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United States v. Fields

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston

March 26, 2019



          David A. Faber Senior United States District Judge

         Pending before the court is defendant's motion to suppress evidence “obtained as a result of a stop made without reasonable suspicion.” On March 5, 2019, the court conducted an evidentiary hearing on defendant's motion. For reasons expressed more fully below, the motion to suppress is DENIED. In support of its ruling, the court makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.

         I. Findings of Fact

         On the afternoon of November 3, 2017, the Logan County, West Virginia 911 Center received a call[1] that two “suspicious” people who might be carrying drugs were walking in the street on the Greenville Road area near Man, West Virginia. Government Exhibit 1. The caller gave his name to the 911 dispatcher during the phone call. See id. The 911 dispatcher testified that he did not know the caller. See Tr. at 18.

         The caller described the two suspicious people as a white male with straggly hair, wearing a brown hoodie and blue jeans; and a white female with red hair wearing a pink sweater. The caller said the male had a bowie knife that was as long as his leg and also a pistol and the pair had left a residence known for drug activity in the Greenville Road area. The call was recorded, which is a routine practice. See Gov. Ex. 1; Tr. at 11-13.

         Jamie Sparks, the Logan County 911 dispatcher took the call and promptly called the Logan County Sheriffs' department. The call was answered by Deputy Zachary Lilly who received the following message from dispatcher Sparks: “**got call from Greenville Road area, some suspicious individuals just left residence known for signal 24[2] activity, a white male subject wearing brown hoodie, and blue jeans, white female, red hair, pink sweater. Female and male last seen walking out of Greenville heading back toward Mann.” Sparks did not mention the knife and gun reported by the caller.

         After taking the call, Deputy Lilly proceeded to the Greenville Road area to investigate. See Tr. at 33. Deputy Lilly testified that, in his opinion, the Greenville area was known for drug activity. See Tr. at 33. At approximately 3:30 p.m. he saw two people who fit the description made by the caller walking along the highway in front of Station Number 200 of the Logan County Fire Department, within 100 feet of Mann High School. Deputy Lilly pulled his vehicle off the road approximately 15 to 20 feet away from the two subjects and asked them to come towards him and off the roadway. See Tr. at 36-39. The man was defendant Fields and the woman was later identified as Kami Denice Walls. See Tr. at 34-35; ECF 18-1 at 8, 13-15. Fields did not comply and stepped out into the road further. Lilly also asked Fields his name and, in response, the defendant began to run away. Lilly testified that he did not raise his voice in asking these questions and spoke calmly. Lilly pursued Fields and grabbed the hood of his jacket. During this pursuit, Fields pulled out a gun. Once Lilly saw the gun, he backed off, drew his weapon, and commanded Fields to drop the gun. Fields escaped by letting his jacket be pulled off of his body and going into a nearby river. As he ran away, Fields threw the gun under Lilly's vehicle. The entire pursuit was recorded on the fire department's video surveillance cameras. This video footage, as well as the two recorded telephone calls, were played for the court and admitted into evidence during the suppression hearing.

         Deputy Lilly retrieved the gun from under his vehicle and returned to the area of the initial encounter, where Ms. Walls was waiting. She was read her Miranda rights and she then gave a statement. At that point, she identified herself as Kami Denice Walls. She said the gun was obtained for her by her boyfriend, Jay Fields. A criminal history check disclosed that Fields was a convicted felon. Fields was subsequently arrested and charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm.

         The court found the testimony of all the witnesses testifying at the hearing to be entirely credible.

         II. Conclusions of Law and Analysis

         The Fourth Amendment provides “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” U.S. Const. amend. IV. The defendant bears the burden of demonstrating a Fourth Amendment violation, Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 130 n.1 (1978), and, on appeal, the court reviews the evidence in the light most favorable to the party prevailing below. United States v. Seidman, 156 F.3d 542, 547 (4th Cir.1998). The factual findings underlying a motion to suppress, including credibility determinations, are reviewed for clear error, while the legal determinations are reviewed de novo. Ornelas v. United States, 517 U.S. 690, 699 (1996); United States v. Murray, 65 F.3d 1161, 1169 (4th Cir. 1995); United States v. Rusher, 966 F.2d 868, 873 (4th Cir.), cert. denied, 506 U.S. 926 (1992).

         Not every encounter between a private citizen and law enforcement implicates the Fourth Amendment. See United States v. Stover, 808 F.3d 991, 995 (4th Cir. 2015) (“[The Fourth Amendment], however, does not extend to all police-citizen encounters.”); see also United States v. McCoy, 513 F.3d 405, 411 (4th Cir. 2008) (“Of course, the protections of the Fourth Amendment do not bear on every encounter between a police officer and a member of the public; it is only when a `search' or `seizure' has occurred that the Fourth Amendment comes into play.”). As our appeals court has observed:

The Supreme Court has recognized three distinct types of police-citizen interactions: (1) arrest, which must be supported by probable cause; (2) brief investigatory stops, which must be supported by reasonable suspicion; and (3) brief encounters between police and citizens, which require no objective justification.

United States v. Weaver, 282 F.3d 302, 309 (4th Cir. 2002) (internal citations omitted). At dispute in this case is whether Officer Lilly's initial interaction with defendant[3] fell into the second or third category.

         Fields maintains that Deputy Lilly's encounter with him fell into the second category, i.e., a Terry stop. See ECF No. 19 at p.8 (“The Deputy Sheriff had already left his vehicle, approached Defendant, told him that he wanted to talk with him and ordered Mr. Fields to come stand at the end of his cruiser. This is a stop. And there was no reasonable suspicion to support the same.”). In Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 30 (1968), the Supreme Court held that "an officer may, consistent with the Fourth Amendment, conduct a brief, investigatory stop when the officer has a reasonable, articulable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot." Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119, 123 (2000). The government, on the other hand, maintains that Deputy Lilly's initial encounter with Fields ...

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