or front waistband." (Id. at p. 17, 11. 17-20).
Defendant then "walked away from [Officer Collins] in a
very, very fast way, " (id. at p. 18, 11.
10-11), which Officer Collins described as an
"unprovoked flight, " (id. at p. 17, 1.
10). Based on Officer Collins's experience, he testified
that "every other time" that a person has grabbed
his waistband and fled at the sight of police, that person
"has had something that they did not want the police to
have." (Id. at p. 18, 11. 16-17). Officer
Collins observed Defendant's conduct from a distance of
approximately fifty yards, (id. at p. 17, 1. 25),
and the area in which the events took place was described by
Officer Collins as "sparsely lit [by] some lights on
[the telephone] poles, " (id. at p. 15, 11.
21-22), though the headlights of the car in front of which
Defendant was walking provided additional light,
(id. at p. 50, 11. 21-22).
Collins testified that Defendant then "went into the
yard of a house that[ is] directly on the corner" of
Seneca Street and Cedar Avenue, after which Officer Collins
observed Defendant "get into the rear passenger seat
of a vehicle [that was] parked in that yard."
(Id. at p. 19, 11. 6-9). Officer Collins was aware
that the person who resided at the house had been convicted
of a drug crime, and according to Officer Collins, neighbors
had reported that narcotics transactions had been taking
place at the house. (Id. at p. 19, 11. 13-17).
Officer Collins then parked his vehicle behind the vehicle
that he observed Defendant enter, prohibiting that vehicle
from exiting the yard. (Id. at p. 21, 1. 24;
id. at p. 22, 1. 3).
Collins first made contact with the person in the
driver's seat,  who was the resident of the home who had a
previous narcotics conviction and was on parole at the time.
(Id. at p. 23, 11. 7-16). Officer Collins then made
contact with Defendant, who was seated in the rear seat of
the vehicle, asking Defendant to step out of the vehicle to
inquire into Defendant's blocking the roadway.
(Id. at p. 23, 11. 12-14; id. at p. 24, 11.
8-9; id. at p. 54, 11. 4-8). After Defendant exited
the vehicle, Officer Collins ordered him to stand against the
vehicle so that Officer Collins could perform a frisk for
weapons. (Id. at p. 24, 11. 14-18).
Officer Collins - who "figured [that Defendant] had
something in his waistband, " (id. at p. 29, 1.
24) - decided to frisk Defendant to "make sure [that]
Defendant did[ not] have a gun on him to .. . shoot [Officer
Collins] or somebody else, " (id. at p. 27, 11.
4-5, 9). Officer Collins testified that Defendant was
"nervous" and "shaking a little bit, "
(id. at p. 24, 11. 20-21), standing with his
"legs . . . clenched . . . together, "
(id. at p. 26, 1. 2). As Officer Collins's hand
approached Defendant's waistband during the frisk,
Defendant "pinned his body up against the car, squishing
[Officer Collins's] hand between [Defendant's] body
and the car." (Id. at p. 27, 11. 17-19). At
that point, Officer Collins believed that Defendant was going
to "fight" him. (Id. at p. 28, 11. 5-6).
Officer Collins ordered Defendant to back away from the car
and then "attempted to back [Defendant] away from the
car, " after which Defendant "went limp ... and
fell to the ground." (Id. at p. 28, 11. 13-16).
Officer Collins then "grabbed [Defendant's]
shoulders and . . . lifted [Defendant] back onto his
feet." (Id. at p. 28, 11. 21-22). When
Defendant regained his footing, Officer Collins "heard a
clank, some noise on the ground, [and] looked down [to see
that] a firearm had just come out of [Defendant's] pant
leg." (Id. at p. 28, 1. 25; id. at p.
29, 11. 1-2).
Collins then resumed frisking Defendant, secured Defendant in
his police vehicle, and retrieved the firearm. (Id.
at p. 30, 11. 10-12). After performing a record check for the
firearm's serial number, Officer Collins determined that
the weapon had been reported stolen, (id. at p. 30,
11. 24-25; see Id. at p. 31, 11. 12-14), and after
performing a record check for Defendant's name, Officer
Collins determined that Defendant was a convicted felon,
(id. at p. 31, 11. 20-22). Officer Collins then
informed Defendant of his rights under Miranda u.
Arizona, which Defendant stated that he understood.
(Id. at p. 31, 1. 25; see Id. at p. 32, 11.
17-20). Defendant then stated that he "found [the gun]
under the interstate" and, in response to Officer
Collins's questions regarding his being prohibited from
possessing a firearm due to his status as a convicted felon,
that he was "just taking [liis] lick."
(Id. at p. 33, 11. 16, 19).
"[t]he proponent of a motion to suppress has the burden
of proving, by a preponderance of evidence, that the evidence
in question was obtained in violation of his Fourth Amendment
rights." United States v. Kelley, 981 F.2d
1464, 1467 (5th Cir. 1993) (quoting United States v.
Smith, 978 F.2d 171, 176 (5th Cir. 1992)). When a search
or seizure is conducted without a warrant, however, the
government bears the burden of proving that the
search was valid. United States v. Waldrop, 404 F.3d
365, 368 (5th Cir. 2005) (citing United States v.
Castro, 166 F.3d 728, 733 n.7 (5th Cir. 1999)).
police officer may in appropriate circumstances and in an
appropriate manner approach a person for purposes of
investigating possibly criminal behavior even though there is
no probable cause to make an arrest." Terry v.
Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 22 (1968). In determining whether the
seizure of a person is reasonable, and therefore
constitutionally permissible under the Fourth Amendment to
the United States Constitution, the Court must analyze (1)
"whether the officer's action was justified at its
inception, and [(2)] whether it was reasonably related in
scope to the circumstances which justified the interference
in the first place." Id. at 20.
Government asserts that Officer Collins's actions were
permissible pursuant to the standards espoused by the United
States Supreme Court in Terry v. Ohio. Specifically,
the Government argues that (1) Officer Collins's actions
were justified as an investigatory stop due to
Defendant's committing a traffic violation by impeding a
roadway and due to his suspicious conduct after spotting
Officer Collins's vehicle and (2) Officer Collins's
actions were reasonably related in scope to his purposes for
initiating the stop. After considering the arguments advanced
by the Government and Defendant, the facts of this case, and
the applicable law, the Court concludes that Officer
Collins's actions were permissible pursuant to
Terry, and therefore the evidence seized in plain
view and the statements made by Defendant shall not be
Officer Collins's Actions Were Justified ...