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United States v. Harmon

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 8, 2019



          Baylson, J.

         I. Introduction

         In this case involving allegations of conspiracy to traffic drugs, Defendant Dennis Harmon, whose trial has been severed from the other defendants and will begin on September 9, 2019, has moved the Court for an order suppressing certain statements he made to police and certain evidence taken from his cellphone pursuant to a federal search warrant. (ECF 214, 216). For the following reasons, these Motions to Suppress will be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         II. Factual Findings

         Many of the facts relevant to these Motions have been summarized in a previous Memorandum of the Court Denying Motions to Suppress Evidence Obtained From 3234 N. Sydenham Street. (See ECF 340). Counsel agreed that the record developed in relation to those previous motions should be included in the record on Harmon's Motions now before the Court. The Court therefore incorporates that previous summary here by reference, to the extent those facts are not included below.

         On September 11, 2017, members of the Philadelphia Police Department arrived at 3234 N. Sydenham Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as part of an investigation stemming from a shooting that took place elsewhere that day. The police had determined that a vehicle that was connected to the shooting was registered to an Abdul West at the address. Around 6:30 P.M., Harmon walked out of the residence at 3234 N. Sydenham Street and walked across the street and back. (ECF 301, “6/24/19 Hearing Tr., ” at 9:9-11, 10:5-7, 11:10-12). Upon returning to the property, Harmon was stopped by the police and questioned about his connection to it. (Id. at 11:10-12). Harmon told police that he resided there alone and that he was “squatting” without permission. (Id. at 11:10-23). He also told police that he had no knowledge of the vehicle connected to the earlier shooting, which was registered to a different individual at the 3234 N. Sydenham Street address. (Id. at 13:3-9). Harmon provided an identification card that listed a separate residence, and an officer then ran Harmon's identification through various police databases to verify it and check for any outstanding warrants. (Id. at 12:7-9). The officer did not return the identification card to Harmon, and other officers continued to question him. (Id. at 40:22-25, 43:6-9).

         Harmon was directed to remain on the porch or front steps of the residence, where he was not handcuffed or arrested. (Id. at 13:21-14:2, 14:16-24).

         At around 6:39 P.M., Amir Boyer approached the home and inquired about why the police were questioning Harmon. Boyer told police that his family used to own the property at 3234 N. Sydenham Street. He also advised Harmon that he did not have to speak with police. The police eventually told Boyer to leave. (Id. at 16:13-20, 17:4-9, 17:21-18:4).

         At 7:15 P.M., the police learned that the victim of the shooting they were investigating had died. (Id. at 21:16-22:6). Believing that Harmon would have to go to the Philadelphia Homicide Division for further questioning, an officer then frisked Harmon for weapons. (Id. at 22:8-24).

         A short while later, after a total of forty-five minutes on the porch of 3234 N. Sydenham Street, Harmon was transported in a marked police vehicle to the Philadelphia Homicide Division. (Id. at 26:10-15). The transporting officer took Harmon's cellphone at this time. (Id. at 24:18- 23, 26:10-27:3). He was not handcuffed or placed under arrest, and police officers testified that Harmon agreed to give a statement to the Homicide Division. (Id. at 25:18-20, 27:17-25).

         Harmon arrived at the Homicide Division around 8:00 P.M. and was placed in a locked witness interview room. His cellphone was stored in a property box outside the door of the room. Detective Brian Peters entered to speak with him sometime after 11:00 P.M. (ECF 291, “6/12/19 Hearing Tr., ” at 12:7-9). Detective Peters proceeded to question Harmon for twenty to thirty minutes before advising Harmon of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). (Id. at 18:1-5). Before being read Miranda warnings, Harmon allegedly told Detective Brian Peters that he had marijuana in 3234 N. Sydenham Street. (Id. at 15:4-7).

         At 11:50 P.M., Detective Peters then initiated a video recording of the room and read Harmon the Miranda warnings from a card. (Id. at 17:1-5, 19:2-4; see also Gov. Ex. 2). Harmon then initialed the card and inscribed it with the time. (Id. at 17:13-18). Detective Peters continued to question Harmon, now on videotape. (Id. at 21:17-25).

         Harmon was held in the locked witness interview room overnight. From the time he arrived until the time he left, Harmon remained in the room for about nineteen hours. (Id. at 62:16-17). Detective Peters came and went from the room several times over that period and asked Harmon additional questions. At some point, Detective Peters brought Harmon a written summary statement, which Harmon made a change to and then signed. (Id. at 29:8-30:5). During the afternoon hours of September 12, 2017, Harmon was taken to be charged with state narcotics crimes in connection with drugs found inside the residence at 3234 N. Sydenham Street. (Id. at 31:8-15, 63:4-6). His cellphone was seized as evidence in that case. (Id. at 31:2-19).

         On November 20, 2018, federal authorities obtained a search warrant to search the contents of Harmon's cellphone. The warrant was issued on the basis of an affidavit submitted by an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”). The federal authorities then searched the cellphone that same day.

         III. Parties' Contentions

         Harmon seeks to suppress three types of statements and also evidence seized from a search of his cellphone. The statements at issue can be categorized as follows:

1. Oral statements made outside 3234 N. Sydenham Street on September 11, 2017;
2. Unrecorded oral statements made after transportation to the Philadelphia Police Department's Homicide Division and being placed in a witness interview room ...

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