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United States v. Anguiano

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

October 23, 2017

1) RODOLFO ANGUIANO, JR. and 2) KELVIN BAEZ, a/k/a Taliban, Defendants.

          David P. Steinkamp, Assistant U.S. Attorney, United States Attorney's Office, Minnesota, for Plaintiff;

          John J. Leunig, The Law Office of John J. Leunig, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for Defendant Rodolfo Anguiano, Jr.; and

          Patrick G. Leach, Leach Law Office, 6465 Wayzata Boulevard, St. Louis Park, Minnesota, for Defendant Kelvin Baez




         On May 5, 2017, while patrolling in Bloomington, Minnesota, Officer Jacob Gruber spotted a red Volkswagen Jetta with California license plates enter the Days Inn parking lot. Tr. at 33-34, 36-38. Officer Gruber, who regularly patrolled the “high-crime area” surrounding the Days Inn, had seen the same car at the motel approximately a week earlier. Tr. at 38. At that time, Officer Gruber noted the Volkswagen's tabs were expired and its registered owner, Elizabeth Sanchez, was not registered at the motel. He did not investigate further at that time. Id.

         Nonetheless, when the Volkswagen exited the Days Inn parking lot on May 5, Officer Gruber followed. Tr. at 41-42. He confirmed its registration was still expired.[1] Id. Officer Gruber suspected the driver was involved in drug activity because the car had California plates and because it's registered owner was not registered at the Days Inn. Tr. at 43-44, 54. When the Volkswagen crossed the middle yellow line, Officer Gruber pulled the car over. Tr. at 43, 152.

         Officer Gruber approached the car; he discovered its sole occupant was Defendant Rodolfo Anguiano, Jr. (“Anguiano”). Tr. at 45. Officer Gruber noticed an “overwhelming” air freshener smell emanating from dryer sheets covering the car's floor. Tr. at 46. Because dryer sheets may mask the odor of narcotics and confuse drug-sniffing dogs, Officer Gruber viewed them as further indication of possible drug activity. Tr. at 47-48. Officer Gruber learned Anguiano lacked proof of insurance and was unable to identify the car's previous owner. Tr. at 49-50.

         Officer Gruber then asked Anguiano to get out of the car to continue their conversation. Tr. at 50. Anguiano said he was in town for three days to attend a wedding but could not describe the wedding's location. The story also contradicted Officer Gruber's recollection of the car's earlier presence at the Days Inn. Id. Officer Gruber's suspicion was not allayed when Anguiano explained he had flown to Minnesota while his cousin had driven the car out from California. Tr. at 51-52. Officer Gruber had been trained that drug smugglers often have third parties drive their vehicle to a location before personally retrieving their car. Id.

         Officer Gruber asked Anguiano whether he had ever been arrested. Tr. at 53. He initially replied that he had “never been in trouble for drugs before.” Id. A criminal background check revealed Anguiano had been previously arrested, though never convicted, for drug crimes. Tr. at 53. Given his suspicion that drug activity was afoot, Officer Gruber sought Anguiano's consent to search the Volkswagen. Tr. at 54. Anguiano refused. Id. As the conversation coalesced around drugs, Officer Gruber testified Anguiano became increasingly tense and nerve-wracked. Id. Officer Gruber called a drug-sniffing dog to examine the car. Id.

         The dog arrived five to ten minutes later. Tr. at 55. By then Anguiano had been patted down for officer safety but had not been handcuffed or arrested. Id. The dog sniffed for 2-3 minutes but never alerted for drugs despite showing interest in the car's undercarriage. Id. Officer Gruber returned to his squad car to discuss with another officer how to proceed:

Officer Gruber: Christ, Brian. … It's hard to believe. I don't think I've ever had such good shit.
Officer 2: It's a pretty good suspicion on that one.
Officer Gruber: I don't know. Maybe he's doing something else.
Officer 2: Could be.
Officer Gruber: Smuggling people.
Officer 2: You never know.
Officer Gruber: Fuck.
Officer 2: It's the nature of the game though. You can't get them all.
Officer Gruber: It sucks to let it go.

[Ex. 1, 19:52:21-19:52:47].

         Officer Gruber returned to Anguiano's car, handed him his driver's license and said “no ticket or anything for you.” Tr. at 58; Ex. 1, 19:53:00-19:53:25. As Anguiano opened his wallet, Officer Gruber noticed what appeared to be a United States Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”) badge and “more than ten” plastic cards, presumably credit cards. Tr. at 58-59. He asked Anguiano “What's that badge?” to which Anguiano initially replied “nothing, ” but within 18 seconds of Officer Gruber's original question Anguiano presented the badge and explained he had purchased it on eBay as a Halloween prop. Tr. at 61-62; Ex. 1, 19:53:08-19:54:26. Anguiano never presented himself to Officer Gruber as a DEA agent. Id.

         Despite Officer Gruber's earlier promises to let Anguiano go, Officer Gruber ordered Anguiano to “hang out here for a minute, ” returned to his squad car, and called his supervisor Sergeant Cardenas. Ex. 1, 19:54:16-19:55:21. Before calling Sergeant Cardenas, Officer Gruber muted the squad car's audio recorder. He never turned the audio back on. Tr. at 92. Officer Gruber testified that after calling Sergeant Cardenas he decided he would arrest Anguiano; Sergeant Cardenas testified he told Officer Gruber to wait at the scene until he arrived. Tr. at 63-64. While waiting for Sergeant Cardenas, Officer Gruber and another officer conversed with Anguiano. Ex. 1, 19:56:22-20:02:52. The video, with its audio muted, depicts Anguiano opening the car doors and trunk as if to allow the officers to search his car, which they never did. Id.

         While on route to the scene, Sergeant Cardenas confirmed that Anguiano was not a DEA agent and learned of Anguiano's prior drug smuggling arrests and frequent U.S. - Mexico border crossings. Tr. at 208-09. When Sergeant Cardenas arrived, he spoke briefly in private with Officer Gruber. Id. Sergeant Cardenas then quickly spoke with Anguiano before placing him under arrest. Ex. 1, 20:07:57-20:08:12.

         The testimony regarding Anguiano's arrest is inconsistent in several important respects. Officer Gruber testified that after he spoke with Sergeant Cardenas he was going to arrest Anguiano; Sergeant Cardenas testified he told Officer Gruber not to let Anguiano go but to await his arrival. Tr. at 63-64, 318. Officer Gruber initially testified he arrested Anguiano for identity theft, but later stated Anguiano was arrested for both identity theft and obstructing legal process. Tr. at 63, 115-16. The identity theft arrest was allegedly predicated on Anguiano's possession of numerous credit cards in other peoples' names, but Officer Gruber acknowledged he did not know whether the plastic cards were credit cards until after Anguiano's arrest. Tr. at 115-16, 198.

         Sergeant Cardenas testified that he arrested Anguiano for obstructing legal process because Officer Gruber had told him Anguiano initially refused his request to examine the fake DEA badge. Tr. at 276-77. Officer Gruber admitted Anguiano did present the badge after a momentary delay, before then showing Officer Gruber how easily they could be found on eBay. Tr. at 62; Ex. 1, 19:53:21-19:53:21:26. Anguiano was not arrested for impersonating a DEA agent (because he never claimed to be one) and mere possession of the fake badge is not a crime. Tr. at 109, 116. In any event, the obstructing legal process arrest occurred at least 15 minutes after Anguiano allegedly refused - then presented - the badge for Officer Gruber's inspection. Ex. 1, 19:53:05-20:08:12. Ultimately, Anguiano was never charged with either obstructing legal process or identity theft.

         After the arrest, Anguiano's Volkswagen was thoroughly searched. Tr. at 64. Inside, officers discovered a satchel containing two additional law enforcement badges and $4, 000 in cash, and revealed that compartments in the car easily detached, suggesting they could be used for concealment of contraband. Tr. at 64-65. No drugs or other contraband were found. Tr. at 65, 114-15.

         After impounding Anguiano's car, Officer Gruber drove to the Embassy Suites.[2]Tr. at 67-68. He visited the front desk and confirmed Anguiano was registered to Room 714 but the Volkswagen's registered owner, ...

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