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United States v. Woods

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

January 28, 2019

United States of America, Plaintiff,
v.
Richard Alonzo Woods (1) and Damen Tyrell Lee Acon (2), Defendants.

          ORDER ADOPTING MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Wilhelmina M. Wright United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on the November 16, 2018 Report and Recommendation (R&R) of United States Magistrate Judge Hildy Bowbeer. (Dkt. 55.) The R&R recommends denying the motions of Defendants Richard Alonzo Woods and Damen Tyrell Lee Acon to suppress evidence seized by, and statements made to, law enforcement officers. Defendants filed timely objections to the R&R, and Plaintiff United States of America responded. For the reasons addressed below, Defendants' objections are overruled, the R&R is adopted, and Defendants' motions to suppress are denied.

         BACKGROUND [1]

         An individual called 911 to report gunshots fired in a Minneapolis neighborhood at approximately 4:00 p.m. on May 18, 2018. Minneapolis police officers responded to the scene, and a witness reported that a white Chevrolet Tahoe with white wheel rims had been involved.

         Approximately four hours later, Minneapolis police officers in a marked squad car encountered a white Chevrolet Tahoe with white wheel rims that was traveling approximately 2 or 3 miles north of the location where the gunshots were heard. The officers attempted to perform a traffic stop. The Tahoe did not pull over. Instead, the driver of the Tahoe led the officers on a high-speed pursuit for several minutes and engaged in evasive maneuvers, such as failing to obey stop signs and red lights. During this pursuit, the officers observed the Tahoe stop briefly while the front passenger, who was later identified as Acon, exited the vehicle and fled on foot. The officers pursued the Tahoe approximately two blocks further, where they stopped the Tahoe and ordered the driver, who was later identified as Woods, to exit the vehicle. Police took Woods into custody and ordered the other occupants to exit the vehicle. The officers subsequently apprehended Acon a short distance from the traffic-stop location and seized his cell phone.

         After the Tahoe's occupants had exited the vehicle, one officer opened the front passenger door and saw in plain view a handgun on the floor. Another officer saw a second handgun behind the front passenger seat. One of these firearms was stolen. The Tahoe subsequently was removed by a towing service. Police later obtained a search warrant for the Tahoe and recovered from the vehicle two cell phones, marijuana, and a scale. Police also obtained a search warrant for the cell phones seized from Woods and Acon and a search warrant for Woods's residence.

         A grand jury returned an indictment charging both Woods and Acon with being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 922(g)(1). Woods now moves to suppress evidence obtained from the warrantless search of the Tahoe, evidence obtained from the searches of his cell phones and residence, and statements that he made to police on May 19, 2018. Acon moves to suppress evidence obtained from the search of his cell phone and statements that he made to police. The magistrate judge held an evidentiary hearing on August 28, 2018, and subsequently issued the pending R&R, which recommends denying Defendants' motions. Defendants filed timely objections and the United States responded.

         ANALYSIS

         Woods objects to the R&R's probable cause determinations for the searches of the Tahoe, his cell phones, and his residence, as well as the R&R's determination that his statements to police on May 19, 2018, were made after a voluntary waiver of his Miranda rights. Acon objects to the R&R's probable cause determination with respect to the search of his cell phone. This Court reviews each determination de novo. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3); LR 72.2(b)(3); accord Grinder v. Gammon, 73 F.3d 793, 795 (8th Cir. 1996) (per curiam).

         I. Woods's Motion to Suppress Evidence

         Woods moves to suppress evidence obtained from the warrantless search of the Tahoe and the subsequent searches of his cell phones and his residence pursuant to two search warrants. The R&R concludes that police had probable cause to search the Tahoe under the automobile exception to the warrant requirement and that the warrants to search Woods's cell phones and residence were supported by probable cause as demonstrated by the affidavits submitted with the warrant applications. The R&R also determines that the cell phone search warrant is not overbroad. Woods objects to each determination, and the Court addresses each objection in turn.

         A. Warrantless Search of the Tahoe

          Woods first objects to the R&R's determination that police had probable cause to search the Tahoe under the automobile exception to the warrant requirement. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. U.S. Const. amend. IV. Warrantless searches and seizures are presumptively unreasonable. Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 586 (1980). The United States must demonstrate the need for an exception from the warrant requirement and that the search was conducted within the bounds of the exception. United States v. Kennedy, 427 F.3d 1136, 1144 (8th Cir. 2005). Under the automobile exception to the warrant requirement, a police officer who has made a lawful roadside stop of a vehicle may search the passenger compartment and trunk of the vehicle if the officer has the requisite probable cause to support the search. United States v. Walker, 840 F.3d 477, 483 (8th Cir. 2016). “Probable cause for a search under the automobile exception exists if the facts and circumstances known to the officers when they began the search were sufficient in themselves for a person of reasonable caution to believe that contraband or evidence of criminal activity was present in the vehicle.” Id.

         Woods argues that police lacked probable cause to search the Tahoe for several reasons. First, according to Woods, police had learned from a witness that a man named Dempsey Brown-not Woods-was involved in the shooting earlier that day. Second, approximately four hours elapsed between the reported gunshots and the traffic stop of the Tahoe. Third, police could not have believed that they would find evidence in the Tahoe because an officer testified that he believed that Acon took a firearm with him when he fled the vehicle.

         Woods's arguments fail to account for the evidence connecting the Tahoe-and potentially its occupants-to the reported shooting that occurred earlier that day. Even if the officers suspected that someone other than Woods was involved in the shooting, they nonetheless had evidence connecting a white Chevrolet Tahoe with white wheel rims to the shooting. As one officer testified, “[a] white Tahoe with large white rims is hard to miss. There's not a lot of vehicles in North Minneapolis like that.” Police observed Woods's Tahoe, which matched that description, in the general vicinity of the shooting within hours after the shooting. The fact that police believed Acon fled the Tahoe with evidence in his possession or that several hours passed between the shooting and the traffic stop does not eliminate the officers' probable cause. Despite these intervening events, the officers had probable cause to believe that the Tahoe contained contraband or evidence of criminal activity, including additional firearms, ammunition, cell phones or other electronic devices, or forms of identification. That Woods led police on a high-speed chase for approximately ten blocks lends additional support for officers' probable cause to believe that the Tahoe contained contraband or evidence of criminal activity.

         For these reasons, Woods's objections to the R&R are overruled with respect to the warrantless search of the Tahoe, ...


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