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United States v. Garmon

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

April 9, 2018

United States of America, Plaintiff,
Terrence Christian Garmon, Defendant.



         The government has charged Terrence Christian Garmon with five counts of bank robbery. [Indictment, ECF No. 1.] Currently pending before the Court are Mr. Garmon's motions to suppress evidence he alleges was obtained in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. [Mot. to Suppress, ECF No. 22; Am. Mot. to Suppress, ECF No. 32.] Mr. Garmon asserts that on April 7, 2016, police stopped a vehicle in which he was a passenger without probable cause or reasonable suspicion, requiring suppression of the evidence they later seized from the car. He also argues that the Federal Bureau of Investigation unreasonably executed a search warrant for the contents of his cellular phone after the warrant had expired. And finally, Mr. Garmon asserts that cell tower evidence obtained by the government must be suppressed because the corresponding search warrant and court order were tainted with unlawfully seized evidence.

         The Court held a hearing on Mr. Garmon's motions on January 18, 2018, and three witnesses testified for the government. [Hr'g Mins., ECF No. 38.] In addition to the testimony, nine exhibits were admitted into evidence. [See Ex. List, ECF. No. 39.] The parties filed post-hearing memoranda. [Def.'s Mem., ECF No. 43; Gov't's Resp., ECF No. 46; Def.'s Reply, ECF No. 49; Gov't's Suppl. Resp., ECF. No. 50.] Based on the entire record and for the reasons set forth below, the Court recommends that Mr. Garmon's suppression motions be denied.

         I. The Traffic Stop And Search Of The Backpack

         Mr. Garmon first challenges an April 7, 2016 traffic stop conducted by St. Paul Police Officers Christopher Hanson and Michael Matsen. He contends that all the evidence obtained during that traffic stop must be suppressed because the officers lacked legal justification to justify the stop. He also argues that, even if the stop was lawful, the officers unreasonably searched a backpack they found inside the vehicle. [Def.'s Mem. at 8-18.]

         A. Factual Findings

         Between January and the end of March in 2016, a series of bank robberies occurred in the Twin Cities. Each robbery involved a similar modus operandi and appeared to have been carried out by the same individual. The suspect targeted bank branches located inside grocery stores, and in each incident, he had entered the bank, approached the teller, presented a note, and demanded money. The suspect was identified as a “[b]lack male (. . . described as possibly being Somali), approximately 24 to 32 years old, approximately 6 [feet] tall, approximately 140 pounds, [with a] thin to medium build . . . .” [Gov't's Ex. 2 at 2.]

         FBI Special Agent David Walden began investigating this string of bank robberies in early 2016. He obtained several still images of the suspect from surveillance video taken inside the banks and footage from a camera outside of a Target that was located near one of the banks. The Target video led Agent Walden to believe that a silver or metallic colored Lincoln Town Car from the mid-1990s was connected to the suspect.

         On April 6, 2016, Agent Walden prepared a memorandum referred to as a Metro Regional Information Center Information Alert (“MRIC Alert”). In the MRIC Alert he included a description of the suspect, still images of the suspect from several of the bank robberies, and a picture of the Lincoln Town Car. Agent Walden distributed the MRIC Alert by e-mail to law enforcement agencies throughout the metro area so that local officers could assist in the investigation and be on the lookout for the suspect or the vehicle.

         On April 7, 2016, at their department's morning briefing, St. Paul Police Officers Hanson and Matsen received the MRIC Alert in hard copy and by e-mail. Later that day, the officers were patrolling near the intersection of Forest Street and Case Avenue on the east side of St. Paul. While approaching the intersection heading south, the officers saw a Lincoln Town Car that closely resembled the vehicle depicted in the MRIC Alert. The Lincoln passed in front of the officers heading west on Case, so Officer Hanson turned west on Sims Avenue to travel parallel to the Lincoln one block to the south. At the next intersection, the officers saw that the Lincoln had turned north on Mendota Street, and they turned to follow it.

         Both Officer Hanson and Officer Matsen testified that they believed that the Lincoln was exceeding the 30-miles-per-hour speed limit. The Lincoln had quickly travelled several blocks north on Mendota Street. The officers concluded that it must have been speeding to have covered so much distance. Officer Hanson, who was driving the squad vehicle, increased his speed to at least 39 miles per hour to catch up to the Lincoln. [Def.'s Ex. 1 at 12:18:40 (showing squad speed at 39 mph).]

         During their pursuit, Officer Matsen ran the Lincoln's license plate through the computer assisted dispatch system in the squad car. He originally entered an incorrect plate number, resulting in erroneous information that the vehicle had an expired registration.[1] As the squad car got closer to the Lincoln, the Lincoln activated its turn signal, abruptly pulled over to the side of the road and stopped. Officer Hanson pulled the squad car in behind the Lincoln and activated the lights.

         There were four occupants in the Lincoln. Officer Hanson approached the driver's side of the vehicle and spoke to the driver, Mr. MacDonald, while Officer Matsen approached the passenger side of the vehicle. Mr. MacDonald told Officer Hanson that the vehicle belonged to his fiancée and that he was not a licensed driver. Mr. MacDonald also told Officer Hanson that Mr. Garmon, who was seated in the front passenger seat, had a valid driver's license. The officers took licenses or identification cards from Mr. MacDonald and Mr. Garmon and went back to the squad car. Officer Hanson checked their information on the squad car computer and confirmed that Mr. MacDonald had no valid license, but Mr. Garmon did. However, Officer Hanson also learned that Mr. Garmon had an outstanding misdemeanor warrant out of Hennepin County for an uninsured vehicle.

         Because the officers believed that Mr. Garmon and the Lincoln resembled the images they had seen earlier that morning in the MRIC Alert, they next pulled up the MRIC Alert in the squad car's computer. They were able to zoom in on the picture of the suspect's vehicle. The officers were unable to spot comparable areas of what appeared to be rust between the image and the Lincoln, but they nevertheless became more confident they had a match. The suspect vehicle in the MRIC Alert images and the Lincoln they stopped both had an area of discoloration on the passenger side rear-view mirror and a missing center hub cap on the rear passenger side wheel.

         Officers Hanson and Matsen understood that they had discretion to choose whether arrest Mr. Garmon for the outstanding misdemeanor warrant. Officer Hanson decided that Mr. Garmon should be arrested on the warrant because he resembled the bank robbery suspect and the Lincoln was a match to the suspect vehicle. Officer Matsen then brought Mr. Garmon back to the squad car and told him that he was being arrested on the outstanding warrant. Mr. Garmon was handcuffed and placed in the back of the squad car. When he patted Mr. Garmon down, Officer Matson recovered a black Nokia cell phone.[2]

         Officer Matsen had seen a black backpack at Mr. Garmon's feet on the front passenger seat floorboard in the Lincoln. He asked Mr. Garmon if the backpack belonged to him, which Garmon denied. Officer Matsen believed that Mr. Garmon was lying because the backpack was in the area of his immediate control when he was in the car prior to his arrest. Officer Matsen retrieved the backpack and searched it. He also seized a black coat that he saw on the floorboard in the back seat of the Lincoln, which matched one worn by the suspect in the MRIC Alert.

         The entire traffic stop took almost an hour and a half. Because Officers Hanson and Matsen were convinced that Mr. Garmon was the bank robbery suspect from the MRIC Alert, they attempted to contact the FBI, prolonging the traffic stop. Ultimately the officers decided to take photographs of the vehicle and release it to its owner, who arrived on the scene in time to drive it away. Officers Hanson and Matsen then brought Mr. Garmon to the Ramsey County Law Enforcement Center.

         B. The Stop Was Reasonable

         Mr. Garmon argues that the warrantless stop of the Lincoln was unlawful. [Def.'s Mem. at 10-16.] The government contends that the stop was justified despite the absence of a warrant for two reasons: (1) the officers had probable cause to believe the vehicle was speeding; and (2) they had a reasonable suspicion that the Lincoln was involved in the bank robberies. [Gov't's Resp. at 5-8.] Mr. Garmon urges the Court to find that neither of these proffered exceptions to the warrant requirement applies. The Court ...

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