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United States v. Allen

August 17, 2010


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Criminal Action No. 08-cr-00741-1) District Judge: Honorable Joel H. Slomsky.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ambro, Circuit Judge


Argued April 20, 2010

Before: SCIRICA,*fn1 AMBRO and ALARCON,*fn2 Circuit Judges.


Thurmond Allen appeals an order of the District Court denying his motion to suppress evidence seized while he and others were detained by a police SWAT team during execution of a search warrant at a bar where Allen worked as a security guard. The warrant, issued in conjunction with a homicide investigation unrelated to Allen or to anyone else at the bar, authorized collection of security videotapes. The District Court concluded that because the bar was located in a high-crime area, because firearm-related crimes had been committed there, and because persons possessing firearms were known to patronize the bar, it was reasonable for the police to detain persons there while executing the warrant. Allen contends on appeal that this detention was an illegal seizure under the Fourth Amendment, and thus his statements to police and the evidence obtained as a result of that detention should have been suppressed.

We examine the limits of the Supreme Court's decisions in Michigan v. Summers, 452 U.S. 692 (1981), and Los Angeles County v. Rettele, 550 U.S. 609 (2007) (per curiam). After considering these cases and precedent of our own, and giving deference to the District Court's findings of fact, we conclude that Allen's detention did not violate the Fourth Amendment. Thus we affirm.


The District Court found the following facts after an evidentiary hearing on Allen's motion to suppress. On May 10, 2008, an individual named Jimmy Ortiz was murdered in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and police obtained reliable information that the persons involved had retreated to a bar called Trinkle's Café ("Trinkle's"). Based on this information, the police obtained a search warrant at approximately 4:00 p.m. on Thursday, May 15, 2008, authorizing them to collect any security videos in the bar that could be used to identify the murder suspect. No Trinkle's owner or staff member was suspected of involvement in the homicide.

The police were familiar with Trinkle's and its location. It was in a high-crime area involving firearms and drugs, and customers of it often had histories of engaging in violence, firearm possession, and drug activity. In January 2008, four months before the Ortiz homicide, someone was shot inside Trinkle's, and a few weeks prior to the Ortiz homicide an individual was arrested for illegally possessing a firearm inside the bar. In addition, prior to the homicide, the owner and staff of Trinkle's were "uncooperative" with police during investigations of other incidents.*fn3 Given these facts, the police decided to use the Allentown Emergency Response Team, known as a SWAT team, to execute the warrant.

They did so at approximately 8:00 p.m., about four hours after obtaining the warrant, and secured the premises inside and outside the bar. Five people - including Allen, who was on duty as a Trinkle's security guard - were standing directly in front of the bar. The SWAT team, wearing armor and with guns drawn, ordered them to lie face down on the sidewalk with their hands in front of them, and explained that they would be detained just long enough to ensure the officers' safety and for the officers to gather the evidence they were seeking.

Allen was lying next to an individual named Robbie Trader, who told one of the officers that he had a firearm. The officer took the firearm, verified that Trader had a permit to carry it, and returned it to Trader, who was released. Allen then volunteered to one of the officers that he too had a firearm. The officer searched him, seized the gun, and inquired if he had a permit for it. Allen responded that he had an expired, out-of-state permit. When asked, Allen provided a false name, Christopher Williams. The police learned Allen's real name from someone who worked at the bar, and Allen was arrested. It was subsequently disclosed that he had a prior felony conviction.

A grand jury in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania returned a one-count indictment, charging Allen with unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. ยง 922(g)(1). He moved to suppress evidence of the firearm and his statements to the police as fruits of an illegal seizure. Following an evidentiary hearing, the District Court denied the motion in an oral ruling, concluding that pursuant to Summers a "search warrant implicitly carries with it a limited authorization to detain occupants of the place of the search and to minimize the risk of harm to the officers," and that pursuant to Rettele the officers "took reasonable actions to secure the premises and to ensure their own safety and the efficacy of the search." Moreover, the Court found that Allen voluntarily revealed to the police that he was armed. Following the denial of the motion to suppress, Allen pled guilty to the charge in the indictment, but preserved his ...

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