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United States v. Waller

United States District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania

August 29, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
MICHAEL TYRONE WALLER, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

NORA BARRY FISCHER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Presently before the Court are a Motion to Suppress, (Docket No. 18), filed by Defendant Michael Tyrone Waller (“Waller”) on March 27, 2014, the Government’s opposition thereto, (Docket No. 20), and Defendant’s Reply (Docket No. 25). On April 25, 2014, this Court held an evidentiary hearing on Waller’s motion. (Docket Nos. 26, 27). Upon his request, the hearing was continued until May 30, 2014, during which the parties provided testimony, documentary exhibits, and oral argument. (Docket Nos. 32, 33). The official transcript of the proceedings has been reviewed and considered by the Court. (Docket No. 41). The Government submitted its proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law on July 9, 2014, and Defendant submitted his on July 29, 2014. (Docket Nos. 44, 52). Upon consideration of all of the parties’ submissions, the evidence of record, their arguments, and for the following reasons, Defendant’s Motion to Suppress (Docket No. 18) is denied.

I. FINDINGS OF FACT

The credible evidence offered at the May 30, 2014 suppression hearing established the following facts.[1] To the extent that Waller’s testimony contradicted theirs, the Court found the officers’ testimony to be more credible.[2]

On February 3, 2013, a few minutes before two o’clock in the morning, Officer Aaron Obsenica (“Officer Obsenica”) of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, Zone 5, received the first call indicating that a shooting occurred at Phase Bar, located at 7232 Hamilton Avenue. (Tr. at 53:12-14, 56:7-10, 57:4-8) (Officer Obsenica Tesitfying). At approximately 1:57 a.m., he responded to the dispatch, which relayed that a female had been shot. (Tr. at 55:8-10) (Officer Obsenica Testifying). Upon his arrival at Phase Bar, Officer Obsenica went to the parking lot directly across from Baker’s Dairy.[3] (Tr. at 59:5-9) (Officer Obsenica Testifying). He found victim Tamika McAfee lying on the ground, in significant physical and mental distress from a gunshot wound to her right leg. (Tr. at 59:10-16).

With other officers on the scene as well, and in the presence of Officer Dustin Rummel (“Officer Rummel”), Officer Obsenica spoke with a male witness with the initials R.N.[4] who provided his first and last name, his address, his date of birth, and telephone number. (Tr. at 60:18-61:23) (Officer Obsenica Testifying); (Tr. at 74:18-19) (Officer Rummel Testifying). R.N. also told Officers Obsenica and Rummel the following:

1. He was at the bar until 1:50a.m., at which time he walked to his vehicle in the parking lot. (Tr. at 62:10-13) (Officer Obsenica Testifying);
2. He heard about five gunshots, and observed a red Chevrolet Malibu and a black-colored vehicle parked in front of Baker’s Dairy. (Tr. at 62:13-15) (Officer Obsenica Testifying);
3. He heard the shots and turned to look in the direction where he believed they came from, which was toward Baker’s Dairy, where he saw the two vehicles. (Tr. at 71:5-14) (Officer Obsenica Testifying); and
4. He observed two black males in that area, and the two vehicles fled at a high rate of speed down Hamilton Avenue, with one turning left and one turning right.[5] (Tr. at 62:15-18) (Officer Obsenica Testifying).

Officer Rummel issued a dispatch informing the other officers that there was a red Malibu traveling in the area possibly involved in the shooting at Phase Bar.[6] (Tr. at 65:20-24) (Officer Obsenica Testifying); (Tr. at 74:24-75:1) (Officer Rummel Testifying).

Officer Jonathon Craig (“Officer Craig”) responded to the dispatch, and he and his partner, in a marked car, were checking the area for both of the vehicles described as possibly being involved in the shooting: the red Chevrolet Malibu and a dark colored sedan. (Tr. at 82:1-2, 82:16-23, 84:10-12) (Officer Craig Testifying). Typically, the streets around Phase Bar at two o’clock in the morning are quiet. (Tr. at 108:21-109:2) (Officer Craig Testifying). Due to the cold weather, there was not a lot of pedestrian or vehicle traffic on the night of February 3, 2014. (Tr. at 109:3-5) (Officer Craig Testifying). While in the vicinity of the shooting, Officer Craig and his partner initially saw the red Malibu at the intersection of North Homewood Avenue and Hamilton Avenue. (Tr. at 85:22-23, 88:24-25) (Officer Craig Testifying). The officers followed the vehicle, but did not observe any traffic violations. (Tr. at 89:3-13) (Officer Craig Testifying).

After determining that the vehicle was a red Malibu, Officer Craig and his partner activated the overhead lights and pulled over the vehicle. (Tr. at 89:14-19) (Officer Craig Testifying). Officer Craig relayed via a dispatch that he pulled over a red Chevrolet Malibu with two occupants inside and provided the license plate number. (Tr. at 89:23-90:10) (Officer Craig Testifying). The vehicle was stopped at approximately 2:09 a.m., very shortly after the shooting, which had occurred at approximately 1:57 a.m. (Tr. at 108:4-9) (Officer Craig Testifying). Over objection from the Government, Officer Craig testified that there was sufficient time for the red Malibu to leave the scene and return to the scene in that time frame.[7] (Tr. at 108:10-17) (Officer Craig Testifying). In Officer Craig’s experience, criminal actors often return to the scene of a shooting to ensure that a victim is dead. (Tr. at 107:10-17) (Officer Craig Testifying).

Officer Craig and his partner informed the occupants that they were stopped because there was a recent shooting a few blocks away, and one of the witnesses said that a red Chevrolet Malibu was involved. (Tr. at 90:21-91:1) (Officer Craig Testifying). The driver of the vehicle, Tyrone Benjamin, was cooperative. (Tr. at 90:16-17, 91:2-5) (Officer Craig Testifying). Waller, however, was uncooperative. (Tr. at 91:14-15) (Officer Craig Testifying); (Tr. at 29:18-21) (Waller Testifying). He said that he would not get out of the vehicle, that the only reason the police pulled them over was because they were black, and that he wanted to speak to a supervisor. (Tr. at 91:17-22) (Officer Craig Testifying). Waller provided inaccurate identification to the officers vis-à-vis a false name, “Maurice Murray, ” and a false date of birth. (Tr. at 92:10-18) (Officer Craig Testifying); (Tr. at 30:4) (Waller Testifying). While waiting for a supervisor, Waller refused to obey Officer Craig’s order to keep his hands on the dashboard by repeatedly reaching down to touch the left side of his body. (Tr. at 9:1-9) (Officer Craig Testifying).

Waller’s failure to follow the officers’ instructions continued, and he was removed forcibly out of the vehicle by the officers. (Tr. at 92:19-93:13) (Officer Craig Testifying). While out of the vehicle and despite Officer Craig’s instructions to do so, Waller did not keep his hands away from his body, nor did he keep his hands on the vehicle. (Tr. at 93:18-22) (Officer Craig Testifying). Officer Craig forced Waller’s right hand onto the vehicle while his left hand remained clenched close to his body. (Tr. at 93:24-25) (Officer Craig Testifying). At the same time, another officer saw Waller’s hand on the left side of his body and screamed “gun.” (Tr. at 94:2-4) (Officer Craig Testifying). Then, the officers engaged in a struggle with Waller, during which a gun fell from Waller’s person and another officer picked it up. (Tr. at 94:6-13) (Officer Craig Testifying). With Waller ...


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