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United States v. Amankwaa

January 4, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Vanaskie


This matter is before the Court on Defendant Eric Amankwaa's Motion to Suppress Evidence.*fn1 A hearing was held on October 22, 2009. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be denied.


At approximately 6:30 p.m. on Friday, April 10, 2009, Deputy Police Chief Henry Schrader, a thirty-four (34) year veteran of the Coal Township Police Department, received information that three individuals engaged in a suspected credit card scam were present in the local Walmart store. The information was supplied by a local Walmart Loss Prevention Officer ("LPO") , with whom Officer Schrader had worked many times. Specifically, the Walmart LPO called 911 to report that three (3) black males who matched the descriptions of persons involved in a credit card scam at other Walmart stores in the surrounding area were observed in the Coal Township store and that Walmart had been conducting an ongoing investigation into the matter.

Officer Schrader was dispatched by 911 and went to Walmart, arriving approximately five (5) minutes later. Upon his arrival in the parking lot of Walmart, Officer Schrader met the LPO, who informed Officer Schrader that the three (3) men had just left the parking lot in a red Equinox with a New York license plate and registration, the driver was a black man wearing a white t-shirt and blue jeans, these were the same three (3) individuals that had been caught on video tape involved in a credit card scam at other Walmart stores, the car had just ran a red light in making a left turn at the only exit of the parking lot, and the vehicle was proceeding in the direction of Shamokin, Pennsylvania. This conversation lasted between 20 to 30 seconds.

Officer Schrader exited the Walmart parking lot and proceeded on SR 61 towards Shamokin with his siren activated. At the intersection of Mount Carmel and Sunbury Streets, Officer Schrader observed a red Equinox matching the LPO's description stopped behind four (4) other cars at a red light, and he proceeded to pull the vehicle over. The stop occurred approximately 11/4 to 11/2 miles from the Walmart store.

The driver of the vehicle matched the description provided to Officer Schrader by the LPO. When Officer Schrader approached the driver's side window, the operator of the vehicle stated that he did not have a driver's license with him, nor did he have his vehicle's registration card.*fn2 Consistent with the information provided by the LPO, there were two (2) other black males in the vehicle -- Defendant Amankwaa was sitting in the right front passenger seat, and another black man was located in the back seat.

When Officer Schrader "ran" the Equinox license plate number, he found that it did not match the Equinox vehicle, but rather was assigned to a 1986 Oldsmobile Cutliss. At this point, the Walmart LPO arrived and identified the occupants of the Equinox as the persons who had used false credit cards in the Coal Township Walmart store.

Officer Schrader then requested that the vehicle occupants identify themselves. The driver identified himself as Yanik Paka, Defendant Amankwaa provided his name, and the person in the rear of the passenger compartment identified himself as "Bobo Lopy."*fn3 Officer Schrader was unable to confirm the identities of any of the individuals, and then conferred by radio with the detective on duty, Jeffrey Brennan.

Pursuant to Detective Brennan's direction, Officer Schrader then transported the three individuals to the Coal Township Police Station in order to obtain a positive identification. In accordance with Department policy, Officer Schrader handcuffed each of the individuals before placing them in his patrol car. The Equinox was towed to the Police Station.

Detective Brennan met with Mr. Amankwaa and the others in an interview room at the Police Station. Initially, Detective Brennan conducted a pat-down search of each of the Defendants. Uncomfortable with the results of the pat-down due to the fact that Defendants were wearing multiple layers of baggy clothing, Detective Brennan instructed them to strip down to their underwear.

Mr. Amankwaa removed his clothes, handed them to Detective Brennan, who then proceeded to "pat down" the clothes, and place the clothing on a bench or table. During this process, Detective Brennan reached into the pockets of Defendant's clothing and found visa gift cards. He also searched Amankwaa's wallet, and found visa gift cards inside the wallet. Detective Brennan also found visa gift cards in the possession of Paka and Doumbia.

At the police station, Mr. Amankwaa provided Detective Brennan with his actual name and produced a confirmatory permanent resident card, a New York state driver's license, and a social security card. Nevertheless, Detective Brennan was not sure that Amankwaa's identification was authentic. Nor was he sure that the other Defendants were who they claimed to be. After Detective Brennan's attempt to confirm the individuals' identity with the Immigration Officer at the United States Penitentiary at Allenwood was unsuccessful, he had them transported to the Pennsylvania State Police Barracks in Stoneington, about seven miles away.

While the Defendants were being transported to the State Police Barracks, Detective Brennan took the visa gift cards to the Walmart store. By running the gift cards through the Walmart cash register system, Detective Brennan was able to learn that the cards were counterfeit. The Walmart LPO advised the Detective that some of the visa cards taken from the Defendants were used to make purchases at the store.

Detective Brennan next learned that the Defendants had been identified through the State Police fingerprint identification system. Specifically, he was advised that Amankwaa and Paka had correctly identified themselves, but that Doumbia had provided a false name. Detective Brennan then sought Paka's consent to search the Equinox, but he refused. Brennan directed that an inventory search of the Equinox be conducted.*fn4 He instructed that the inventory search should stop in the event that any Walmart bags or receipts were observed. During the inventory search, Officers observed gift cards and electronic video games in the back of the vehicle.

As a result of information gathered during the evening of April 10, 2009, Detective Brennan decided to charge each of the Defendants with criminal conduct. At approximately 9:30 p.m. or 10:00 p.m. on April 10, 2009, a criminal complaint was filed against each individual, and they were detained in a local prison.

On Monday, April 13, 2009, Detective Brennan obtained a search warrant for the Equinox. In executing the search warrant, law enforcement officers found Walmart receipts and items that had been purchased from Walmart on Friday April 10, 2009, including electronic video games.

Detective Brennan was later placed in contact with United States Secret Service Special Agent Jason Wolfson. On April 28, 2009, Special Agent Wolfson obtained a federal complaint and arrest warrant for Amankwaa and the other Defendants. Special Agent Wolfson took Mr. Amankwaa into custody, and advised him of his Miranda ...

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