Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville
Session October 28, 2014.
Appeal from the Circuit Court for Giles County No. 16242 Robert Lee Holloway, Jr., Judge
Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Jeffrey D. Zentner, Assistant Attorney General; T. Michael Bottoms, District Attorney General; and Beverly Jo White, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.
Phillip K. Baddour (at trial) and A. Colbrook Baddour (at trial and on appeal), Pulaski, Tennessee, for the appellant, Tommy Kaye Thompson.
John Everett Williams, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roger A. Page, and Robert H. Montgomery, Jr., JJ., joined.
JOHN EVERETT WILLIAMS, JUDGE
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
The defendant came to the attention of law enforcement as a result of the investigation of his grandson's involvement with a plan to destroy a truck and lodge an insurance claim for the truck. While serving a search warrant in an attempt to locate some equipment and tools which had been in the bed of the destroyed vehicle, police entered the RV where the defendant was residing. The defendant was subsequently charged with possession of not less than one-half ounce or more than ten pounds of marijuana with the intent to sell, possession of drug paraphernalia, and possession of a firearm with the intent to go armed during the commission of or attempt to commit a dangerous felony.
At the hearing on the motion to suppress, Investigator Shane Hunter testified that on January 18, 2013,  Tommy Thompson, III, the defendant's grandson, contacted police to report that his boss's vehicle had been stolen while it was parked at a house on the defendant's property, where the defendant's grandson resided with his girlfriend and child. The police asked the vehicle's owner to make a report, and the owner then contacted police to confirm the vehicle was missing. On January 21, 2013, police recovered the vehicle from the Elkton River. Tools and security equipment which had been in the bed of the truck were missing.
After the vehicle was pulled from the river, Edward Sisk contacted a police officer to share information about the theft. Mr. Sisk informed police that around January 17, 2013, he had towed the vehicle from the defendant's grandson's home to his own nearby property for repairs and that after examining it, he informed the defendant's grandson that there would be difficulties with repairing the vehicle. The defendant's grandson then proposed that Mr. Sisk tow the vehicle to the river so that it could be disposed of, and he offered Mr. Sisk the contents of the truck bed – two ladders, several boxes of security items, and some tools – if he assisted. Mr. Sisk refused to assist in disposing of the vehicle; instead, he towed the vehicle back to the defendant's grandson's home. Mr. Sisk happened to be outside his own house during the late hours of January 17, 2013, and he saw the vehicle being towed past his house and down the road. The route the tow truck took was consistent with going toward the river.
On January 22, 2013, after receiving this information from Mr. Sisk, Investigator Hunter interviewed the defendant's grandson, who admitted soliciting Mr. Sisk to dispose of the vehicle but claimed he had been joking.
That same day, which was also the day before the search was carried out, Investigator Hunter went to the defendant's property in part to gather information to assist him with the drafting of the warrant. The property was accessible from a U-shaped driveway which led to two houses. One of the houses belonged to a neighbor, and the other belonged to the defendant. There were three sets of living quarters associated with property owned by the defendant: a house, an RV, and a garage apartment, where David Parker, a friend of the defendant's grandson, lived. When Investigator Hunter came to the premises on January 22, 2013, he spoke with the defendant who was "at his RV camper." Investigator Hunter told the defendant he was looking for the defendant's grandson's girlfriend, and the defendant told him, "[S]he's not here. She's next door in the house." Investigator Hunter testified that during this meeting, the defendant told him "that he was living in the camper, and that his grandson was living in the residence with his girlfriend." Past the defendant's RV was a burn pile, which Investigator Hunter wished to include in the search warrant. Beyond the burn pile was the second house, which belonged to a neighbor. Accordingly, when Investigator Hunter visited the property, he spoke with the defendant and asked about the ownership of the surrounding property. According to Investigator Hunter, he asked the defendant if he owned the property and "asked specifically i[f] this RV was on his property, " and the defendant responded, "This is my property." Investigator Hunter testified, ". . . and you know, he was motioning. You know, he was showing the camper and everything."
The police decided to solicit the help of Mr. Parker, the occupant of the garage apartment on the property owned by the defendant. Mr. Parker at that time had a probation revocation warrant. On January 23, 2013, the day the search warrant was issued, Mr. Parker and his girlfriend, Mary Albright, gave statements to police. These statements confirmed the defendant's grandson's apparent involvement in the scheme to dispose of the vehicle. Mr. Parker told police that the vehicle was not functioning properly and that the defendant's grandson's boss had offered the defendant's grandson money, vacation time, and the contents of the truck to get rid of it. Mr. Parker had been solicited to help but had refused. Mr. Parker also noted that the defendant's grandson had planned to roll the vehicle into the river on January 15th, hoping to make it look like a fishing accident. Significantly, Mr. Parker told police that on January 23rd, he was moving out and removing possessions from the main house, and he saw security cameras and tools, which had not been there previously.
Ms. Albright confirmed that the defendant's grandson was hoping to get rid of the vehicle; he had asked her on January 17, 2013, if she knew of a "chop shop" and told her he could delay reporting the vehicle missing if she did. She also told police that, as the garage apartment had no bathroom, she went to the bathroom in the house on the night the car disappeared, and ...