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United States v. Jerry

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division

June 18, 2019


          HICKS JUDGE




         Defendants Lequinton Jerry (“Jerry”) and Omar Williams (“Williams”) are each charged with one count of felon in possession of a firearm. The charges arose as a result of a traffic stop in Bossier City, Louisiana. Before the court are Defendants' Motions to Suppress. Docs. 19 & 31. Defendants argue that the police lacked sufficient cause to stop the car or to search it. For the reasons that follow, it is recommend that Defendants' motions to suppress be denied.

         Background Facts

         Just before midnight on June 7, 2018, Lt. Dave Faulk and Det. Tim Wooten of the Bossier Parish Sheriff's Office patrolled the area near the intersection of Benton Road and Interstate 220 in Bossier City. Doc. 37, Tr. 8-9. Lt. Faulk was driving a marked police car on Benton road north of I- 220, and Det. Wooten was driving an unmarked police car just south of I-220. Tr. at 9-10, 55. Neither of the officers' cars were equipped with video or audio recorders.

         Lt. Faulk and Det. Wooten were assigned to this location based on approximately twenty reported car burglaries and thefts by area gang members that had occurred in the nearby Green Acres Place neighborhood during the late-night hours of the preceding weeks. Tr. 8-9, 51-53. In fact, the Bossier Parish Sheriff's Office had received a report of a car burglary within a week of this patrol assignment. Tr. 52. Lt. Faulk and Det. Wooten were told that the burglary suspects were young African-American gang members, with ages ranging from 15 to 21, coming from Shreveport late at night in groups of two or more per vehicle. Tr. 9.

         Lt. Faulk and Det. Wooten collaborated during the patrol assignment by communicating via radio when the officers observed a car that either matched the description of the suspects or whose driver committed a traffic infraction. Tr. 9-10, 54- 55. Lt. Faulk testified that he only stopped cars that first committed traffic infractions. Tr. 11.

         At approximately 11:30 p.m., Lt. Faulk observed a Green Mercury Marquis traveling north on Benton Road. Tr. 12. Lt. Faulk followed the car for about one mile beginning in the vicinity of the car dealerships just north of I-220. Tr. 26. He saw the car “touch[] the centerline on Benton Road going northbound, and then a few moments later it touched the fog line.” Id. He then observed the car weave within its lane “at least one more time . . . touching the centerline and fog line, and that's when I went ahead and initiated the traffic stop.” Id.

         Lt. Faulk recognized this conduct to be improper lane usage in violation of Louisiana Revised Statute 32:79. Tr. 12, 41. Lt. Faulk also testified that the weaving could be indicative of intoxicated driving based on his experience. Tr. 6-7, 22. He stopped the car at the Dixie Mart gas station on Benton Road and submitted the car's plate number via radio dispatch. Tr. 13.

         As Lt. Faulk reported the car's license plate number via radio dispatch, he observed that two people were occupying the car, and they were “doing a bunch of erratic movement in the car, ” including “leaning and moving . . . in ways normal people don't do.” Tr. 14. The two occupants were leaning so far forward that Lt. Faulk “could not see their shoulders . . . just a little top of a head.” Tr. 15.

         Det. Wooten arrived at the traffic stop “within a few seconds” to a minute of the initial stop. Tr. 15, 58. Det. Wooten recalled that Lt. Faulk “already had his lights initiated and they were pulling into the gas station as I was driving up.” Tr. 74-75. Det. Wooten also observed that both occupants were “bent over, ” and “were grabbing for something under the seat, ” which he thought was “a pretty big safety risk for a traffic officer on scene.” Tr. 58-59. In Det. Wooten's experience, “they're trying to hide guns or dope or drugs.” Tr. 59. Det. Wooten ordered the occupants to show their hands “due to it being a safety risk for both of us.” Tr. 59.

         Lt. Faulk approached the driver's window and asked both occupants for their identification. Tr. 15-16. He identified the driver as defendant Williams and the front passenger as defendant Jerry. Meanwhile, Det. Wooten approached the front passenger side of the car and spoke with Jerry. Tr. 15, 59. Det. Wooten noted that Williams and Jerry appeared to be “nervous and scared, ” and their demeanor was “frightened, shaking, and nervous.” Tr. 61.

         Within “a couple seconds” of seeing Williams and Jerry's reaching motions, Det. Wooten testified that he opened Jerry's passenger door because “normally when someone's reaching under the car [seat], like I said, they're hiding something, and everything happens pretty fluid. I'm wanting to get him out of the car to secure him for my safety and his safety; so ultimately, I've got to open the door to do that.” Tr. at 61-62. As Det. Wooten opened Jerry's door, he “immediately noticed the plastic baggie hanging out of [Jerry's] right pant leg.” Tr. 62. Det. Wooten noted that a “good bit of the bag” was “hanging out of Jerry's pocket.” Tr. 63. Based on his training and experience in narcotics investigations, Det. Wooten believed the type of bag to be indicative of those “commonly used to store narcotics.” Id.

         Det. Wooten recalled that he asked Jerry if he “minded handing me the bag so I could see what was in it.” Tr. 64. Det. Wooten recalled phrasing this question according to his common practice in such scenarios, which is to ask in the form of a question. Det. Wooten took the bag and observed that it contained apparent marijuana. Id.

         As Det. Wooten placed the bag of marijuana on the roof of the car, Lt. Faulk observed Jerry slowly reaching again under his seat. Tr. 16, 64. The officers then ordered both occupants of the car, at gunpoint, to show their hands. Tr. 16. Det. Wooten then pulled Jerry out of the car. Tr. 16, 64-65. As Det. Wooten attempted to handcuff Jerry, Jerry attempted to flee on foot. Tr. 17, 65. Det. Wooten struggled with Jerry on the ground nearby, and Lt. Faulk helped take Jerry into custody. Tr. 17. He then “patted down” Jerry and found a loaded .40 caliber Glock magazine in Jerry's pocket. Tr. 65. The officers then placed Jerry and Williams in the back of Lt. Faulk's police car. Tr. 18.

         The officers searched Williams' car and found a Glock .40 caliber pistol loaded with 24 rounds of ammunition underneath Jerry's seat. Tr. 19, 65. The officers then searched the trunk and found a black Pioneer Arms 9x19 caliber pistol loaded with 29 rounds of ammunition. Tr. 20.

         The officers did not know that the defendants were convicted felons at the time of the car search, but they were in the process of obtaining that information. Tr. 66-68. Det. Wooten testified that, although they were still waiting to receive the full criminal histories for the defendants during the car search, they would have, as a matter of policy, waited to receive criminal history information before releasing Williams based on the arrest of Jerry and issue of joint possession of the firearm. Tr. 68.

         The car was later released to a family member of Williams. Tr. 72. When asked if the car would have been searched “prior to releasing it to a family member in this kind of situation, ” Det. Wooten replied “Absolutely . . . [t]o ensure that any evidence doesn't get moved or destroyed and that the family member taking possession of the car doesn't get pulled over and charged with something that they weren't - didn't know was in the car.” Tr. 72.

         The entire incident from stop to the point that Jerry attempted to flee occurred very quickly. Tr. 22, 62, 65. Lt. Faulk estimated that Jerry fled within the first minute of his approach, which is corroborated by Det. Wooten, who estimated that he opened Jerry's door within several seconds of first observing the reaching motions and further estimated that “not thirty or twenty seconds” elapsed from the time he pulled Jerry out of the car and Jerry fled. Tr. 65.

         Williams made a post-Miranda statement to Lt. Faulk, admitting that he knew he was a convicted felon and was not supposed to possess a firearm. Tr. 20. Several weeks later, Williams was also interviewed by ATF Special Agent ...

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