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Commonwealth v. Parker

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

May 1, 2017

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
DONTE LAMAR PARKER Appellant

         Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence April 27, 2016 in the Court of Common Pleas of Lancaster County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-36-CR-0005814-2014 CP-36-CR-0005837-2014

          BEFORE: LAZARUS, RANSOM, and FITZGERALD, [*] JJ.

          OPINION

          FITZGERALD, J.

         Appellant, Donte Lamar Parker, appeals from the judgment of sentence entered in the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas following his convictions for possession of a controlled substance with the intent to deliver ("PWID"), [1] criminal use of a communication facility[2] and criminal conspiracy.[3] Appellant challenges the trial court's order denying his motion to suppress information that he provided to police officers during an encounter on the street on August 1, 2014. We reverse the order denying suppression.

          On November 20, 2014, Appellant was arrested for committing drug-related offenses on June 24, 2014 and July 17, 2014. The Commonwealth filed (1) an information at No. 5814-2014 charging Appellant with committing PWID and criminal use of a communication facility on June 24, 2014, and (2) an information at No. 5837-2014 charging Appellant with committing PWID, criminal conspiracy and criminal use of a communication facility on July 17, 2014. Subsequently, the trial court granted the Commonwealth's motion to consolidate both informations for trial.

         Prior to trial, Appellant filed a motion to suppress evidence that police officers obtained during an encounter on the street with Appellant on August 1, 2014.[4] Mot. to Suppress, 7/17/15. On February 1, 2016, the trial court held an evidentiary hearing and denied the motion.

         The trial court did not enter findings of fact and conclusions of law at the conclusion of the suppression hearing, but it found the following facts in its Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a) opinion:[5]

On June 24, 2014, Officer James Hagy was the secondary surveillance officer for a "buywalk" operation[1] in the first block of West James Street in the City of Lancaster. The primary surveillance officer that day was Officer James Boas. Officer Hagy testified that the target of the investigation was a dealer that went by the street name of "Heart". Officer Boas radioed to his fellow officers the following description of the target that was received from the undercover officer involved in the drug buy: "black male, dreadlock style hair, wearing an orange shirt, [and] camo shorts." Officer Hagy testified that he then observed the individual leaving the location where the buy occurred, and noticed that he walked with a limp or "unique gait".
[1]0fficer Hagy described a "buy-walk" operation as one where the police utilize an undercover police officer and sometimes a confidential informant to go out and make street-level drug buys. After that buy, the individual that sold drugs to the undercover or the informant is allowed to leave and is identified at a later time, whether it's using investigatory means with cameras, researching databases with different addresses, phone numbers, et cetera. As an absolute last resort, they are stopped and identified.
On August 1, 2014, Officer Hagy was parked in a police van at the McDonald's parking lot on West King Street in the City of Lancaster when he observed the individual from June 24, 2014, whom he knew by the street name "Heart". Officer Hagy was "100 percent positive that [this man] was the same individual" he had observed on June 24th. Because "Heart" was the subject of an ongoing felony drug investigation by the Selective Enforcement Unit, Officer Hagy instructed Officer Boas, who was on bike patrol at the time, to stop the individual.
Officer Boas testified that on August 1, 2014, at approximately 10:00 p.m., he was on bike patrol in the vicinity of the McDonald's on West King Street. Officer Boas was informed by Officer Hagy at that time that their target, known on the street as "Heart, " was observed walking from the McDonald's parking lot east on West King Street. Officer Boas followed this individual for a short time and then stopped him at the corner of Prince and King Streets. As a pretext for stopping him, Officer Boas testified that he told the individual "there was a disturbance at McDonald's and he was a part of the disturbance." Officer Boas asked for the man's name, date of birth, address, telephone number and Social Security number because the suspect did not have any identification on him at the time. After the suspect's identity was confirmed, he was released. At all times, the suspect was cooperative and provided the information requested of him. The detention lasted no longer than five minutes. Officer Boas conceded on cross-examination that the sole purpose for the stop was to identify the suspect for purposes of their felony drug investigation.

Trial Ct. Op., 7/18/16, at 5-7 (with minor grammatical revisions and record citations omitted). These findings of fact are accurate except for one omission. Officer Boas did not stop Appellant by himself on August 1, 2014. Instead, both Officer Boas and Officer Mease stopped Appellant by stationing their bicycles in front of him. N.T. Suppression Hr'g, 2/1/16, at 29-30.

         Appellant moved to suppress the information that he gave Officer Boas on August 1, 2014, i.e., his name, date of birth, address, telephone number and Social Security number, on the grounds that Officer Boas (1) lacked reasonable suspicion to detain Appellant, and (2) gave a pretextual reason for stopping Appellant. Id. at 3-4. Following an evidentiary hearing, the trial court found that Officer Boas had reasonable suspicion to stop Appellant and denied Appellant's motion. Id. at 37.

         On February 2, 2016, a jury found Appellant guilty of all charges. The trial court sentenced Appellant on April 27, 2016 to an aggregate term of sixteen months' to three years' imprisonment followed by two years' probation. On May 27, 2016, Appellant timely appealed. Both Appellant and the trial court complied with Pa.R.A.P. 1925.

         Appellant raises one issue in this appeal, a challenge to the evidence obtained from him on August 1, 2014:

Did the trial court err in denying [Appellant's] Motion to Suppress, where police subjected him to an investigative detention without reasonable suspicion that he was involved ...

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