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United States v. Reid

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Western Division

April 23, 2018

JOSEPH REID, Defendant.



         Before the Court is Joseph Reid's (“Defendant”) Motion to Suppress Evidence and Supporting Memorandum of Law, filed January 5, 2018. (ECF No. 18.) The Court referred the Motion to Magistrate Judge Pham for Report and Recommendation on January 9, 2018. (ECF No. 19.) The Government filed its Response in Opposition on January 16, 2018 (ECF No. 20), and a supplemental response on January 29, 2018 (ECF No. 22). Magistrate Judge Pham held an evidentiary hearing on January 30, 2018.

         On March 6, 2018, Magistrate Judge Pham issued a Report and Recommendation (the “Report”), recommending that the Motion be denied. (ECF No. 30.) Defendant filed objections to the Report on March 20, 2018, arguing that Magistrate Judge Pham made errors in both his findings of fact and his conclusions of law. (ECF No. 31.) Thereafter, pursuant to Local Rule 72.1(g) and the Court's Order Directing Government to Respond (ECF No. 32), the Government filed a Response to Plaintiff's Objections on April 9, 2018 (ECF No. 33). As is more fully articulated herein, the Court ADOPTS the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation and DENIES Defendant's Motion to Suppress Evidence.


         On June 29, 2017, the Grand Jury returned an indictment charging Defendant with one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. (ECF No. 2.) At the evidentiary hearing on this Motion, the Government called as witnesses two officers with the Memphis Police Department, Lieutenant Andre Pruitt and Detective Cody Mills. Defendant called one witness, Detective Victoria Edwards, also of the Memphis Police Department. The events surrounding the arrest are recounted below, based on the testimony at that hearing. (See Mot. to Suppress Hr'g Tr., ECF No. 27.)

         At around 5:00 p.m. on November 30, 2016, Memphis police officers were performing an enhanced patrol in the Douglas neighborhood of Memphis, Tennessee, a neighborhood described by both Lieutenant Pruitt and Detective Mulls as “high crime.” (Id. at 12, 19, 25, 61.) As part of the enhanced patrol, Lieutenant Pruitt stated that he surveilled certain areas in an unmarked police car while several other officers in marked cars remained in the vicinity. (See id. at 15, 19, 23.) During his patrol, Lieutenant Pruitt noticed four men loitering in a vacant lot near a corner store on Chelsea Avenue. (Id. at 12-14.) Pruitt testified that the men were going back and forth between buildings adjoining the lot. (Id. at 14.) He also testified that there is a drug house behind the store and that he had made previous drugs arrests in that area. (Id.)

         After observing the four loiterers for approximately twenty minutes, Lieutenant Pruitt called the officers in marked police cars to come and conduct a consensual encounter. (Id. at 15, 20.) According to both Lieutenant Pruitt and Detective Mills, when the officers arrived on the scene in the marked cars, the loiterers “scattered, ” and Defendant “walked quickly” or jogged into the corner store. (Id. at 16, 44, 77.) Lieutenant Pruitt followed Defendant into the store and smelled marijuana as he approached Defendant. (Id. at 17.) He then grabbed Defendant, walked him out of the store and passed him off to Detective Mills. (Id. at 17-18.) Pruitt stated that he removed Defendant from the store so that Defendant did not think that the store owner coordinated with the police and so that business inside the store could resume. (Id. at 48.) Pruitt also testified that, in his experience, people involved in drug trafficking sometimes carry firearms. (Id. at 19.)

         Detective Mills testified that, “as soon as [Defendant] walked outside, [Mills] smelled a very strong odor of marijuana coming from [Defendant].” (Id. at 53.) Upon receiving Defendant from Lieutenant Pruitt, Mills tried to talk with him, but Defendant did not respond to the questions. (Id. at 57.) Mills testified that Defendant was “nervous and shaky” and began looking “left and right, as if he was looking for an . . . escape route . . .” when Mills asked him to turn around to be patted down. (Id.) Because of Defendant's conduct and the smell of marijuana, Mills handcuffed Defendant for officer safety before patting him down. (Id. at 57- 58.) Mills also stated that, in his experience, people who deal drugs sometimes carry firearms. (Id. at 60-61.) During the pat down, Mills found a handgun, a large bag of marijuana, two pills and one hundred ninety-six dollars in cash. (Id. at 58.) Defendant was then arrested and now seeks to suppress the gun found during the search.


         A magistrate judge may submit to a judge of the court proposed findings of fact and recommendations for certain pre-trial matters. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). “Within 14 days after being served with a copy of the recommended disposition, . . . a party may serve and file specific written objections to the proposed findings and recommendations.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 59(b)(2); see also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). A district court reviews de novo only those proposed findings of fact or conclusions of law to which a party specifically objects. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); see also Fed. R. Crim. P. 59(b)(3). “A general objection that does not identify specific issues from the magistrate's report is not permitted because it renders the recommendations of the magistrate useless, duplicates the efforts of the magistrate, and wastes judicial economy.” Johnson v. Brown, 2016 WL 4261761, at *1 (E.D. Kent. August 12, 2016) (citing Howard v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 932 F.2d 505, 509 (6th Cir. 1991)). After reviewing the evidence, the court may accept, reject or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).

         Defendant appears to object to the Report on two grounds. First, Defendant objects to Magistrate Judge Pham's factual findings based on Lieutenant Pruitt's testimony. (ECF No. 31 at 2.) Second, Defendant objects to Magistrate Judge Pham's legal conclusion that Lieutenant Pruitt and Detective Mills conducted a proper Terry stop. (Id. at 4-7.) The Court addresses Defendant's objections in turn.

         I. Factual Findings

         First, Defendant states that he objects to Lieutenant Pruitt's testimony being found “persuasive.” (Id. at 2.) Defendant's diction leaves the Court unclear as to whether he is challenging Judge Pham's finding that Lieutenant Pruitt's testimony was credible or Judge Pham's ultimate factual conclusions based on Pruitt's testimony. Therefore, the Court addresses both.

         Defendant's first collection of objections concerns Judge Pham's conclusion that Lieutenant Pruitt observed men loitering and milling about between vacant buildings before he called the officers in marked cars. (Id. at 2.) Specifically, Defendant argues that Pruitt testified that he did not see anyone walk toward the known drug house or see any drug transactions take place. (Id.) Instead, according to Defendant, Pruitt testified that he saw people and cars coming and going but no suspicious activity. (Id ...

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