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States v. Boyer

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 6, 2019



          BAYLSON, J.

         I. Introduction

         In this case involving allegations of conspiracy to traffic drugs, three of the nine defendants-Amir Boyer, Hans Gadson, and Dennis Harmon (collectively, “Defendants”)-have moved the Court for an order suppressing evidence seized during a search of a residence located at 3234 N. Sydenham Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (ECF 159, 215, 260, 295). For the following reasons, the Motions to Suppress will be DENIED.

         II. Facts and Procedural History A. The Shooting

         On September 11, 2017, members of the Philadelphia Police Department responded to a shooting on the 2700 block of North 22nd Street in Philadelphia around 5:40 P.M. A male victim was transported to the hospital where he was later pronounced dead, and several inconsistent reports were made about the description of the shooter and a potential getaway vehicle. Detective Justin Falcone interviewed a security guard from an adjacent grocery store. The security guard, who heard but did not see the shooting, reported seeing a black male in a white t-shirt “hurriedly walk to a white SUV and exit the area” after the shooting occurred. (ECF 283, “5/30/19 Hearing Tr., ” at 10:5-9, 14:3-5, 34:7-8). Although he also mentioned a black male in a red t-shirt who was across the street, the security guard reported that he did not believe that man was involved in the shooting. (Id. at 14:5-8). He then gave Detective Falcone a piece of paper with a Pennsylvania license plate number written on it, which he said he obtained from a patron of the grocery store who could connect that license plate number to the white SUV in question. (Id. at 10:9-12). The patron himself was not identified or interviewed by police, and Detective Falcone did not speak to anyone who actually saw the shooting. (Id. at 10:13-16, 34:3-35:20, 39:1-5). Although Detective Falcone had the capability of listening to radio broadcasts and to call the persons manning 911 calls to obtain information regarding potential suspects, he did not hear any such broadcasts reporting that the shooter was wearing a dark gray sweat suit, that the shooter fled in a burgundy Jeep, or that the shooter fled in a blue sedan. (Id. at 32:18-33:14).

         Officer Charles Rillera, who also responded to the scene, reported interviewing an additional ten to fifteen people, but did not feel that any of them gave credible statements. None of the additional interviewees provided a description of the shooter or a potential getaway vehicle. (Id. at 58:19-59:3). Officer Rillera testified that he was aware of multiple conflicting broadcasts reporting descriptions of the shooter or shooters, including a report of a burgundy Jeep as the getaway vehicle. (Id. at 94:14-95:3).

         B. The House

         The license plate number obtained by Detective Falcone was broadcast over police radio and the Police Department's citywide band. (Id. at 10:19-21). Officer Rillera received the broadcast while in his squad car and ran the reported license plate number through a Bureau of Motor Vehicles database. (Id. at 60:6-16). The license plate belonged to a white Jeep Cherokee that was registered to Abdul West at 3234 N. Sydenham Street, Philadelphia. (Id. at 60:18-19). Officer Rillera then drove to that location with his partner, arriving at approximately 6:46 P.M. (Id. at 60:20-61:14). The white Jeep Cherokee with the reported license plate number was parked on the block, and Officer Rillera stopped to investigate. A crowd of people in front of 3234 N. Sydenham Street then dispersed. None of the people matched the description of the shooter. (Id. at 61:22-63:4). Officer Rillera determined that no one was inside or outside the Jeep that would pose a danger to the public or his fellow officers. (Id. at 63:19-24). However, he remained on scene to search the immediate area for physical evidence that might be related to the homicide. (Id. at 64:4-17).[1] Other officers eventually arrived on scene. (Id. at 65:13-19). One of those officers found a set of keys on the ground that belonged to the white Jeep in question. (Id. at 22:15-18; 72:7-12). At 7:20 P.M., Detective Falcone drove down the block with the security guard who gave him the license plate number. (Id. at 15:13-18). He did so to allow the security guard to identify the Jeep Cherokee as the white SUV he saw leaving the scene of the shooting. (Id. at 15:16-16:20).

         At some point, Harmon exited the home at 3234 N. Sydenham Street and walked across the street. (Id. at 65:22-66:2). It is unclear whether any of the officers saw Harmon exit the property, though they noted him walk across the street and then return to its porch. (Id. at 65:24- 66:7). Upon his return, the officers began to question Harmon. (Id. at 66:5-7). He told them that he lived at the residence alone and that he did not know who owned the white Jeep Cherokee registered to that address. (Id. at 69:11-15, 70:3-12). Harmon was never handcuffed or placed under arrest, and he was eventually transported to the Philadelphia Homicide Division for further questioning. (Id. at 70:13-20, 86:20-22). Officer Rillera and his partner remained on the scene. (Id. at 86:21-24).

         C. The Warrantless Entry

         Detective Falcone and another detective arrived at 3234 N. Sydenham Street at 7:50 P.M. that same evening. (Id. at 86:25-87:4). Detective Falcone informed the officers that the home was being held for a search warrant and learned that the officers had not yet entered the home. (Id. at 87:10-19). The officers determined that they should “clear” or “sweep” the property at that time.[2] (Id. at 88:2-6). Officer Rillera testified that, prior to entering the property, “everything was under control” and admitted that he did not express any concern that the shooter was in the house. (Id. at 105:15-21). Although various officers had been present outside the property in the proceeding two hours, (id. at 110:13-20), no one suggested that they secure the inside of the home before Detective Falcone arrived. (Id. at 110:21-23).

         Four law enforcement officers, Detectives Falcon and Sweeny and Officers Rillera and Nelson, then entered the premises, and exited at approximately 8 P.M. (Id. at 88:5-6, 118:6-9). No. one was discovered inside, but Detective Falcone testified that marijuana, narcotics, and items related to narcotics were in plain view as the officers secured the inside of the premises. (Id. at 26:13-27:11). He relayed this information to Detective Brian Peters of the Homicide Division. (Id. at 31:12-16).

         Officer Rillera admitted that he reentered the home one time to secure the back door after securing the premises. (Id. at 120:23-121:1). Other than that, although poll camera video shows the officers walking up to the porch and remaining out of view for periods of time following the initial entry, (Id. at 126:18-127:12), it is unclear from the video or testimony that anyone reentered the front door of the home after the sweep was concluded, and prior to receiving a warrant.[3]

         D. The 2017 Warrant

         Detective Peters then gathered all the various pieces of information collected by the officers and other detectives and relayed it to Detective Joseph Centeno, who acted as the affiant for a search warrant of 3234 N. Sydenham Street. (Id. at 141:17-142:12, 143:18-20, 164:19-165:1). Detective Peters did not tell Detective Centeno that there was a report of a burgundy vehicle fleeing the scene of the shooting, or that a blue Impala had been seen leaving the scene of the shooting. (Id. at 156:17-24, 161:8-19).[4] This information was therefore never presented to the magistrate judge who issued the warrant.

         The express purpose of seeking the warrant was to search for evidence of a homicide. (Id. at 158:24-1). However, the warrant also listed that the police would be searching for items related to drug offenses. Detective Peters explained that he told Detective Centeno to include those items specifically because they had been observed when the detectives and officers entered 3234 N. Sydenham Street to clear it. (Id. at 159:13-161:7).

         The warrant was issued on September 11, 2017, at 11:50 P.M. Members of the Philadelphia Police Department then executed the search warrant and seized drugs and numerous items related to drug trafficking.

         E. The 2018 Warrant

          Boyer was charged in a Superseding Indictment for conspiracy and drug offenses on October 17, 2018. Law enforcement had observed him coming and going from 3234 N. Sydenham Street on October 16, 2018, and they arrived at the property to arrest Boyer on October 18, 2018. Officers announced their presence and waited a reasonable amount of time. When no one came to the door, they entered the home and took Boyer into custody. Officers then conducted a protective sweep of the home and observed a black duffel bag with marijuana protruding from the top. The residence was secured until a search warrant was obtained. Members of the Federal ...

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