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United States v. Parker

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 8, 2017



          Kane Judge

         Before the Court is Defendant Saquan Parker's amended motion to suppress. (Doc. No. 25.) For the following reasons, the Court will grant Defendant's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On August 18, 2015, Detective Donald Cairns of the Susquehanna Township Police Department received a call from Chris Polkinghorn, the owner of a store named “We Buy Gold” and a longtime acquaintance of Detective Cairns. (Tr. at 4: 15-20; 5: 2-17.) The “We Buy Gold” store is located in Susquehanna Township, Pennsylvania and is in the business of buying and selling electronics, jewelry, and various goods “of that nature.” (Tr. at 4: 15-20; 5: 2-4, 12-15.) Polkinghorn told Detective Cairns that earlier in the day, according to a female employee, two individuals visited his “We Buy Gold” store and wanted to sell firearms. (Tr. at 5: 23-24; 6: 1-4; 7: 9-14.) The employee had called Polkinghorn earlier that day and informed him that she “was very uncomfortable with the situation.” (Tr. at 6: 2-7.) Polkinghorn was in Philadelphia at the time the two individuals visited the store.

         The employee also reportedly asked the individuals to return later that day when Polkinghorn might be present. (Tr. at 6: 3-7.) Polkinghorn informed Detective Cairns that he had the cellphone number of one of the individuals, shared his intention to schedule a time for the individuals to return, and asked whether the police could be present when the individuals returned to the “We Buy Gold” store.[1] (Tr. at 6: 8-13; 7: 1-8.) According to Detective Cairns' testimony, “[D]ue to the - just the uncomfortable feeling that the female [employee] had, [Polkinghorn] wanted the police to get involved. He wasn't sure exactly what was going on with the sale of these firearms, so he notified us.”[2] (Tr. at 6: 10-13.) Based on Polkinghorn's suspicions, Detective Cairns arranged for additional officers to be in the area. (Tr. at 14: 21-25; 15: 1-17; 48: 1-8.)

         Later that afternoon, Detective Cairns received another call from Polkinghorn, notifying him that two individuals had arrived at the “We Buy Gold” store in a sports utility vehicle (“SUV”). (Tr. at 8: 4-9.) Detective Cairns and Sergeant Aaron Osman drove in an unmarked car to the store, pulled into the alley behind the store, and watched Polkinghorn, Defendant Parker and Jordan Keys standing near a SUV with its hatch open. (Tr. at 8: 13-16; 9: 6-9; 16: 8-10; 18: 11-25; 19: 1-15; 48 at 22-23.) Detective Cairns and Sergeant Osman were dressed in plain clothes and began to approach the SUV.[3] (Tr. at 8: 9-10; 16.) By the time the officers and Defendant Parker made eye-contact, Keys had closed the SUV's hatch and started to run. (Tr. at 8: 18-20; 20: 1-17.) Sergeant Osman chased after Keys. (Tr. at 10: 9-15; 16: 8-13.)

         Detective Cairns then rushed to Defendant Parker, immediately placed him in handcuffs, conducted a pat-down of the Defendant, and directed Defendant to sit handcuffed in the backseat of the police car with the door open.[4] (Tr. at 10: 23-25; 11: 1-6; 16: 14-23; 17: 2-6.) At the time Defendant was handcuffed, Detective Cairns had not asked him for his name or inquired into whether he had a firearm license. (Tr. at 16: 22-25; 17: 1-6; 23: 22-25; 24: 1-6; 50 at 2-6.) Detective Cairns testified that “[we] knew that there were more than likely guns involved in this situation, so for my safety, I put him in handcuffs and advised him, you know, as such. And he was fine, he was very cooperative with that.” (Tr. at 10: 25; 11: 1-3.) At some point after handcuffing Defendant Parker, Detective Cairns looked into the back of the closed SUV and observed firearms inside the SUV. (Tr. at 10: 25; 11: 1-3, 11-13; 25: 25; 26: 1.)

         While sitting handcuffed in the backseat of the police car, Detective Cairns informed Defendant that he saw guns in the SUV. (Tr. 11: 15-22.) Defendant responded by discussing how Keys and Defendant intended to sell the guns, which Keys had obtained, to either Polkinghorn or members of a motorcycle gang. (Tr. at 11: 4-7, 20-25; 12: 1-5; 25: 4-8; 28 at 1-2.) Detective Cairns testified that Defendant continued to talk and even permitted him to search Defendant's person. (Tr. at 12: 6-13.) Detective Cairns discovered a small bag of cocaine in Defendant's pocket. (Tr. at 12: 11-13; 34: 5-7.) Detective Cairns then informed Defendant that he was under arrest for possession of drugs. (Tr. at 12: 14-15.) The record is not clear at what point Detective Cairns inquired into Defendant's record or determined that Defendant Parker was a felon. (Tr. at 13: 5-15.) The SUV was later towed, a search warrant was obtained, and several stolen rifles were discovered in the SUV. (Tr. at 13: 15-20; 25: 25; 26: 1.)

         On April 13, 2016, Defendant Parker was indicted by a grand jury on three counts: (Count 1) felon in possession of firearm, 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1), 924(e); (Count 2) possession of stolen firearm, 18 U.S.C. § 922(j); and (Count 3) conspiracy to commit offense against the United States, 18 U.S.C. § 922(j). (Doc. No. 1.) Defendant entered a plea of not guilty on October 4, 2016. (Doc. No. 13.) On November 4, 2016, Defendant filed a motion to suppress all evidence resulting from the allegedly unlawful detention and illegal arrest on August 18, 2015. (Doc. No. 20.) Defendant filed an amended motion to suppress on November 23, 2016 (Doc. No. 25), along with a supporting brief (Doc. No. 26). The Government filed its brief in opposition on January 11, 2017 (Doc. No. 29).

         On January 30, 2016, the Court conducted a suppression hearing. (Doc. Nos. 34, 39.) Detective Cairns, Sergeant Osman, and Defendant Parker testified to the events surrounding his arrest on August 18, 2015. (Id.) After the hearing, Defendant submitted a supplemental brief. (Doc. Nos. 35.) The Government filed a supplemental brief on February 23, 2017. (Doc. No. 39.) Defendant's motion to suppress is now ripe for disposition.


         The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the public against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” U.S. Const. Amend. IV. “Generally, for a seizure to be reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, it must be effectuated with a warrant based on probable cause.” United States v. Robertson, 305 F.3d 164, 167 (3d Cir. 2002) (citing Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 356-57 (1967)). “Under the exception to the warrant requirement established in Terry, however, an officer may, consistent with the Fourth Amendment, conduct a brief, investigatory stop when the officer has a reasonable, articulable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot.” United States v. Torres, 534 F.3d 207, 210 (3d Cir. 2008) (internal quotations omitted). “Any evidence obtained pursuant to an investigatory stop (also known as a ‘Terry stop' or a ‘stop and frisk') that does not meet this exception must be suppressed as ‘fruit of the poisonous tree.'” Id. (quoting United States v. Brown, 448 F.3d 239, 244 (3d Cir. 2006)).


         In his motion to suppress, Defendant moves the Court to suppress the evidence found in the SUV and his statements as the fruit of an unconstitutional seizure. (Doc. Nos. 25 ¶¶ 5, 7; 26 at 5.) Specifically, Defendant Parker argues that Detective Cairns lacked reasonable suspicion or probable cause to detain him.[5] (Doc. No. 26 at 5; see Doc. No. 35 at 5-7.) The Government maintains that the officers conducted a lawful investigatory stop of Defendant - based on reasonable, articulable suspicions - and that after Detective Cairns found cocaine on Defendant or ...

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