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United States v. Robins

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

June 6, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
BYRON ROBINS ET AL.

          RULING AND ORDER

          JUDGE BRIAN A. JACKSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         Before the Court are the Motions (Docs. 189, 191, 206) of Roderick Harris, Tremayne Dabney, and Zion Hurst to suppress evidence derived from a traffic stop for an alleged license-plate light violation. For the reasons that follow, the Motions (Docs. 189, 191, 206) are GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Fourth Amendment commands that no person be searched or seized when there is no basis to believe him guilty of a crime. The command “is categorical and without exception; it lies at the very heart of the Fourth Amendment.” Maryland v. King, 569 U.S. 435, 466 (2013) (Scalia, J., dissenting). The Court finds that an officer of the Baton Rouge Police Department violated that command when he made a traffic stop without the reasonable suspicion required to support it.

         This drug-conspiracy case arises from the activities of the FreeBandz organization in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Doc. 1). A grand jury returned a 68-count indictment charging 21 FreeBandz associates-including Harris, Dabney, and Hurst-with drug- and gun-related crimes. (Id.). Some of the evidence against Harris, Dabney, and Hurst derives from a traffic stop. (Id. at ¶¶ 59-61).

         The stop occurred on December 6, 2017. (Doc. 331 at pp. 16-19). That night, Officer[1] Damien Collins was patrolling “Dixie, ” a “high-crime area” in north Baton Rouge. (Id. at p. 17). Officer Collins was part of the Baton Rouge Police Department's Street Crime Unit, which patrols “high-crime areas and contact[s] as many people as possible.” (Id. at p. 162).

         Around 9:15 P.M., Officer Collins pulled “directly behind” a white Toyota Camry. (Id. at p. 19). Harris was driving the Camry, Dabney was in the front passenger seat, and Hurst was in one of the back seats. (Id. at p. 8). Officer Collins activated his lights to initiate a traffic stop because, he later explained, the Camry's rear license plate was “unreadable.”[2] (Id. at pp. 19, 27). But the Camry did not stop immediately; it “slow rolled” for a few blocks.[3] (Id. at pp. 27, 29).

         By the time the Camry came to a stop, several officers had joined Officer Collins.[4] (Id. at p. 29). One of the first, Officer Joshua Barnett, pulled up to the driver side of the Camry. (Id.). Officer Collins pulled up to the passenger side. (Id.). Dabney immediately exited, and Officer Collins noticed a gun in his waistband. (Id. at p. 30). Officer Collins ordered Dabney to “keep his hands up, ” took Dabney's gun, and asked Dabney if he had identification. (Id.). When Dabney replied that he did not, Officer Collins placed him in the back of a cruiser. (Id. at p. 32).

         Meanwhile, on the driver side, Officer Barnett ordered Harris to exit and to place his hands on the roof of the car. (Id. at p. 119). Officer Barnett then handcuffed Harris “for safety reasons” and placed Harris in the back of his cruiser. (Id. at pp. 122, 127).

         Around the same time, Officer James Thomas found ecstasy pills on the floor around the front passenger seat. (Id. at p. 223). Officer Brad Ford then found drugs on Hurst's person and a gun[5] on the floor of the back seat. (Id. at p. 43).

         After securing Dabney, Harris, and Hurst, the officers began to search the Camry. (Id. at p. 237). They found about 6, 000 ecstasy pills in bags lodged beneath the center console. (Id. at p. 179). They did not obtain a warrant. (Id. at p. 9).

         Upon returning to the station, Officer Collins interviewed Dabney, Harris, and Hurst.[6] (Id. at pp. 55-56). Dabney admitted possessing the pills that Officer Thomas found on the floor around the front passenger seat. (Id. at p. 55). Dabney denied, however, knowledge of the pills under the center console. (Id. at p. 56). Harris said he had no knowledge of any of the pills. (Id. at p. 55). Hurst admitting possessing the stolen gun but denied knowledge of the pills. (Doc. 206-2 at p. 35).

         After interviewing Dabney, Harris, and Hurst, Officer Collins drafted a report that described the stop as follows:

On December 06, 2017 at 2115 hrs I officer D Collins was patrolling on Weller ave when I observed a white Toyota Camry without a rear license plate light out making the plate unreadable. The ensuing traffic stop led to Tremayne DABNEY, Roderick HARRIS ...

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