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United States v. King

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 9, 2017



          SYLVIA H. RAMBO United States District Judge.

         Before the court is Defendant's amended motion to suppress physical evidence seized by the police and statements made after his arrest. (Doc. 39). Specifically, Defendant moves to suppress the shotgun and other contraband seized from Apartment 4 of the apartment building located at 1250 Kittatinny Street, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, as well as the incriminating statements he made to police at the Harrisburg Hospital following his arrest. (Id.) After careful consideration, the court will deny Defendant's motion in its entirety.

         I. Background

         On November 2, 2016, Defendant Jerome King (“Defendant”) was charged in a two-count indictment with being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(e) (Count 1), and possession of an unregistered shotgun having a barrel length of less than eighteen inches and not identifiable by serial number, in violation of 26 U.S.C. §§ 5841, 5861(d), and 5871 (Count 2). (Doc. 1). Defendant entered a plea of not guilty to the charges on November 8, 2016. (Doc. 12).

         On January 13, 2017, Defendant filed a motion to suppress physical evidence and statements (Doc. 24), and later amended that motion to add an additional basis for suppression, (see Doc. 39). In the amended motion to suppress, Defendant argues that the police officers had no reasonable suspicion to detain him, lacked a legal basis to enter Apartment 4 and seize the shotgun, and lacked probable cause to arrest him without a warrant. (Doc. 39 at 2). He further contends that any statements he made at the hospital were in violation of Miranda, and any other contraband seized from the apartment after the comprehensive police search must be excluded as fruit of the poisonous tree due to the prior unlawful police conduct. (Id.)

         The Government filed a brief in opposition (Doc. 29) to Defendant's motion to suppress on January 27, 2017, and a brief in opposition (Doc. 52) to his amended motion to suppress on April 7, 2017. In its briefing, the Government primarily argues that (1) Defendant's initial detainment was supported by reasonable suspicion; (2) the warrantless shotgun seizure was supported by an exception to the warrant requirement; (3) the warrantless arrest of Defendant was lawful because it was based on probable cause that he had committed a felony; and (4) Defendant's post-arrest statements are admissible because one of the statements was not the product of interrogation and therefore Miranda is inapplicable, and because, for any statement to which Miranda does apply, Defendant was advised of his Miranda rights, validly waived those rights, and made voluntary statements.

         The court held an evidentiary hearing on the motion on April 11, 2017. Following the hearing, the court permitted the parties to file supplemental briefing on their respective positions. Defendant filed his supplemental brief on May 4, 2017, (Doc. 61), and the Government filed its supplemental brief on May 15, 2017, (Doc. 63). Defendant filed a second supplemental brief on June 5, 2017, (Doc. 73), and the Government filed a brief in response on June 8, 2017, (Doc. 74). The matter is now ripe for disposition.

         II. Findings o Fact[1]

         Harrisburg Bureau of Police Corporal Brian Henry (“Corporal Henry”), Corporal Scott Johnsen (“Corporal Johnsen”), Patrol Officer Brent Roadcap (“Officer Roadcap”), and Patrol Officer Jeremy Crist (“Officer Crist”), testified on behalf of the Government regarding the circumstances surrounding Defendant's arrest and the search of Apartment 4 at 1250 Kittatinny Street. Those circumstances are as follows.

         On July 6, 2016, at approximately 4:20 p.m., Corporal Henry responded to a police dispatch regarding a 911 call reporting that a man in the area of 1250 Kittatinny Street was brandishing a shotgun and threatening people in the vicinity. (Doc. 67, Tr. of Hr'g on Mot. to Suppress [hereinafter “Doc. 67”], at 5, 47). This area is located in the Allison Hill neighborhood of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, which Corporal Henry and Corporal Johnsen both described as a high crime area that produces frequent police calls, often regarding firearms and drugs. (Doc. 67 at 5, 46-47). The identified 911 caller explained that the man with the shotgun was a neighbor, describing him as “a black male in his 20's to 30's . . . wearing a black and white baseball hat, no shirt, black shorts, and black, red, and white sneakers.” (Id. at 5-6, 18; see also Id. at 62 (including in the caller's description that the shoe brand was “Nike”)).

         Corporal Henry was the first officer on the scene, and, while waiting nearby in his car for backup, observed a male matching the 911-caller description. (Id. at 7). When Corporal Johnsen arrived, the two officers drove towards 1250 Kittatinny Street from opposite directions, and as they pulled up the male matching the 911-caller description ran up the fire escape attached to 1250 Kittatinny Street and entered the building. (Id. at 7-8, 48). Neither officer observed a weapon on the male suspect at that time. (Id. at 20, 55). Upon exiting their vehicles, the officers saw a woman emerge from the same building, who identified herself as Shawnelle Robinson. (Id. at 8). They asked Ms. Robinson who the man was that had just run into the building. (Id.) When she responded “Jerome, ” the officers asked Ms. Robinson to summon “Jerome” out of the apartment, which she did. (Id.) When the male-later identified as Jerome King-emerged from the building he was putting on a shirt. (Id. at 8, 48).

         As soon as King exited the building and walked down the stairs, Corporal Johnsen patted him down for weapons but did not find any. (Id. at 48-49). Corporal Johnsen then had King sit and wait on the steps at the bottom of the fire escape. (Id. at 49). Corporal Henry testified that during this initial contact with King and Ms. Robinson, he had observed several small children-all under the age of six-standing on the fire-escape landing and looking fearful, and that the children had eventually gone back inside the building. (Id. at 8-9, 11, 49). Corporal Henry decided to enter the building to make sure the children were not in danger and to check for weapons on the fire escape landing and inside the doorway. (Id. at 11). He took the same path up the fire escape and into the building that King had originally taken when the officers had first arrived on the scene. (Id. at 11-12).

         Upon entering the apartment building through the open door to the fire escape, Corporal Henry saw a hallway with a staircase and two apartment doors: the door to Apartment 3, which was facing the fire-escape entrance and a little to the left, was closed; the door to Apartment 4, which was to the right of the fire-escape entrance, was open. (Id. at 12; Government's Ex. 3). While standing in the common hallway, he looked into Apartment 4 through its open door and saw the same children inside the apartment “huddled together” and “still look[ing] like they were scared.” (Doc. 67 at 12-13). Also through the open apartment door, Corporal Henry observed a partially covered shotgun lying on a piece of furniture directly inside the apartment doorway. (Id. at 14). Upon seeing the shotgun, he radioed down to Corporal Johnsen the code “1015, ” indicating that King should be taken into custody. (Id.) Corporal Henry then entered Apartment 4 and retrieved the shotgun.[2] (Id.)

         After Corporal Henry had secured the shotgun in the trunk of his patrol vehicle, he sought written consent from Ms. Robinson to search Apartment 4. (Id. at 16). She consented in writing to the search. (Id. at 17). The officers found and seized approximately $800 in cash, several bags of synthetic marijuana, shotgun ammunition, small sandwich baggies, and rubber bands. (Id.)

         In the meantime, immediately upon receiving the 1015 code from Corporal Henry, Corporal Johnsen attempted to handcuff King, but King pulled away from the officer's grasp and started running. (Id. at 49-50). Corporal Johnsen gave chase, providing multiple commands to stop and multiple “ta[s]er commands.” (Id. at 51). When King failed to respond to the commands, Corporal Johnsen tased him, with the taser prongs lodging in the middle of King's back and in the back of his head. (Id.) King fell to the ground and suffered significant injuries, [3] at which time the officers handcuffed him and called for an ambulance. (Id. at 51-52). King was taken to Harrisburg Hospital in the custody of Officer Crist. (Id. at 53, 66).

         Officer Crist accompanied King in the ambulance to the hospital, and testified that King had responded coherently to the medics' questions during the trip. (Id. at 66-67). Upon arrival at the hospital and placement in an emergency room (“Red Room 20”), Officer Crist informed King that he was under arrest, and that he was a prisoner receiving medical attention. (Id. at 67). He also provided King with Miranda warnings, and King responded that he understood his Miranda rights. (Id.)

         King was “agitated and restless” upon admission to the hospital. (Def.'s Ex. 212 at ¶ 000243-44; Doc. 67 at 79). Due to his agitated condition and the need for a CT scan, he was given “2 mg of Ativan for sedation.” (Def.'s Ex. 212 at 000244-45; Doc. 67 at 80). The treating nurse testified that Ativan can cause “drowsiness” and “sleepiness, ” (Doc. 67 at 80), and that he would not recommend the operation of heavy machinery or the execution of a contract if one experienced those effects, (id.).

         Following this initial treatment, King was taken for a CT scan with Officer Crist accompanying him, after which they returned to Red Room 20. (Id. at 68). Officer Crist was then informed by Corporal Johnsen of the charges against King. (Id. at 69). Sometime thereafter, King asked Officer Crist what his charges were. (Id. at 69, 76). Officer Crist advised King of the charges of which he was aware, including possession of a firearm. (Id.) King then told Officer Crist, “I knew I had no business with that gun.” (Id. at 70). Officer Crist told King he did not have to discuss the matter, and again reminded King of his Miranda rights. (Id.) Officer Crist then asked King if he owned the shotgun, and King replied that he did not own it. (Id.) King also questioned Officer Crist regarding where the gun was found, and Officer Crist told him it was found in Apartment 4, to which King responded that the police had no business being in his apartment. (Id.)

         Officer Crist also informed King that synthetic marijuana was found in the apartment, and King initially denied that it was his. (Id. at 71) Upon further questioning regarding the identity of the other apartment residents, King admitted that it was his synthetic marijuana. (Id.)

         III. Discussion

         In his motion to suppress, Defendant argues that the physical evidence recovered from his residence (Apartment 4), as well as the statements he made to Officer Crist at the hospital, were obtained in violation of his Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights and must be suppressed.

         “On a motion to suppress, the government bears the burden of showing that each individual act constituting a search or seizure under the Fourth Amendment was reasonable.” United States v. Ritter,416 F.3d 256, 261 (3d Cir. 2005) (citation omitted). The applicable burden of proof is by a preponderance of the ...

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