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United States of America v. Kareem Russell

April 27, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gene E.K. Pratter,j.


Defendant Kareem Russell is charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Currently before the Court is Mr. Russell's motion to suppress evidence, a Smith & Wesson Sigma .40 caliber pistol, which officers from the Cheltenham Township Police Department and the Philadelphia Police Department recovered on April 1, 2007 during the execution of a search warrant of 1040 E. Howell Street in Philadelphia. The Court held a hearing on the Motion during which the parties presented evidence and arguments.

For the reasons discussed below, the Court denies Mr. Russell's Motion. FINDINGS OF FACT

The following facts are established by the evidence presented and the testimony of Detective Daniel M. Schaefer at the suppression hearing.

In March 2007, the Cheltenham Township Police Department was investigating the robbery of Ok Ja Choi in Cheltenham Township, Pennsylvania and the subsequent theft of her identity. The investigation uncovered information that implied Mr. Russell's involvement in the criminal activity, which prompted Detective Richard Schaffer to obtain a warrant of Mr. Russell's residence at 1040 E. Howell Street for the search and seizure of:

Any personal identifiers to include documents, identification cards, personal checks or credit cards for Ok Ja Choi. All cell phones belonging to Kareem Russell. Any documents or records that record the name, phone number or bank account information for Shemar Killen. Any documents, papers, or pictures associated with Latasha Carson. Any documents, personal identification cards, or credit cards, or personal identifiers for any person other than Kareem Russell or anyone who may reside in the house with him. Gov't Hr'g Ex. 1. An arrest warrant for Mr. Russell was also obtained. Before the officers executed the warrants, they, including Detective Schaefer, were aware that Mr. Russell was a previously convicted felon.

At approximately 8:00 a.m. on April 1, 2007, police officers from the Cheltenham Township Police Department and Philadelphia Police Department arrived at 1040 E. Howell Street to execute the search and arrest warrants. The officers knocked on the front door several times, and upon failing to receive any response, the officers kicked the door open and entered the house.

The officers found and secured four occupants at the residence. After entering the house, the officers first encountered Christopher Russell, Defendant Kareem Russell's brother, descending the stairs of the house while wearing an undershirt and boxer shorts. Officers also found a woman in the nude in another part of the house. Officers discovered Mr. Russell and another woman in the front bedroom of the home.

According to Detective Schaefer's testimony, before he and Detective Schaffer located Mr. Russell and the other woman, Detective Schaefer had heard noises that sounded as if someone had closed and locked the door of the front bedroom while he ascended the house's stairs. When the Detectives tried to open the closed front bedroom door, they found that it was locked. They kicked open the door, and after entering the bedroom, the Detectives saw Mr. Russell, wearing an undershirt and box shorts, located partway on the bed, appearing to be getting into it. The woman was unclothed in the bed with a sheet covering her. The Detectives took Mr. Russell into custody and handcuffed him. The woman was also handcuffed, and the Detectives escorted her and Mr. Russell downstairs.

After the four occupants were secured, Detectives Schaefer and Schaffer then returned to the front bedroom to determine if there were other individuals located in the room, to ascertain if the area posed any safety issues, and to document the room's appearance before the officers began their search pursuant to the search warrant. During this survey of the room, officers searched under the bed and looked inside the closet to determine if anyone was hiding at those locations. At this time, the Detectives found drug paraphernalia in the room, and documents, such as letters, tax forms, and other papers on which Mr. Russell's name and other individuals' names appeared. While surveying the interior of the bedroom's closet, Detective Schaefer saw the back grip of a gun situated in the bottom half of a pile of unfolded clothing that included several pairs men's boxer shorts located on the closet's top shelf.*fn1 The gun ultimately was identified as a Smith & Wesson Sigma .40 caliber pistol.1

After Detective Schaefer saw the gun, he took it out of the closet and removed the magazine, which contained eight rounds, removed one round from the chamber, and locked the slide back. Detective Schaefer observed there was a serial number on the gun while he unloaded it. He subsequently used the police radio to check if the serial number was listed for a stolen gun with the National Crime Information Center ("NCIC"). Following the serial number check, Detective Schaefer learned that the gun had been stolen from West Columbia, South Carolina. Detective Schaefer testified that the standard operating procedure is to make the gun safe and to run a gun's serial number with the NCIC when an officer finds a gun while executing a search warrant that did not list such an item.

The search of the house was suspended at that time to obtain a second search warrant that included such items as the drug paraphernalia and the gun found in the house. Detective Schaffer went to the station, prepared the second search warrant, and went to the Philadelphia Bail Commissioner to have the warrant signed. The second warrant issued on April 1, 2007 at 11:45 a.m. permitted the seizure of various documents associated with additional individuals, including Ann Garr and Janice Rosenblum, as well as "[a]ny firearms, gun parts, ammunition, or firearm accessories. Any drugs or drug paraphernalia as defined by Pa. Title 35." Gov't Hr'g Ex. 3. Once the second search warrant was obtained, the officers completed their search of the house.

Detective Schaefer's testimony that he saw the back of the grip of the gun in the pile of clothing was credible. Although a side-by-side comparison of Exhibits 2A and 2B appears to suggest that at least one or more articles of clothing from the closet's pile of clothing may have changed positions between the times that the two photographs were taken, Detective Schaefer explained that, as the photographer, he moved clothing "just for the picture." Hr'g Tr. 39:12-13. Given Detective Schaefer's testimony, the only evidence (documentary or otherwise) presented during the suppression hearing on the discovery of the gun, the Court finds that Detective Schaefer saw the back of the gun's grip lying in a pile of clothing when he looked inside the front bedroom's closet.

The officers performed an inventory of the property seized pursuant to the two search warrants. A "Receipt/Inventory of Seized Property" form which indicates that the time that the search began as 8:06 a.m. and lists 187 items, identified that Item Number 185 was a ".40 cal Smith Wesson SW9F pistol (PAD 1569) w/ mg 8 rnds 1 in chamber." Gov't Hr'g Ex. 4. A Property Receipt listing only the "S&W Sigma .40 cal pistol (Model #SW9F) (Serial # PAD 1569) with ...

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