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Commonwealth v. Williams

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

June 13, 2017

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA Appellant
v.
DION JERRY WILLIAMS

         Appeal from the Order Entered November 17, 2016 In the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-25-CR-0002101-2016

          BEFORE: LAZARUS, RANSOM, JJ., and STEVENS, P.J.E. [*]

          OPINION

          STEVENS, P.J.E.

         Appellant, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, appeals from the November 17, 2016, order granting the pre-trial suppression motion filed by Appellee, Dion Jerry Williams.[1] Following our careful review of the record and the law, we reverse the suppression order and remand for further proceedings consistent with this decision.

         Appellee was charged with three counts of possession with the intent to deliver a controlled substance ("PWID"), one count of possession of drug paraphernalia, and two counts of possession of a controlled substance.[2] On September 22, 2016, with the assistance of counsel, he filed an omnibus pre-trial motion seeking to suppress physical evidence seized by the police. On October 6, 2016, the matter proceeded to a suppression hearing, at which the Commonwealth presented the testimony of Erie Police Officers Steven Deluca, Ira Bush, and Jason Russell.[3]

         Specifically, Officer Steven Deluca, who is a seventeen year veteran of the Erie Police Department, testified that, on March 18, 2016, at approximately 11:00 p.m., he responded to a 911 call for a shooting at 1016 West 4th Street. N.T., 10/6/16, at 5. Upon arrival, he noticed there was "blood all over the sidewalk leading up to the side of [the] residence." Id. at 6. Officer Deluca followed the blood trail, discovering a dead pit bull, which had been shot numerous times, lying in the backyard, and blood "everywhere, " including outside the entry of the first floor apartment. Id. at 15-16. Officer Deluca proceeded to the second floor apartment and discovered a white male, who had been shot in the leg and face. Id. at 6. Officer Deluca and other responding police units checked the second floor apartment and surrounding backyard for other victims, as well as the shooter, and after finding neither, interviewed the neighbors. Id.

         A neighbor informed Officer Deluca that Appellee lived in the first floor apartment, and he saw one of Appellee's vehicles, a gray BMW, leaving the area at about the time of the shooting. Id. at 7-8. Officer Deluca looked in the windows of the first floor apartment and discovered that no one was home; he was then advised that the other vehicle associated with Appellee's apartment was gone. Id. at 9. Officer Deluca passed on the information to other patrol officers, and Appellee's gray BMW was later stopped by Officer Russell. Id.

         Appellee informed Officer Russell that he was staying at the Knights Inn with a male friend because of ongoing domestic issues with his girlfriend. Id. at 10. The Knights Inn is "just blocks from the shooting and traffic stop" locations. See Trial Court Opinion, filed 11/17/16, at 2. Appellee showed the officer a key card, indicated it was for room 111 of the Knights Inn, and informed the officer that he was in the room at the time of the shooting. N.T., 10/6/16, at 10.

         Based on this information, which was relayed to Officer Deluca, at approximately 12:30 a.m. on March 19, 2016, Officer Deluca went to room 111 of the Knights Inn, "banged on the door, " and said, "Erie police. Come out. We need to talk to you." Id. No one responded to Officer Deluca's knocking and announcing, so he tried the key card, which did not open room 111. Id. at 11.

         Officer Deluca proceeded to the front desk and was advised by the manager that the key card, which had been in Appellee's possession, was not for room 111. Id. The manager, who scanned the key card, indicated the key card was for room 231; however, the registry information related to the room "was missing or misplaced or never existed" such that the manager could not tell the officer who had rented or was occupying the room. Id. In comparison to room 111, room 231 was on the "complete opposite side of the motel, the second floor versus the first floor." Id. at 21. Believing that another victim from the shooting might be in room 231, Officer Deluca proceeded to the room. Id. at 12, 21.

         Officer Deluca knocked and announced his presence at room 231, but there was no response. Id. Accordingly, he used the key card and opened the door to room 231, at which time he smelled a strong odor of marijuana and observed in plain view a duffle bag with money sticking out of it, a clear Mason jar of marijuana, and a white powdery substance. Id. He did a quick, three second sweep of the room for people, retreated from the room empty-handed, telephoned the district attorney's office, and requested a search warrant for the room. Id. at 13. A search warrant was secured and executed upon the room. Id. at 14.

         On cross-examination, Officer Deluca clarified that, from the time he arrived at the Knights Inn until he opened room 231, approximately ten minutes had elapsed. Id. at 22. Officer Deluca admitted that, during this time, Appellee was in police custody; however, based on the address of the shooting, the description of Appellee's vehicle fleeing the scene, and "the totality of everything that was known to [him] at that exact time, " he believed an injured victim or participant was in the Knights Inn room. Id. at 23.

         Officer Deluca indicated that he requested Knights Inn employees gain access to the hotel's surveillance tapes before he entered room 231, but the employees were unable to do so. Id. at 24. He testified that he did not wait for a warrant at this point because "the exigent circumstance of going into that room was more prevalent than waiting for a warrant[.]" Id.

         Police Officer Ira Bush, a thirteen year veteran of the Erie Police Department, testified that he also responded to the 911 call for the shooting at issue. Id. at 27. He noticed "blood all over the place[, ]" a dog dying the backyard, and a man who had been shot in the face. Id. at 27-28. He looked in the windows of the first floor apartment and noticed it appeared as if the apartment had been vacated quickly with phone chargers and a ketchup bottle strewn about the floor. Id. at 28. Neighbors informed

         Officer Bush that Appellee, who lived in the first floor apartment, was "a drug dealer." Id. at 29. Officer Bush heard over the police radio that a neighbor informed the police that a vehicle fitting the description of Appellee's vehicle was seen "speeding away" from the scene "right after" the shooting. Id. at 35-36, 41.

         Officer Bush testified he responded to the Knights Inn with Officer Deluca and confirmed that the police spoke to the desk manager after the key card at issue did not open room 111. Id. at 38. He testified the desk manager scanned the key card and told the police the key card would open room 231 but not room 111. Id. at 39. The manager indicated that the hotel had no record or information as to who had rented the room; however, only one key card had been issued for the room. Id. at 30, 38-39. Further, the manager could not access the video surveillance system.

         Officer Jason Russell testified that he also responded to the 911 call for the shooting, and upon arrival, he observed the gunshot victim, one or two dead animals in the backyard, an "extensive amount of blood, and what appeared to be two separate types of projectiles, both slug rounds[.]" Id. at 45. Officer Russell indicated that neighbors informed the police that a vehicle matching Appellee's gray sedan was seen ...


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