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United States v. George

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

November 20, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
LILBEAR GEORGE ET AL.

         SECTION "F"

          ORDER

          MARTIN L. C. FELDMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court are motions by Lilbear George, Kalique Hardin, Sidney Lebanks, and Basin Wells to suppress evidence and statements. For the following reasons, the motions are DENIED.

         Background

         On February 8, 2016, Louisiana State Police troopers, dressed in plain clothes, were patrolling the French Quarter. It was Lundi Gras, and about 8:25 p.m. in a well-known high crime area. While walking in the 1000 block of Bienville, the officers observed defendant Basin Wells enter a parking lot. According to the government, Wells peered into at least three unoccupied vehicles in a manner consistent with someone looking to break into vehicles. He did not appear, however, to be carrying any weapons or tools. Officers then observed a 2009 Nissan Maxima drive into the parking lot. Basin Wells spoke to the driver, who was Lilbear George, and then the car drove to the back corner of the lot. Basin Wells climbed into the left rear passenger seat. Kalique Hardin sat in the front passenger seat and Sidney Lebanks in the right rear passenger seat. Several troopers, at least five, approached the vehicle with their flashlights on. The back windshield and the side windows were so heavily tinted that the officers could not see through them, even with their flashlights, but they could see through the front windshield. The officers saw clear plastic bags in the vehicle's center console. According to the troopers, George was also trying to hide cash. The troopers ordered the four to show their hands, and then exit the vehicle one at a time. They did not immediately comply, and instead kept putting their hands down in an apparent attempt to hide different objects. As they got out of the car, the troopers smelled marijuana.

         Each person was handcuffed, frisked, and mirandized. The troopers also searched the vehicle. In the center console, the troopers found 3.5 grams of marijuana in a clear plastic bag, about 44 grams of heroin in seven clear plastic bags, and $228. They also found a Glock 27 .40 caliber pistol nestled between the driver's seat and the front console. Nearby, they found one empty bottle labeled promethazine, two full bottles containing a liquid substance, and a loaded Ruger 9mm pistol. On the floorboards near the rear passenger seats, the troopers uncovered one gram of heroin in two clear plastic bags, a larger bag containing 2.5 grams of heroin in nine clear plastic bags, and a loaded Glock .40 caliber pistol. The troopers seized $3, 081 in cash from Wells, and seized over $10, 000 cash, all $100 bills, from George. George allegedly offered his cash to Trooper Ballard, who found that suspicious.

         All four defendants were indicted on February 25, 2017 for knowingly conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute a quantity of heroin and for possession with the intent to distribute heroin. The six-count indictment charged Sidney Lebanks with possessing a firearm after having been convicted for first-degree robbery. The other three were charged with possessing firearms during and in relation to drug trafficking crimes. All defendants have pled not guilty.

         On September 15, 2017, George moved to suppress evidence and statements obtained during, and immediately preceding, the arrest. Following suit, Sidney Lebanks also filed a motion to suppress evidence on October 31, 2017. Finally, Basin Wells and Kalique Hardin moved to adopt motions by George and Lebanks to suppress evidence.

         Law and Application

         A.

         The defendants attack the basis for the troopers' initial investigation, arguing that the troopers had no reason to suspect that a crime may be occurring when they watched Basin Wells walk through the parking garage. In the alternative, they argue that even if there was reasonable suspicion, that suspicion would have been dispelled once the troopers observed Lilbear George welcome Basin Wells into his car. The defendants also question the troopers ability to see inside the car, to observe the plastic bags in the center console, to witness Lilbear George's effort to hide cash. They maintain that the heavily tinted windows would prevent officers from seeing within the car, even with their flashlights. Without developing probable cause, the defendants contend, the search of the vehicle was illegal. And because the evidence was seized through an illegal arrest, it must be suppressed.

         The government emphasizes that they had reasonable suspicion to initially investigate Wells; he was peering into empty cars at night in a high crime area. That suspicion then blossomed into probable cause once they saw the clear plastic bags in the car and observed George attempting to hide money. It asserts that the front windshield was not as heavily tinted as the side and back windows, and with several flashlights, they could easily see the inside of the car. The government is permitted to search an automobile without a warrant, it contends, as long as it has established probable cause.

         George also seeks to suppress his offer to possibly bribe the officers because they were improperly questioning him. The government, however, counters that George's remark was made voluntarily without any questioning or prompts. An ...


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