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United States v. Robinson

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 17, 2015



TERRENCE F. MCVERRY, Senior District Judge.

Pending before the Court is DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO SUPRESS PHYSICAL EVIDENCE WITH CITATION OF AUTHORITIES (ECF No. 27) filed by Kenyatta Robinson ("Defendant"). The motion has been extensively briefed, and the Court has held an evidentiary hearing. (ECF Nos. 35, 41, 44, 62, 65). Accordingly, the motion is ripe for disposition.

I. Background

A. Procedural History

On March 11, 2014, a grand jury returned a two-count indictment against Defendant, which charged him in Count One with possession with intent to distribute 280 grams or more of crack and in Count Two with possession with intent to distribute less than 500 grams of cocaine on November 1, 2013. On September 4, 2014, Defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence seized by Detective Sean Rattigan from the vehicle Defendant was driving on the date of his arrest. As this Court previously explained, Defendant made three separate but related claims in his motion:

First, Defendant alleges that Detective Rattigan searched the Tahoe immediately following his arrest without having probable cause to believe that evidence would be found. Second, he alleges that the Tahoe was seized and towed to Police Headquarters without probable cause. Third, he argues that the search of the Tahoe at Police Headquarters was invalid because the affidavit of probable cause contained several false statements of fact, without the inclusion of which probable cause would allegedly not have existed. Thus, Defendant requests that Court schedule an oral argument or a hearing on the motion and, furthermore, that the Court suppress "all fruits of the November 1, 2013 searches of, and seizures from the Chevrolet Tahoe."

Mem. Order of Nov. 20, 2014, at 4, ECF No. 45 (quoting Def.'s Mot. at 9, ECF No. 27). Briefing followed, with the parties focusing almost solely on the Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154 (1978) aspect of Defendant's motion. Thereafter, the Court issued a Memorandum Order, in which it refocused the issue away from the Franks aspect of the motion, explaining that any alleged defects in the warrant affidavit were irrelevant as long as there was probable cause, which would have allowed the police to search the Tahoe without a warrant under the automobile exception. Id. at 7-8. In that same Memorandum Order, the Court scheduled a suppression hearing so that it could resolve the key issue of fact raised by Defendant's motion - whether Detective Rattigan searched the Tahoe while it was parked on Lemington Avenue before being towed to Police Headquarters (i.e., what Defendant has described as a "free peek").

B. Findings of Fact

The Court conducted a suppression hearing on December 12, 2014, and December 15, 2014. The Court heard from several witnesses, two of whom, Detective Rattigan and Deputy Sheriff Richard Dwyer, were called by the government. Detective Rattigan has worked for the City of Pittsburgh Police Department since December 2001. Hr'g Tr. at at 26:1, ECF No. 55. He has been assigned to the FBI safe streets gang task force for a little over a year. Id. at 25:22-24, 26:10. He is also currently a member of the SWAT team. Id. at 26:9. He formerly worked as a patrol officer, as part of narcotics investigations, and as a member of the impact unit. Id. at 26:8-9. As of the date of the suppression hearing, Deputy Dwyer was a detective with the Allegheny County Sheriff's Department, assigned to the U.S. Marshals fugitive task force. Id. at 86:15-17. He had been employed with the Sheriff's Department for approximately 23 years and had been a member of the task force since 2012. Id. at 86:20. For his part, the Defendant called six witnesses to testify at the hearing: Cheryl Harrison, Defendant's mother; Alvin Burtch and Donald McCune, two men who were with Defendant at the time of his arrest; Jeanelle Cooper, Defendant's sister; Tara Snowden, a neighbor; and Angel Allen, Defendant's friend. Based on the testimony and evidence presented at the suppression hearing, the Court makes the following findings of fact relevant to the determination of Defendant's motion.

Defendant's mother lives at a residence located at 7013 Lemington Avenue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Id. at 10:1. Defendant's mother is the owner of a silver Chevrolet Tahoe with Pennsylvania registration JBM-7135. Id. at 9:18-21. She was not the primary driver of the Tahoe; rather, she considered "all [of her] kids" to be the primary drivers. Id. at 12:20-24. Essentially, the vehicle was at her house and whoever needed to use it, could use it. Id. at 13:13-15. Up to seven people, including Defendant, used the vehicle at any given time. Id. at 13:2-6. Defendant's mother "always" permitted Defendant to use the Tahoe, id. at 10:12, and he "drove it a lot, " id. at 16:12.

At some point prior to November 1, 2013, Defendant absconded from a halfway house where he had been staying as a condition of his parole on an unrelated criminal offense and began living with his mother. Id. at 14:21-25. After Defendant left the halfway house, a warrant was issued for his arrest, and the fugitive task force had been searching for him for some time. Id. at 15:11-13, 98:15-16. In the days leading up to November 1, 2013, Detective Rattigan received a tip from an informant regarding Defendant's whereabouts. Id. at 28:25-29:1-2. Based on the tip, it was believed that Defendant was at his mother's residence on Lemington Avenue. Id. at 88:16-17. As a result, on November 1, 2013, Detective Rattigan set up surveillance of Defendant's mother's residence. Id. at 29:19-21. Detective Rattigan was familiar with Defendant, having arrested him for an unrelated offense in the early 2000s. Id. at 29:6-9. During that arrest, Defendant fought with Detective Rattigan and drugs and firearms were seized from him. Id. at 29:10-12. Detective Rattigan was also familiar with Defendant's criminal history, including his record of prior felony drug convictions. Id. at 31:14-20.

At approximately 2:00 p.m. on November 1, 2013, Detective Rattigan parked his unmarked car down the block from 7013 Lemington Avenue. Id. at 33:14-21. Shortly after he arrived, Detective Rattigan observed the silver Tahoe parked across the street from Defendant's mother's residence. Id. at 32:20-21. Moments later, Detective Rattigan saw a man, later identified as Defendant, exit the porch of the residence and get into the Tahoe. Id. at 34:14-19, 34:23-25. Defendant then drove past Detective Rattigan's car, at which point Detective Rattigan was able to identify Defendant as the driver. Id. at 34:24-25-35:1-7.

Detective Rattigan followed Defendant down Lemington Avenue. Id. at 36:6-7. Meanwhile, he notified the fugitive task force of his observations. Id. at 36: 7-9. Defendant drove a few blocks to Laporte Street, exited the Tahoe, and entered an unspecified residence. Id. at 36:25-37:1. All the while, Rattigan maintained contact with members of the fugitive task force, updating them that Defendant was parked on Laporte Street and no longer in his vehicle. Id. at 36:23-25. About 15 to 20 minutes later, Defendant re-appeared. Id. at 36:13-19. Detective Rattigan did not actually see Defendant re-enter the Tahoe; he only saw the Tahoe "pull back up on Laporte Street, " at which point he called the fugitive task force to alert them that Defendant was on the move again. Id. at 38:14-17.

Defendant returned to Lemington Avenue and parked the Tahoe in front of 7009 Lemington Avenue, which is one house over from Defendant's mother's residence. Id. at 36:21-22, 40:3-4. Detective Rattigan followed the Tahoe back to Lemington Avenue, positioning himself on the side of the street opposite from the residence. Id. at 40:18-22. Detective Rattigan observed Defendant step out of the Tahoe and then, standing in the open driver's side door, reach toward the passenger side area and "mess[] with some... shopping bags." Id. at 41:3-6. Detective Rattigan then witnessed Defendant remove what appeared to be a small, white bag from the passenger side of the vehicle and place it in his right front pants pocket, before closing the door and walking into the front yard of 7013 Lemington Avenue. Id. at 41:6-9. Based on Defendant's prior history and the size, ...

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