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United States v. Stewart

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

July 15, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
Pierre Cornelius Stewart, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          LEO I. BRISBOIS U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter comes before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to a general assignment, made in accordance with the provisions of Title 28 U.S.C. § 636 and Local Rule 72.1, and upon Pierre Cornelius Stewart's (hereinafter “Defendant”) Motion to Suppress Evidence Obtained as a Result of Search and Seizure. [Docket No. 21].

         The Court held a motions hearing on May 23, 2019, regarding the parties' pretrial motions.[1]At the motions hearing, the parties requested the opportunity to submit supplemental briefing, and the Court took Defendant's Motion to Suppress Evidence Obtained as a Result of Search and Seizure, [Docket No. 21], under advisement on June 14, 2019.[2]

         For reasons discussed herein, the Court recommends that Defendant's Motion to Suppress Evidence Obtained as a Result of Search and Seizure, [Docket No. 21], be DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND AND STATEMENT OF FACTS

         A. Background

         On March 20, 2019, Defendant was indicted with one count of conspiracy to distribute heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(B), and 846; and one count of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(C), and 18 U.S.C. § 2. (Indictment [Docket No. 1]).

         B. Facts[3]

         In his Motion to Suppress Evidence Obtained as a Result of Search and Seizure, [Docket No. 21], Defendant moves the Court to find that the stop of the motor vehicle he was a passenger in on September 14, 2018, in Onamia, Minnesota was unlawful, and that all evidence seized as a result of that stop be suppressed. (Mem. in Supp., [Docket No. 36], at 1).

         The record presently before the Court indicates that on September 14, 2018, at approximately 12:17 p.m., Trooper Otterson was talking to the driver of a red SUV that he had pulled over in the parking lot of the “Grand Market” located in the city of Onamia, Minnesota. (Gov't Ex. 1 at 0:00-0:30).[4] While Trooper Otterson was talking to the driver of the red SUV, he saw a female exit from the driver's seat of a white GMC Yukon (hereinafter “Defendant's vehicle”), which was also parked nearby in the same parking lot as the red SUV. (May 23, 2019, Motions Hearing, Digital Recording at 10:22-10:23 a.m.). Trooper Otterson observed the female approach from the passenger's side of his police vehicle, towards where he was talking to the driver of the red SUV. (Id.). After the female got within 10 to 15 feet of Trooper Otterson, she appeared to notice him talking to the driver of the red SUV. (Id.). Upon observing Trooper Otterson, the female turned around and walked back to the Defendant's vehicle where she got into the driver's seat. (Id.). Based on his training and experience, Trooper Otterson believed that the female was attempting to complete a hand-to-hand drug transaction with the driver of the red SUV. (Id. at 10:23-10:24 a.m.).

         After the female got back into the driver's seat of the Defendant's vehicle, which was on the side closest to Trooper Otterson, the female began driving the vehicle out of the parking lot. (Id.). When pulling the Defendant's vehicle out of the parking lot, the female pulled the vehicle forward out of its parking spot, turned right two times to turn the vehicle around to access a lot exit, and then drove past where Trooper Otterson was standing and talking to the driver of the red SUV. (Id.). At 0:37 of the video recording, the Defendant's vehicle becomes visible in the recording and can be seen driving past Trooper Otterson towards the exit of the parking lot, with the passenger's side of the Defendant's vehicle facing Trooper Otterson. (Gov't Ex. 1 at 0:30- 0:40). Trooper Otterson is not visible in the video recording when the Defendant's vehicle passes his patrol vehicle. (Id.). As the Defendant's vehicle drove past him, Trooper Otterson testified that he observed that Defendant was not wearing a seatbelt. (May 23, 2019, Motions Hearing, Digital Recording at 10:23-10:24 a.m.). Trooper Otterson also observed that the Defendant's vehicle did not have a front or rear license plate, as well as, that the rear windshield had a dark tint and did not appear to have a temporary tag on it. (Id. at 10:28-10:29 a.m.). Based on his observations, Trooper Otterson believed the Defendant's vehicle was in violation of multiple Minnesota traffic laws. (Id.).

         After observing that the Defendant's vehicle was potentially violating Minnesota traffic law, Trooper Otterson immediately ended his conversation with the driver red SUV and, at approximately 0:41 of the video recording, Trooper Otterson thereafter becomes visible in the video recording as he got into his patrol vehicle to begin following the Defendant's vehicle. (See, Gov't Ex. 1). While Trooper Otterson began to follow the Defendant's vehicle, he testified that he observed what he perceived to be Defendant's vehicle moving at a high rate of speed toward the exit of the parking lot. (Id.).

         When the Defendant's vehicle turned right out of the parking lot, Trooper Otterson briefly lost sight of the vehicle. (Id.). When Trooper Otterson also turned right out of the parking lot and the Defendant's vehicle again became visible in the video recording, Trooper Otterson testified that he observed that the vehicle was stopped at a stop sign approximately 300 to 400 yards away without a turn signal on. (Id. at 10:30-10:31 a.m.). He then observed that the Defendant's vehicle turned on its right turn signal, and then turned right. (Id.). Based on this observation, Trooper Otterson deduced that the vehicle had failed to continuously signal 100 feet before turning, which he believed to also be a violation of Minnesota traffic law. (Id.). According to the audio of the police vehicle dashcam, Trooper Otterson contemporaneously commented about not seeing that the vehicle had employed its turn signal. (Gov't Ex. 1 at 0:50-1:05). The video recording shows the Defendant's vehicle was stopped at the intersection for approximately 6 seconds before turning. (Gov't Ex. 1 at 1:00-1:07). The video recording does not show whether the Defendant's vehicle's turn signal was on during the 100 feet prior to its approach to the stop sign. (Id.).

         Thereafter, at approximately 12:19 p.m., Trooper Otterson turned on the lights of his police vehicle, initiated a traffic stop of the Defendant's vehicle, and pulled the vehicle over. (May 23, 2019, Motions Hearing, Digital Recording at 10:32-10:33 a.m.; Gov't Ex. 1 at 1:00-2:00). Trooper Otterson also testified that the vehicle did not pull over right away. (May 23, 2019, Motions Hearing, Digital Recording at 10:32-10:33 a.m.).

         After Trooper Otterson pulled the Defendant's vehicle over, he asked the female driver if she had her driver's license with her and she stated she did not. (Gov't. Ex. 1 at 2:05-2:15). Trooper Otterson then told the occupants of the Defendant's vehicle that he pulled them over because they failed to continuously signal for 100 feet before turning. (Id. at 2:30-2:45).

         Defendant then informed Trooper Otterson that he owned the vehicle. (Id. at 3:20-3:27). Trooper Otterson then walked around to the driver's side of the vehicle and while doing so, observed drug paraphernalia in the backseat of the vehicle. (Id. at 5:00-6:00). Trooper Otterson then asked the female driver to walk to his police vehicle so he could identify her because she did not have any form of identification on her. (Id. at 6:00-6:45).

         After briefly questioning the female driver, Trooper Otterson then walked back to the Defendant's vehicle to talk to the Defendant. (Id. at 9:00-13:30). While Trooper Otterson was talking to Defendant, Defendant told him that he had weed on him. (Id. at 16:30-17:00). Thereafter, Trooper Otterson handcuffed Defendant and put him in the backseat of his police vehicle. (Id. at 19:00-20:10).

         Trooper Otterson then commenced a dog sniff search and the drug dog alerted that there were drugs in the Defendant's vehicle. (Id. at 21:15-21:45). Thereafter, Trooper Otterson ...


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