United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana
RULING AND ORDER
A. JACKSON DISTRICT JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
the Court is the Motion to Suppress (Doc.
13) filed by Defendant, Darren Stewart, seeking the
suppression of evidence seized during a warrantless search of
his garage on October 18, 2017. (Id. at ¶¶
2-3). The United States filed an Opposition. (Doc. 16). On
June 1, 2018, the Court held an evidentiary hearing. (Docs.
17, 19). For the following reasons the Motion to
Suppress (Doc. 13) is GRANTED.
October 18, 2017, Baton Rouge Police Department
("BRPD") Narcotics Detectives Nicholas Collins,
Jeremiah Ardoin, and Roderick McCoy, surveilled a residence
located on Madison Avenue in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, after
receiving an anonymous telephone complaint "a day or two
before" from an "unreliable and unverified
complainant" that an individual known as
"D-Boy" was selling drugs out of the
residence's garage. (Doc. 16 at p. 2; Doc. 19 at pp.
36-37). Each detective drove a separate unmarked vehicle and
wore a vest that displayed a BRPD badge on the front and the
word "POLICE" emblazoned in large letters on the
back. (Doc. 16 at p. 2). Before he parked in his surveillance
location, Detective Collins drove past the residence and
noticed that the garage door was opened and its contents
observable from the public street. (Id.). He claims
to have observed two unknown black males inside of the garage
sitting in chairs. (Id.).
Collins then parked his vehicle on Madison Avenue and began
his surveillance. (Id.). From his location, he had a
clear view of the residence, but he could no longer see
inside of the garage. (Id.). About five or ten
minutes after parking his vehicle, Detective Collins observed
a vehicle park in the middle of the street in front of the
garage. (Doc. 19 at p. 19). An unknown person exited the
vehicle and walked into the garage for approximately one
minute before returning to the parked vehicle and leaving the
area. (Id.). About five minutes later, Detective
Collins observed a second vehicle park in front of the
garage. (Id. at p. 20). An unknown person exited the
passenger side of the vehicle and walked into the garage for
approximately one minute before returning to the vehicle and
leaving the area. (Id.).
Collins testified that because two people within only a few
minutes had quickly entered and left the garage, he believed
that narcotics transactions had occurred inside of the
garage. (Id. at pp. 21-22). He then directed another
detective to pursue the second vehicle to investigate the
activity inside the garage under the guise of a traffic
violation for "obstruction of a roadway."
(Id. at pp. 21-22, 62). Detective Collins then
testified that the stop "was going to turn into an
investigatory stop" in order to ascertain information
regarding the activity in the garage. (Id. at p.
62). However, after the vehicle was stopped by the detective,
the passenger exited the vehicle and fled the area while the
vehicle's driver evaded the detective. (Id. at
after about fifteen minutes of surveillance, Detective
Collins abandoned his surveillance, exited his vehicle, and
approached the garage, which was only a short distance from
the street, to continue the investigation. (Doc. 19 at pp.
20, 23; see also Doc. 16-1). The passenger fleeing
from the detective prompted Detective Collins to abandon his
surveillance because he believed that there was a possibility
that the person who fled the vehicle could warn Defendant
that the police were watching his residence. (Doc. 19 at pp.
21-23). As a result, Detective Collins testified that he
intended to "make contact" with the garage
occupants "to try to validate the claim [narcotics
complaint]" before they could be warned; he conceded
that he did not have probable cause to arrest Defendant, to
search the garage, or to get a warrant at that time.
(Id. at pp. 22-23).
depicted in his body camera footage, the garage door was
still completely open. (Video at 21:45:46). Detective Collins
testified that he smelled marijuana when he exited his
vehicle, and he further testified that the odor grew stronger
as he walked up the driveway to the garage. (Doc. 19 at p.
24). Detective Collins also testified that before entering
the garage, he saw loose marijuana out in the open in the
garage. (Id. at p. 27). However, it was not
photographed or presented as evidence at the hearing. His
body camera footage does not depict loose marijuana at the
time he entered the garage. (Video at 21:45:46-21:45:52). The
footage depicts a heavily congested garage area with items
that would inhibit sight and movement. (Id.; see
also Doc. 16-2). Specifically, the footage shows that
the garage was packed to the brim with all sorts of items,
such as an Igloo Cooler stacked on top of multiple
children's bicycles and other toys, as well as a golf
cart and a fan stacked on top of a box. (Doc. 16-2). The
footage also shows that the garage was very dark and crowded,
with little to no space to move around. (Id.).
Collins also testified that as he came within fifteen feet of
the garage, he observed Defendant remove an unidentified
object from his person and discard it to the left of his
seat. (Doc. 19 at pp. 25, 51). When the object hit the
ground, Detective Collins claims he heard a loud clink, which
he claimed to have recognized as the sound a handgun makes
when it hits the ground. (Id. at pp. 25-26). The video
footage does not contain audio during this part of the
encounter. Detective Collins then entered the garage and
approached Defendant and the other garage occupant
("Defendant's cousin"); however, the video does
not depict Defendant removing an object from his person, an
object hitting the ground, or any noise/clink (audio begins
at 21:45:59). The video also depicts a box with a fan sitting
on top, which obstructed the area where the firearm allegedly
dropped to the ground. (Video at 21:45:51-21:45:53).
Collins testified that after hearing the distinct sound,
I drew my weapon and advised everybody in there to put your
hands up. Put your hands in the air. And I kind of bladed
[sic] myself to a brick wall they had on the left-hand side
to make sure that I was out of the way in case something did
happen and everyone complied at that point. And 1
re-holstered [sic] my weapon and when Detective Ardoin came
behind me I went and contacted [Defendant and his cousin].
(Doc. 19 at pp. 26-27).
the footage shows that Detective Collins casually entered
straight into the garage-without taking cover behind the
wall-to secure Defendant and his cousin, and the video does
not depict that his gun was ever drawn or holstered. (Video
at 21:45:51-21:45:53). Further, the footage shows both
individuals with their hands in the air; Defendant has a
video game controller in his left hand. (Video at
21:45:53-21:45:58). The footage then depicts Detective
Collins (in the presence of a second detective) approach both
individuals, who are sitting in chairs; he then proceeded
directly to the cousin and cleared a laptop from his
immediate vicinity. (Video at 21:46:10-21:47:18). Detective
Collins then handcuffed both individuals. The first to be
handcuffed was the cousin, during which Defendant remained
seated without handcuffs. (Id.). Detective Collins
then advised them both of their Miranda rights.
(Id.). Although Detective Collins claims he heard
the sound of a firearm dropping before entering the garage,
neither the footage nor his testimony suggests that the
second detective was informed about, or alerted to, the
possibility of a firearm near the Defendant who, at the time,
was still sitting where the gun was claimed to have been
dropped without handcuffs and within arm's reach.
explaining to both individuals that they were under arrest
because of complaints of drug trafficking, the footage
depicts Detective Collins questioning Defendant regarding,
inter alia, the contents of the garage and/or drug
evidence "in plain view" in the garage, such as
"mojo," synthetic marijuana, and "bath
salts." (Video at 21:47:18-21:47:52). Only after
approximately 35 seconds of questioning, Detective Collins
inquired about the object Defendant dropped when Detective
Collins walked up the driveway. (Id.). Particularly,
while shining his flashlight in the area next to
Defendant's seat, Detective Collins asks "what you
put down [sic] right here when I walked up? Oh a pistol okay
... I see what you got going on here." (Video at
21:47:48-21:47:59). Neither Detective Collins nor the other
detective moved to secure the firearm at that time.
(Id. at 21:47-21:48). The firearm first appears in
the footage at 21:48:26, between the chair and clutter.
depicted in the video, the garage has a concrete floor (Video
at 21:45:52). Under the Defendant's chair was a small
dark-gray piece of carpet or a mat around Defendant's
left foot (Id. at 21:46:05, 21:46:40, 21:47:15). A
second piece of carpet appears under the right front leg of
Defendant's chair; it is lighter in color and angled
toward the right (both pieces of carpeting are clearly
visible near the video game controller) (Id. at
21:46:40, 21:47:15). The floor is otherwise obstructed by
clutter, shadows, and lack of lighting in the
Collins moved both individuals and their chairs to the
driveway, during which time he laughed and treated the
situation casually. (Video at 21:48:17-21:49:05). Shortly
thereafter, Defendant completed a consent to search form
authorizing a search of the garage. (Doc. 16 at p. 4).
"During the search, the detectives recovered
approximately 24.93 grams of synthetic marijuana blends and
approximately] 4.73 grams of methamphetamine."
(Id.). However, during cross examination, Detective
Collins testified that "roaches," which are the
remains of a joint or blunt, were discovered during the
encounter and/or search, but that he decided not to seize
them, which he admitted was in direct contravention of BRPD
policy on the seizure of drug evidence. (Doc. 19 at pp. 46,