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United States v. Al-Amin

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

February 13, 2019

United States of America, Plaintiff,
v.
Syed Ben Al-Amin, Defendant.

          Jeffrey S. Paulsen, United States Attorney's Office, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for Plaintiff)

          Robert D. Richman, RD Richman Law, St. Louis Park, Minnesota (for Defendant).

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          STEVEN E. RAU, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         The above-captioned case comes before the undersigned on Defendant Syed Ben Al-Amin's Motion to Suppress Statements, Admissions, and Answers (ECF No. 19) and Motion to Suppress Evidence Obtained as a Result of Search and Seizure (ECF No. 20). This matter was referred for resolution of pretrial matters pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B)-(C) and District of Minnesota Local Rule 72.1. For the reasons stated below, this Court recommends the motions be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On August 6, 2018, Minneapolis Police Officers Paul Gillies and Ryan Keyes responded to a 911 call from a woman about her husband following her. (December 20, 2018 Corrected Motions Hearing Transcript (“Tr.”), at 7-8, ECF No. 38). The caller was Al-Amin's estranged wife, Rachelle Al-Amin. (Tr. 39). She stated she had a no-contact order against Al-Amin and that he was following her car in his car. (Tr. 8-9). Rachelle[1] stated both parties had pulled over in the area of 12th Avenue North and Fremont Avenue North, and that she was sitting in her car. (Tr. 9).

         Officer Gillies arrived at the scene around 1:24 p.m. (Tr. 9). Officer Gillies observed Al-Amin's car parked behind Rachelle's car and saw Al-Amin standing by Rachelle's car window “yelling and screaming at her.” (Tr. 10). Officer Gillies then saw Al-Amin punch the driver's side window of Rachelle's car. (Tr. 11). Rachelle reacted by driving her car forward “probably 30 feet or so” and stopped her car again. (Tr. 11-12).

         At this point, Al-Amin walked toward the passenger side of his car. (Tr. 12). Officer Gillies got out of his squad car with his gun raised and ordered Al-Amin to get out of the passenger side of the car, put his hands up, and to come towards Officer Gillies. (Tr. 12). Officer Gillies testified that while giving orders, Al-Amin started “going through his pockets” and it looked “like he was trying to hide something.” (Tr. 13). Officer Gillies saw “rapid movements with [Al-Amin's] arms” and testified that Al Amin “was moving around frantically inside the vehicle.” (Tr. 25). Officer Gillies thought this lasted about thirty seconds but admitted the time-span may have been shorter. (Tr. 13, 27). Officer Gillies requested help with the situation. (Tr. 13-14). Al-Amin got out of his car and walked around to the driver's side of his car (Tr. 13). Officer Gillies was concerned Al Amin “was going to drive away, or try and flee.” (Tr. 14). Officer Gillies had his gun out and was giving Al-Amin orders to get out of his car while he was trying to get into the driver's side of the car as well. (Tr. 14).

         Officer Keyes pulled up while Al-Amin was in the driver's side of the car. (T. 39; Def. Ex. 1 at 1:19). Officer Gillies testified he did not see Al-Amin reaching for the glove box or making any movements suggesting he was hiding something while on the driver's side. (Tr. 29). Officer Keyes testified Al-Amin made furtive arm movements while on the driver's side of the car and appeared to be trying to hide something. (Tr. 45). Officer Keyes' body camera footage briefly shows Al-Amin at the driver's side of his car, but the dashboard and Officer Keyes' movements prevents a viewer from seeing if Al-Amin made any arm movements.[2] (Def. Ex. 1 at 1:19). Officer Keyes parked his car, drew his gun, and ordered Al-Amin to the ground. (Tr. 39). Al Amin complied with the commands and laid on the ground, and Officer Keyes handcuffed him. (Tr. 39). Officer Gillies and Al-Amin had a brief exchange about Al-Amin punching Rachelle's car window as he was being handcuffed.[3] (Gov't Ex. 1 at 01:12-01:27). Officer Keyes and Officer Gillies arrested Al-Amin for violation of the no-contact order and placed him in the back of Officer Gillies' squad car. (Tr. 15, 17).

         After Al-Amin was secured, Officer Gillies inspected Al-Amin's car “to see if he had dumped something in the vehicle.” (Tr. 31). Officer Gillies also testified he suspected Al Amin might have a gun because “he kept moving around really quickly . . . like [he was] in a panic mode.” (Tr. 16). Officer Keyes spoke with Rachelle about the incident and Rachelle told him that Al-Amin threatened to shoot her tires out with a gun. (Def. Ex 1). Rachelle told Officer Keyes this between 3:25 and 3:36 on Officer Keyes's body camera video. (Def. Ex. 1).[4] At 3:39, the body camera shows Officer Gillies searching Al-Amin's car, but the footage does not establish when the search started. (Def. Ex. 1). Between 3:40 and 3:41, Officer Keyes tells Officer Gillies that Rachelle stated Al-Amin had a gun somewhere. (Def. Ex. 1). Between 3:48 and 3:49, Officer Gillies' tells Officer Keyes “I found it, ” referring to Al-Amin's gun. (Def. Ex. 1). Officer Gillies testified he began searching Al-Amin's car before Rachelle's information was relayed to him, but shortly after beginning the search, found a loaded revolver in the glove box. (Tr. 33-34). Officer Gillies testified that he did not perform an inventory search of the vehicle. (Tr. 34).

         On August 7, 2018, Sergeant Jerod Silva interrogated Al-Amin while he was in custody. (See Gov't Ex. 2). Sergeant Silva interrogated Al-Amin for 78 minutes before Mirandizing him. (Gov't Ex. 2, at 4:34). After Al-Amin was Mirandized, the interrogation continued.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Motion to Suppress Evidence

         Al-Amin argues the search of his car was unlawful because there was no exception to the warrant requirement. Specifically, Al-Amin states the search was not a search incident to arrest, the automobile exception does not apply, and there would not have been inevitable discovery of the gun. The Government argues the opposite.

         1. Automobile Exception

         The Fourth Amendment protects an individual's right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. U.S. Const. Amend. IV. Searches conducted without a warrant are per se unreasonable, subject to a few well-established exceptions. United States v. Hill, 386 F.3d 855, 858 (8th Cir. 2004). Under the automobile exception, officers may search a vehicle without a warrant if they have probable cause to believe the vehicle contains evidence of criminal activity. Id. Probable cause exists “where, in the totality of the circumstances, there is a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place.” United States v. Kennedy, 427 F.3d 1136, 1141 (8th Cir. 2005). In determining whether an officer had probable cause to search, courts apply a common sense approach and consider all relevant circumstances. United States v. Gleich, 397 F.3d 608, 612 (8th Cir. 2005). Thus in the present case, the Court considers whether the officers, under the totality of the circumstances, had probable cause to believe Al-Amin's vehicle contained evidence of criminal activity.

         Al-Amin argues the circumstances here are like those in United States v. Spinner, where the Court found no probable cause for officers to search a car. 475 F.3d 356 (D.C. Cir. 2007). In Spinner, the police approached the defendant to tell him his truck was illegally parked. Id. at 357. As the officers approached, the defendant dipped towards the center of his vehicle as if he was trying to hide something. Id. Because the defendant seemed nervous, officers frisked him and found nothing. Id. at 359. Then, over the defendant's objection, officers searched his truck and found a gun. Id. The Government argued there was probable cause to search the vehicle. Id. The Court disagreed and found that while the officers may have thought the defendant was hiding something, “they had no reason whatsoever to believe it was a weapon. Therefore, when he denied them further consent to search his vehicle, the encounter should have ended.” Id. at 360.

         In the present case, unlike Spinner, Al-Amin gave the officers reason to believe he may be hiding contraband. Al-Amin's car was not searched merely because he seemed nervous, as was the case in Spinner. The officers responded to a 911 call from a caller reporting a violation of a no-contact order. (Tr. 7-8). Officer Gillies arrived on the scene to see Al-Amin screaming at his wife and punching her car window, and then saw Al-Amin walk back to his car and get into the passenger side of his car. (Tr. 10-11). At this point, Gillies ordered Al-Amin out of his car and Al-Amin refused to comply with the order. (Tr. 12). Officer Gillies testified that he next saw Al-Amin make furtive arm movements on the passenger side of the car for approximately thirty seconds. (Tr. 13, 25, 27). These facts, in their totality, gave rise to probable cause; the circumstances established a fair probability that Al-Amin may have hidden contraband in the car.

         The Court does not consider Rachelle's information on Al-Amin's threat to shoot her tires in the probable cause analysis because it is unclear whether Rachelle's information came before the search of Al-Amin's car began. The body camera shows that Rachelle told Officer Keyes about Al-Amin's threat to shoot her tires between 3:25 and 3:26. (Def. Ex. 1). Seconds later, at 3:39, the video shows Officer Gillies searching Al-Amin's car when Officer Keyes talks to Officer Gillies about Rachelle's allegations. (Def. Ex. 1). The Government argues Officer Keyes heard Rachelle's information at the exact moment the search began. See United States v. Terry, 400 F.3d 575, 581 (8th Cir. 2005) (applying collective knowledge doctrine to uphold seizure of ammunition by officer with no personal knowledge that defendant was subject to protective order restricting him from possessing ammunition). Al-Amin argues Rachelle's information came after the allegedly illegal search began. The Court cannot determine whether Rachelle's information came before, after, or at the exact moment Officer Gillies began searching Al-Amin's car because the video footage does not show when Officer Gillies began searching Al-Amin's car in relation ...


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