United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
H. Rambo United States District Judge.
before the court is Defendant DeAngelo Letterlough's
(“Defendant”) second motion to reconsider this
court's prior order denying his motion to suppress
evidence resulting from an allegedly illegal stop of
Defendant's vehicle. Specifically, Defendant argues that
a police report that was not originally disclosed to counsel
during discovery demonstrates that the traffic stop that
justified the search of Defendant's vehicle was invalid.
For the reasons that follow, Defendant's motion will be
background of this matter was set forth in detail in this
court's prior memorandum dated October 23, 2018 (Doc. 38,
) and need not be reiterated here in detail. The relevant
factual background to dispose of Defendant's motion for
reconsideration is as follows: On April 4, 2018, Defendant
was charged via indictment with three offenses: (1)
possession with the intent to distribute cocaine base, in
violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841 (a)(1); (2) felon in
possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §
922(g); and (3) possession of a firearm in furtherance of
drug trafficking, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c).
Defendant pleaded not guilty to all charges on April 10,
2018. On June 29, 2018, Defendant filed a motion to suppress,
and an evidentiary hearing thereon was held on August 29,
2018. At the evidentiary hearing, two witnesses were
presented: Officer Chad McGowan, the officer who conducted
the allegedly illegal search, and Defendant. Upon
consideration of that testimony, this court denied the motion
to suppress. (Doc. 39.)
November 21, 2017, Officer McGowan, a member of the
Harrisburg City Police Department (“HPD”), was
participating in a joint investigation in the city of
Harrisburg with the Pennsylvania Attorney General
Office's Bureau of Narcotics, the Dauphin County
Sheriff's Office, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and
Firearms (“ATF”). The investigation team was
executing an arrest warrant on an individual suspected of
drug trafficking. That same day, Defendant happened to be
driving down the street where the investigation team was
conducting surveillance and pulled his car to the side of the
road to speak with an old friend that he saw walking down the
street. Officer McGowan testified that Defendant left the
parking space without signaling, although Defendant testified
that he did signal before entering traffic. After identifying
Defendant's vehicle travelling in the opposite direction
on South 13th Street, Officer McGowan pulled, head-on, in
front of Defendant's vehicle.
brief altercation, officers performed a search of Defendant
and the vehicle, which resulted in the discovery of,
inter alia, sandwich baggies filled with marijuana.
At this point, the officers placed Defendant under arrest.
Officer McGowan issued Defendant a traffic citation pursuant
to 75 Pa. Code § 3334 for pulling out of a parking space
without signaling. Defendant argues now, as he did in his
original motion to suppress, that Officer McGowan had no
basis to stop, search, and, eventually, arrest Defendant
because he did not witness Defendant commit any traffic
violations that would have justified the initial traffic
Fourth Amendment protects citizens from “unreasonable
searches and seizures” of their “persons, houses,
papers, and effects.” U.S. Const. Amend. IV; Katz
v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 360 (1967). “As a
general matter, the decision to stop an automobile is
reasonable where the police have probable cause to believe
that a traffic violation has occurred.” Whren v.
United States, 517 U.S. 806');">517 U.S. 806, 810 (1996). “It is
well-established that a traffic stop is lawful under the
Fourth Amendment where a police officer observes a violation
of the state traffic regulations.” United States v.
Moorefield, 111 F.3d 10, 12 (3d Cir. 1997). The Third
Circuit has explained the permissive standard under which an
officer may stop and search a vehicle when the officer has a
reasonable suspicion of a traffic violation:
When one peruses the traffic-stop suppression caselaw, one is
struck by how rarely a traffic stop is found to have been
illegal. In Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806');">517 U.S. 806 
(1996), the Supreme Court established a bright-line rule that
any technical violation of a traffic code legitimizes a stop,
even if the stop is merely pretext for an investigation of
some other crime. And once a car has been legally stopped,
the police may “escalate” the encounter by
visually inspecting the interior of the car, and checking
credentials and asking questions of the occupants. . . .
Courts give considerable deference to police officers'
determinations of reasonable suspicion . . . and the cases
are steadily increasing the constitutional latitude of the
police to pull over vehicles.
United States v. Mosley, 454 F.3d 249, 252 (3d Cir.
2006) (internal citation omitted); see also United States
v. Smith, No. 18-cr-93, 2018 WL 4207152, *2 (E.D. Pa.
Sept. 4, 2018) (“Therefore, Officer['s] stop-even
if based on the ulterior motive of finding a suspected
shooter-was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.”).
As discussed in this court's prior memorandum, the only
relevant issue is whether Officer McGowan had a reason,
pretextual or not, to initiate the traffic stop.
now argues that a police report issued by another officer at
the scene of the traffic stop, Sergeant Meik, directly
contradicts and refutes the testimony of Officer McGowan. The
relevant portion of Sergeant Meik's report is as follows:
At 1559 hours, the take down units were radioed to go ahead
for the take down. I traveled north on Honey Street and then
cut east towards Evergreen Street. As I moved towards the
location where Pearsall-Hawkins was being taken into custody,
I heard radio communication mention a blue in color Honda CRV
that Pearsall-Hawkins met with prior to the delivery of the
narcotics. This vehicle, which was later learned to be a 2006
blue Honda CRV bearing Pennsylvania registration
“JCP-9304” pulled away from the curb and started
to travel northbound on Evergreen Street. I immediately
noticed this vehicle as it approached Chestnut Street. I then
heard radio communication state the vehicle was believed to
be his supplier. I radioed back to the other units to make
sure they wanted me to stop this vehicle based on furthering
this drug investigation, which the answer was they did want
the vehicle stopped.
(Doc. 60, Ex. A.) Defendant argues that Sergeant Meik's
failure to mention the traffic violation directly refutes
Officer McGowan's testimony that he witnessed Defendant
commit a traffic violation. Specifically, Defendant points to
the phrase “to make sure they wanted me to stop this
vehicle based on furthering this drug
investigation” as evidence that the stop was
unlawful. The court rejects this analysis.
discussed in Mosley, it is irrelevant what the
officers' internal motivations for conducting the traffic
stop may have been. Even if the true reason for the stop was
”furthering this drug investigation, ” that alone
does not invalidate the traffic stop. Officer Meik's
statement did not mention the traffic violation, but it did
not need to do so. Officer Meik did not witness the violation
and had no need to record it in his report. Moreover, he had
no need to know that such a violation even occurred. Pursuant
to the analysis set forth in Mosley, so long as a
violation actually occurred, the traffic stop based on that
violation was proper. See Mosley, 454 F.3d at 252;
Smith, 2018 WL 4207152 at *2. The court previously
found that Officer McGowan witnessed a traffic violation and
pursued Defendant on that theory. The court made no findings
as to any ulterior motives he may have had, nor does the
court need to do so. Officer McGowan credibly testified ...