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United States v. Carroll

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

December 13, 2018




         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Suppress (Docs. 19) filed by Macon Carroll. The Government opposes the motion. (Doc. 21.) On August 20, 2018, a hearing was held on the Defendant's motion. (Doc. 37.) The parties then submitted post-hearing briefs (Docs. 55-59), and the Defendant filed a reply memorandum (Doc. 61). Further argument is not necessary. The Court has carefully considered the law, the facts in the record, and arguments and submissions of the parties and is prepared to rule. For the following reasons, Defendant's motion is denied.

         I. Relevant Background A. Overview

         This case arises out of an incident occurring between Defendant and certain law enforcement officers near the intersection of Denham Road and Greenwell Springs Road on the afternoon of September 17, 2017. (Hr'g Tr., 5, 43, Aug. 20, 2018, Doc. 44; U.S. Ex. 4.) Specifically, on that day, Deputy David Carter and Corporal Andrew Woodruff were traveling in separate vehicles eastbound on Denham Road toward Greenwell Springs Road when they were flagged down by a motorist in a white pickup truck traveling in the westbound lane. (Hr'g Tr., 7- 9, 43-44, 60.) According to Woodruff, a male and female were standing next to the truck's driver's side window and appeared to be in “some type of distress.” (Hr'g Tr., 43-45.) Carter testified that he was told by the motorist in the truck that the two on foot, who were walking toward him in the eastbound lane, needed “some help” and had been on the motorist's property. (Hr'g Tr., 7-9, 22, 26.) At that time, the two people-the Defendant and his girlfriend, Brittany Shenetiker-came up to Carter's passenger-side window, and Carter made contact. (Hr'g Tr., 9, 19.)[1]

         Defendant's initial encounter with the officers is the subject of this motion. The encounter culminated with Corporal Woodruff handcuffing Defendant, searching his bag, finding a short-barreled rifle, and then arresting Defendant for having that rifle. (U.S. Ex. 1A, 4:50- 8:03.) Defendant was later indicted in this Court by a federal grand jury on one count of possessing a firearm as a convicted felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). (Doc. 1).

         As will be explored below, the crux of this motion is whether Defendant's initial encounter with law enforcement was consensual. The details from the encounter come primarily from the testimony developed at the suppression hearing and a dash cam recording from Woodruff's vehicle. The video shows most of the encounter with the Defendant, and there is audio for all but the first minute.[2] As a general matter, the Court listened to the testimony of the officers and observed their demeanor on the stand, and the Court found them highly credible. The following sections are taken from this evidence and are a summary of the events leading up to the Defendant's handcuffing.

         B. Beginning of the Video

         The beginning of the video has the Defendant and Shenetiker talking to Deputy Carter in his police SUV, which is parked in the lane of traffic. (U.S. Ex. 1A, 0:00-0:23; Hr'g Tr., 25-26.) Deputy Woodruff's vehicle is parked behind Carter's, partly on the shoulder and partly in the road. (U.S. Ex. 1A, 0:00-0:23; Hr'g Tr., 25-26.) Woodruff is positioned behind Carter' vehicle, in between the two vehicles and facing the Defendant, and Woodruff's hand is positioned near his firearm; however, the firearm is not drawn. (U.S. Ex. 1A, 0:00-0:23.)[3]

         Deputy Carter stated that he asked where the Defendant and Shenetiker came from, where they were going, and where they lived. (Hr'g Tr., 12-13; U.S. Ex. 1A, 0:00-0:23.) Woodruff testified that Defendant and his girlfriend were free to leave and ignore the questions, but he did not hear Carter tell Defendant that. (Hr'g Tr., 71.)

         Woodruff also testified that, had the Defendant and his girlfriend continued walking, they probably would have walked in the path of Woodruff's vehicle. (Hr'g Tr., 67.) But, as Carter testified, “They can still go around our units.” (Hr'g Tr., 32.)[4]

         The video also shows that Carter's emergency lights were activated during this time. (U.S. Ex. 1A, 0:00-0:59.) Woodruff testified that he activated his rear hazard lights as well. (Hr'g Tr., 45; see also id., 32.) Carter stated that his lights are activated when he's on the side of the road “usually to let oncoming traffic know that we are stopped and have an emergency situation.” (Hr'g Tr., 40-41.) “Even if [Carter is] not in an emergency situation, ” activating the lights contributes to the safety of the officers and other vehicles. (Hr'g Tr., 41.) Regarding Carter's lights, Woodruff testified: “He doesn't have his front wigwags, and he doesn't have the whole thing on. He just has the rear indicator that: hey, we're stopped. Go around us.” (Hr'g Tr., 70; see Id. 71.) “It's a highway. To let people know there's a stopped car ahead[.]” (Hr'g Tr., 70.)

         C. Defendant Reaches for his Machete

         The video next shows the Defendant turn and reveal a “machete along [his] side, which was clipped to his backpack.” (Hr'g Tr., 14; U.S. Ex. 1A, 0:23.) Defendant appeared to reach for the machete. (Hr'g Tr., 14; U.S. Ex. 1A, 0:23.) Woodruff said he “must have said [to Defendant]: Hey is that -- what's that? Or what are you carrying there? And he turns and he puts his hand on it.” (Hr'g Tr., 72.)

         On the video, Woodruff backs off camera at this point, and the Defendant and Shenetiker raise their hands. (U.S. Ex. 1A, 0:23-0:27.) According to Carter, Woodruff advised Defendant “to keep his hands away from the machete.” (Hr'g Tr., 14; U.S. Ex. 1A, 0:23-0:59.) Woodruff testified that he told Defendant, “Don't touch it. Leave it alone, ” and he did so for “officer safety.” (Hr'g Tr., 47-48.)

         Carter also testified that Woodruff had his hand on his weapon. (Hr'g Tr., 29.) Woodruff testified that he did not pull his weapon from the holster. (Hr'g Tr., 73.) Woodruff said he depressed and opened the holster's hood (which unlocks the firearm from the holster) and then put the hood back over the top of his firearm. (Hr'g Tr., 73.) Defendant said, “Sorry.” (Hr'g Tr., 74.)

         D. Woodruff's Gesture and Defendant's Raising of His Hands

         Thereafter, the video shows Carter get out of his vehicle and join Woodruff in the rear of the vehicle. (U.S. Ex. 1A, 0:23-0:59.) Carter testified that, around the 0:48 mark, Woodruff called in what was happening and said that they were with “two subjects on the side of the road on Denham Road.” (Hr'g Tr., 30.)[5]

         After continuing to talk, around the 0:59 mark of the video, Woodruff gestures toward the Defendant and Shenetiker with his hand, and they raise their hands and then put their hands on their head. (U.S. Ex. 1A, 0:23-0:59.) Carter did not remember exactly what was said, though he testified that it looked like Woodruff “motion[ed] with his left hand to stay there.” (Hr'g Tr., 31- 32.)

         However, as Carter testified, the officers did not direct Defendant to put their hands up. (Hr'g Tr., 15-16, U.S. Ex. 1A, 0:59.) Woodruff agreed: “They did that on their own. I never told them to put their hands on top of their head or stand like that. So I don't know why they're doing that. That's unusual for me to see somebody do that.” (Hr'g Tr., 77.)

         Of these parts of the video, Woodruff stated that he asked Defendant if he had some sort of identification, and Defendant replied “no, he left it at home.” (Hr'g Tr., 49.) As to his gesture, Woodruff testified that he “believe[d] he asked [Defendant]: ‘Stay here. I'll be right back.' ” (Hr'g Tr., 75.) He continued: “It's not ordering him to stay there. I said: Hey, if you could just stand right here, I'll be right back. . . . He's still free to leave at this point. I'm not ordering him to remain there. I'm just saying: ‘Stay here. Don't run out into the street. Be right back.' ” (Hr'g Tr., 75.) Woodruff further testified:

Q: So stay here. That means you're not free to leave, right?
A: No. He's still free to go. He's still not being detained for any crime. . . . He has not asked me to leave yet. He has not asked me: Am I under arrest? Am I being detained? Am I free to leave? He did not make any of those comments, no.
Q: So he has to ask you permission to leave?
A: If he wants to leave.
Q: So if he wants to leave, he needs your permission?
A: If he wants to leave he can go. But he never indicated to me that he wanted to go.

(Hr'g Tr., 76.)

         E. Woodruff Asks for Identification and Runs a Background Check

         Woodruff returns to his vehicle, and, at this point in the video, there is audio. (U.S. Ex. 1A, 0:59-1:00.) Woodruff returns with a pad, and the officer asks the two their names and dates of birth. (U.S. Ex. 1A, 1:00-2:00.) Woodruff asked for this information so that he could run a warrant check. (Hr'g Tr., 17, 49-50.) Woodruff then returned to his vehicle. (U.S. Ex. 1A 2:00- 2:15).

         Thereafter, Carter, Defendant, and Shenetiker remain outside the vehicles. (U.S. Ex. 1A, 2:15-4:54.) At about the 3:12 mark, Defendant and Shenetiker sit down, and Defendant later gets up as he talks to Carter. (U.S. Ex. 1A, 3:15.)

         Carter testified that, from 0:59 to the 4:54 mark, Defendant and Shenetiker did not ask to leave, did not try to leave, and were cooperative. (Hr'g Tr., 16-17.) Woodruff said the same. (Hr'g Tr., 50.)

         Woodruff was questioned at the hearing, “If you asked somebody for their name and date of birth and they give it to you and walk off, can you stop them?”, and he replied, “They're free to go at this point, so if they didn't want to give me any information, they're free to go.” (Hr'g Tr., 50.) Woodruff said later that Defendant “could have refused” to give identification and said, “I don't want to tell you[.] . . . They're still free to go [while he does a warrant check]. This whole time, they're free to go.” (Hr'g Tr., 79.)

         Of Carter's position while Woodruff runs the background check, Woodruff said: Defendant is “still armed with the machete and the other knife he has . . . on his side. David Carter is just taking an interview stance. He's not restricting their movement at all. He's not blocking them from leaving or restricting their movement at all. He's taking an interview stance.” (Hr'g Tr., 79-80.)

         Woodruff said it is “standard practice to get their information and run them for warrants” in these consensual encounters. (Hr'g Tr., 80.) Woodruff acknowledged, however, that he never told Defendant and his girlfriend that they were free to go or that they did not have to provide information to them. (Hr'g Tr., 80.) But Woodruff further said, “They're not boxed in. I mean, there's room for them to leave between the two cars and go around and go the other way[.]” (Hr'g Tr., 81.)

         F. Woodruff Asks About Weapons and Handcuffs Defendant

         At the 4:54 second mark, Woodruff returns on camera (with black gloves on) and states, “You don't have any guns or . . .” (U.S. Ex. 1A, 4:54-5:03.) Before he can finish, Defendant points to his backpack, says, “I have a .22 in the bag.” (U.S. Ex. 1A, 5:00-5:06.) Woodruff then asks, “Do you have a conceal carry permit for that?”; Defendant pauses and then says, “A what?” (U.S. Ex. 1A, 5:00-5:06.) Woodruff asks again, “Do you have a concealed handgun license to have a gun in your backpack?” Woodruff pauses, and, at that point, Woodruff says he is detaining the Defendant and proceeds to frisk him. (U.S. Ex. 1A, 5:06-5:24.)

         Carter testified that, until Defendant said he had a .22 in his bag, Defendant was “free to leave.” (Hr'g Tr., 34, 40.) Carter was not investigating Defendant for any other crime. (Hr'g Tr., 34-35.)

         Woodruff testified to the following:

Q: Corporal, you exit your vehicle and you ask Mr. Carroll if he had any weapons?
A: Correct.
Q: Why?
A: I was ready to let them go at that point. I was satisfied with who they were and that, you know, they weren't up to anything other than, you know, walking down the street. I was ready to let them go at that point. I routinely ask people if they have any guns, knives, hang grenades, explosive devises on them. It's just a routine that I go through before I let somebody go, just to make sure that nothing else is afoot.
Q: You said “Let them go, ” were they detained prior to this -
A: I'm saying let them go as: Here's your information back. Have a nice day.
Q: But you intended to terminate your encounter?
A: Correct.

(Hr'g Tr., 52.) Woodruff later said:

Q: So you're coming out to tell them and to - - your words were to release them, right?
A: Correct.
Q: So you're releasing them from being detained by you so they can go on with their life because you didn't find a warrant, right?
A: Correct.

(Hr'g Tr., 81-82.)

Woodruff also stated the following about the gloves:
Q: So when you got out of the car, you knew you were going to search his ...

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