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United States v. Jones

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Huntington Division

November 21, 2019




         Presently pending before the Court are two motions to suppress evidence filed by the defendants in the instant case, Tyrone Marquise Jones and Terry James Cox. See Jones Mot. to Suppress, ECF No. 34; Cox Mot. to Suppress, ECF No. 36. On November 4, 2019, the Court held a hearing on both motions. See Hr'g Tr., ECF No. 55. The issues have been ably briefed and argued, and they are ripe for resolution. For the reasons set forth below, the Court DENIES the motions.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Although this case centers on a firearm discovered in the rear seat of a parked vehicle, it actually arises out of the Huntington Violent Crime-Drug Task Force's unrelated attempt to serve subpoenas on two individuals identified as Chandra Ross and Mark Damron on August 9, 2019. Id. at 3. The group of officers from the Task Force was comprised of Sergeant Paul Hunter, Sergeant Kerry Arthur, Corporal Greg Moore, and Corporal Stephen Maniskas-all of the Huntington Police Department-as well as Special Agent Sean McNees of the Drug Enforcement Agency. Id. at 8. Unsure where Ross and Damron were located, at around 10:00 a.m. the group traveled to Damron's mother's home at 1843 12th Avenue in Huntington, West Virginia. Id. at 5, 7. Upon arrival, the officers walked to the front of the house and knocked on the door. Id. at 7. While they received no answer, they did observe a number of live rounds scattered across the front porch. Id.

         The officers subsequently left the scene to execute a search warrant in Marcum Terrace, approximately a five-minute drive away from 1843 12th Avenue. Id. at 42. Near the end of the day, the group returned to the address for a second attempt at serving the subpoenas. Id. at 8. As they approached the home in their unmarked police van, they noticed a woman identified as Krishauna Brown on the front porch. Id. They also observed a late-model white Mercury sedan parked directly in front of the house, which Sergeant Hunter recognized as the vehicle Brown had been driving during a previous traffic stop. Id. at 9. The vehicle was facing west, away from the officers and against the flow of traffic. Id. at 9, 19. After drawing a connection between the vehicle and Brown, Hunter recalled that Brown's father-identified as Tony Lee-had reported his vehicle stolen by Damron “three or four days” beforehand. Id. at 9-10. Given that Brown was currently on the porch of Damron's mother's home, Hunter speculated that she was “there to try to take out some street justice” on Damron in revenge for the theft of her father's car. Id. at 12.

         At the same time, the officers also observed two individuals seated in the driver's seat and driver's-side rear seat of the Mercury.[1] Id. The officers waited in their van for several minutes to observe the scene, and then decided to approach the vehicle before going to the front of the home to attempt to serve the subpoenas. Id. Sergeant Hunter recalled that the officers elected to approach the vehicle because they “wanted to let [the occupants] know that [they] were law enforcement.” Id. Hunter led the officers from the passenger side, and Corporal Maniskas led the officers on the driver's side. Id. at 30. As they approached the vehicle, Maniskas and Hunter-followed by the other officers-prominently displayed their badges to identify themselves as law enforcement.[2]Id. at 32. Hunter kept his gun in his holster as he approached the vehicle, drawing closer to the rear passenger window. Id. at 30.

         At this point, the precise series of events becomes slightly less clear. Sergeant Hunter testified that as “soon as [he] displayed [his] badge, Tyrone Jones”-the occupant of the rear driver's-side seat-“immediately looked at me and started reaching off to the left.” Id. at 13. Corporal Moore recounted a slightly different scene, with Jones repeatedly “making motions down to the right side, possibly concealing or obtaining an object.” Id. at 58. Finally, Jones himself recalls talking to his niece via a video call on his cell phone and dropping his phone in startled surprise as the officers surrounded the vehicle with their guns already drawn. Id. at 72. He claims he “went to pick the phone up, ” “thinking maybe [he] should keep [his] phone in my hand to record the situation because . . . [of] what was going on.” Id.

         Whatever Jones' exact movements or the actions that motivated them, these stories are not altogether in conflict. It seems clear that at some point while the officers were approaching the vehicle, Jones bent forward and off to his side. This furtive movement alarmed Sergeant Hunter, who “thought he was reaching for a weapon.” Id. at 15. Hunter immediately drew his service weapon, backed up, and told Jones to show his hands. Id. at 14. The other officers drew their weapons simultaneously, and joined Hunter in “yelling hands, hands . . . show me your hands.” Id. at 16. Jones was initially nonresponsive, but “finally stopped reaching” after bending downward “two to three different times.”[3] Id.

         At this point, Corporal Maniskas removed the occupant of the driver's seat-identified at the scene as Terry Cox-from the vehicle. Id. Sergeant Arthur removed Jones from the vehicle as well, and was in the process of detaining him when Corporal Moore noticed a firearm in the rear seat of the vehicle and alerted the other officers to its presence. Id. This discovery made Jones “stiffen up and begin to fight, ” refusing to follow directions. Id. at 16-17. Officers wrestled him to the ground, and went on to secure the Kel-Tec PT3AT .380 pistol and the rest of the scene. Id. at 17. They discovered a bag of cocaine base, or “crack, ” near the site of Jones' arrest, as well as a quantity of crystal meth in the glove compartment. Id. at 17-18.

         Cox and Jones were subsequently indicted for aiding and abetting the possession of firearms by felons in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1), 924(a)(2), and 2. On October 10, 2019, Jones filed his Motion to Suppress. One week later, Defendant Cox followed with a similar motion. Both Jones and Cox argue that they were “seized” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment when officers approached the vehicle with their guns drawn, and that they lacked the requisite reasonable suspicion to do so. The United States filed responses to Jones' and Cox's motions on October 17 and October 24, respectively.[4] Resp. to Jones Mot. to Suppress, ECF No. 36; Resp. to Cox Mot. to Suppress, ECF No. 45. On November 4, the Court held a hearing on both motions at which Sergeant Hunter, Corporal Moore, and Defendant Jones testified. Hr'g Tr., at 3. With this factual and procedural background in mind, the Court turns to the legal considerations that govern the disposition of the instant motions.


         The Constitution guarantees “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” U.S. Const. amend. IV. Pursuant to the Fourth Amendment, “[t]he Supreme Court has recognized three distinct types of police citizen interactions: (1) arrests, which must be supported by probable cause[;] . . . (2) brief investigatory stops, which must be supported by reasonable articulable 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). Defendants' motions implicate the second and third categories most directly, notwithstanding their subsequent arrests.

         “Obviously, not all personal intercourse between policemen and citizens involves ‘seizures' of persons. Only when [an] officer, by means of physical force or show of authority, has in some way restrained the liberty of a citizen may [a court] conclude that a ‘seizure' has occurred.” Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 19, n. 16 (1968). Accordingly, where “a reasonable person would feel free to disregard the police and go about his business, the encounter is consensual and no reasonable suspicion is required.” Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 434 (1991) (citing California v. Hodari D., 499 U.S. 621, 628 (1991)) (internal citation and quotations omitted). Of course, it follows that a seizure has occurred where a reasonable person would not feel free to disregard the police. Id. This test is an objective one, asking whether “in view of all of the circumstances surrounding [an] incident, a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave.” United States v. Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544, 554 (1980).

         The Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable seizures are triggered where an encounter is no longer consensual. I.N.S. v. Delgado, 466 U.S. 210, 215 (1984). Such investigative Terry stops require courts to determine whether a seizure is supported by an officer's reasonable, articulable suspicion that an individual is engaging in criminal activity. United States v. Jones, 678 F.3d 293, 299 (4th Cir. 2012). This suspicion “must be based on specific, objective facts.” Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. 47, 51 (1979). In reviewing the constitutionality of a Terry stop, courts are required to consider the “totality of the circumstances of each case to see whether the detaining officer has a particularized and objective basis for supporting legal wrongdoing.” United States v. Mayo, 361 F.3d 802, 805 (4th Cir. 2004). This determination must “give due weight to common sense judgments reached by officers in light of their experience and training.” United States v. Perkins, 363 F.3d 317, 321 (4th Cir. 2004). Where an officer has reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigatory stop, he is “authorized to take such steps as [are] reasonably necessary to protect [his] personal safety and to maintain the status quo.” United States v. ...

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