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United States v. Warren

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

July 7, 2015



MARK R. HORNAK, District Judge.

On October 8, 2013, a federal grand jury indicted the Defendant, Atiba Warren, for possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. ECF No. 1. The charge arose out of a series of events which occurred on October 23, 2012 at 520 Lincoln Avenue in Pittsburgh ("Residence"). Mr. Warren has filed a Motion to Suppress Evidence. ECF No. 42. Based on this Court's review of the Motion, along with all filings in support and in opposition thereto, ECF Nos. 46; 78; 81; 82; 87; 88, the evidentiary hearing and oral argument conducted in open Court on March 3, 2015, ECF No. 73, and for the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion will be DENIED.[1]

As an initial matter, the Court finds and concludes[2] that Mr. Warren has established that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in 520 Lincoln Avenue such that he has standing to challenge the search. See ECF No. 42, at ΒΆΒΆ 1-2 (stating that Mr. Warren had two residences on the date in question, but that he slept, received mail, and stored his belongings at the Lincoln Avenue address); Hr'g Tr. at 7:17-8:11 (Estelle Hayes's testimony that she resided at 520 Lincoln Avenue on October 23, 2012 and that Mr. Warren resided there with her); id. at 11:22-12:10 (Estelle Hayes's testimony that Mr. Warren paid rent each month while living at the Residence); Def.'s Exs. I-K (mail addressed to Mr. Warren at 520 Lincoln Avenue). Based on the proffers of defense counsel in the initial motion and the evidence presented, the Court therefore concluded it was proper to proceed with conducting an evidentiary hearing on the suppression issues.

Testifying at the evidentiary hearing held on March 3, 2015 for the United States were Steven Sywyj and Lance Hoyson, two Pittsburgh Police Officers involved in arresting Mr. Warren. Witnesses called on behalf of the Defendant were Ms. Estelle Hayes, Mr. Warren's landlord on the date in question, and Mr. Travis Johnson, who in his profession at a company specializing in creating three-dimensional models of architectural structures, created a "virtual model" of the layout of the Residence.


The Court initially observes that there did not appear to be any direct contradictions among the various fact witnesses' testimony. Rather, each fact witness offered a unique viewpoint dealing with specific events of the evening that largely did not overlap (or where they overlapped, they were not inconsistent with one another). The testimony of Mr. Johnson, the Defense's expert witness, was presented to cast doubt on some of the factual observations of Officer Sywyj (who had experienced the scene firsthand), using three-dimensional modeling and animations that attempted to mimic the spacing, depth, and lighting conditions as they existed on October 23, 2012 at around 10:30 p.m. The Court will review Mr. Johnson's testimony in greater detail below, but first will recount and assess the testimony of the three fact witnesses.

A. Officer Sywyj's Testimony

On the night of October 23, 2012, Steven Sywyj, a Police Officer with the Pittsburgh Police Department, responded to a call at 520 Lincoln Avenue based on a report that a man had been stabbed. Hr'g Tr. at 21:15-19. Upon Officer Sywyj's arrival at what he described as a "chaotic" scene, [3] he found the "bloody" and "barely conscious" victim on the front porch of the Residence receiving aid from another man, later identified as DeShawn Weathers. Id. at 23:4-10; 24:14-17; 30:9-11. Medics arrived within a few minutes and removed the victim from the front porch, at which point Officer Sywyj turned his attention to Mr. Weathers. Id. at 24:4-17. Mr. Weathers asked Officer Sywyj's permission to go inside the Residence and speak with the family, and Officer Sywyj agreed, although he still needed to interview Mr. Weathers as a witness to the stabbing, and told him so. Id. at 24:19-25:16. Mr. Weathers then proceeded into the living room of the Residence to speak with those inside. Id. at 25:21-22.

According to Officer Sywyj, he stood at the "threshold of the [front] door, " which was wide open, [4] and watched Mr. Weathers speak with the family to confirm that Mr. Weathers did not attempt to leave the scene through the back door. Id. at 26:3-8; 32:14-16. As Mr. Weathers conversed with the family in the living room, Officer Sywyj witnessed another individual, later identified as the Defendant, "behind everybody, where everybody was, with a firearm, " which the Defendant held "in his right hand at chest level." Id. at 25:22-24; 26:17-18.[5] Later, Officer Sywyj testified in response to the Court's question, and using Defendant's Exhibit A-6 as a demonstrative aid, that while he stood at the threshold of the front door, he first saw Mr. Warren standing "within a couple feet of the archway" between the living room and dining room areas to the left of the fireplace. Id. at 168:13-169:1.

At that point, Officer Sywyj drew his own firearm, shouted "gun" to the other officers on the scene, and ordered everyone from the Residence. Id. at 26:1-2; 27:11-12. Officer Sywyj testified that Mr. Warren then "disappeared from one doorway and re-emerged a second or two later from a doorway further to the right, sans gun." Id. at 27:13-16. Officer Sywyj ordered Mr. Warren from the Residence, entered the Residence himself, and recovered the gun from "under a magazine on a table" behind the wall in between the two doorways.[6] Id. at 27:19-24. The firearm's serial number had been obliterated. Id. at 28:1-2. Because of that fact, Officer Sywyj requested that Mr. Warren be arrested. Id. at 29:24-30:4.

B. Officer Hoyson's Testimony

Officer Hoyson testified that the scenes at these types of police calls were normally chaotic, and that the scene at 520 Lincoln on October 23, 2012 was no exception. Id. at 45:8-9; 16-19. Officer Hoyson initially assisted medics in loading the stabbing victim into an ambulance and then remained on the scene to gather evidence about the stabbing. Id. at 46:5-10. He testified that he heard Officer Sywyj "alert other officers on scene that he saw someone with a gun inside the house." Id. at 46:12-14. Officer Sywyj then entered the Residence and ordered the occupants to go outside, while Officer Hoyson entered the Residence to "perform a protective sweep for any other occupants with Officer Sywyj." Id. at 46:16-18. Officer Hoyson testified that Officer Sywyj found the gun, and that he, Officer Hoyson, "could hear noises upstairs." Id. at 46:19. Believing people may still be upstairs, the Officers again ordered anyone in the Residence to exit. Id. at 46:19-22. Officer Hoyson and another officer then proceeded upstairs to find that a television set was turned on, which accounted for the noises heard from below. Id. at 46:23-47:1.

After realizing the noise had come from a television, Officer Hoyson left the Residence and joined Mr. Warren in the police car where he was detained. Id. at 47:3-4. Officer Hoyson testified that he "advised [Mr. Warren] of his Miranda rights, and interviewed him about the firearm." Id. at 47:4-5. Mr. Warren then made several statements, including that he bought the gun on the street with the serial numbers already filed off, and that he went and got his gun that night after hearing that his cousin had been stabbed. Id. at 47:6-15. On cross-examination, Officer Hoyson stated that he did not present Mr. Warren with any form ...

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