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United States v. Monroe

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

May 1, 2018




         Before the Court is the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation (the “Report”), dated November 30, 2017. (ECF No. 62.) The Report recommends that Defendant Reginald Monroe's Motion to Suppress (ECF No. 26) be granted. (Id. at 329.) On December 21, 2017, the government filed timely objections to the Report and requested a de novo hearing. (ECF No. 66.) Monroe responded on January 4, 2018. (ECF No. 67.)

         For the reasons stated below, the government's objections are OVERRULED and the Report is ADOPTED, the government's request for de novo hearing is DENIED, and Monroe's Motion to Suppress is GRANTED.

         I. Background

         This matter arises from the August 17, 2016 arrest of Monroe, who fled after he had been stopped for a window tint violation. Detective Josh Myers (“Detective Myers”) and Detective DeWayne Smith (“Detective Smith”) of the Memphis Police Department (“MPD”) performed the traffic stop.

         The same day, Detective Markus Stephens (“Detective Stephens”) prepared the Incident Report and Affidavit of Complaint for Monroe's stop and ensuing flight. The Incident Report, prepared by Detective Stephens, states in relevant part:

On 08/17/2016 at 1440 hours, Detectives Myers and Smith were in the area of Watkins and McNeil at which time Detective Myers observed a red colored Honda Accord traveling northbound Watkins near Lexington circle with its windows darker than the legal limits. The vehicle was then stopped at 1230 N. Watkins at [that] time the driver, the later identified Reginald More, jumped out and ran from the vehicle south bound towards N. Lexington circle. Detectives Myers and Smith then chased Monroe ordering him to stop running, Monroe continued running. Detectives chased Monroe to the rear of 1404 N. Lexington circle where [Monroe] damaged a wooden fence. Monroe then jumped into an embankment and into flowing water. Detective Gooch who was in the area and joined the pursuit and later captured Monroe in the ditch along with Detective Myers. Due to the large rocks in the ditch, the fire department was called to make sure no one was injured during the foot pursuit. Unit 28 made the scene and checked the detectives as well as Reginald Monroe. Detective Smith returned back to the vehicle and during his inventory, recovered in the trunk a pink shoe box containing several plastic baggies of a green leafy substance resembling marijuana, also a pill bottle with several white crystal rocks resembling crack cocaine. The marijuana tested positive for THC weighing 123.5 grams and the crack cocaine tested positive weighing 11.1 grams. Also in the pill bottle was [0].5 grams of a white powder substance which tested positive for cocaine. The drugs recovered were tagged in the property and evidence room. Detective Smith located a gray and black hand gun in the trunk which was loaded with 12 rounds. Once the Detectives made it from the ditch Detective Gooch recovered $326.00 from the pocket of Reginald Monroe as possible drug proceeds. Detectives confirmed that Reginald Monroe is a convicted Felon verified by Detective Hillard, conviction date 10/21/1995 in Division 3 for Possession of a controlled substance with intent to MDS, serving 2 years. Lt. Fair made the scene and verified the currency. Detective Smith tagged currency and the drugs. Reginald Monroe refused to complete a rights waiver form that was tagged along with the property. B&C towed the vehicle to the city lot with a hold for OCU. Monroe was transported to the Regional Medical center for observation by Detective Myers and Smith.

         (Incident Rep., Ex. 15.)

         The Affidavit of Complaint, signed by Detective Myers, mirrors the Incident Report, adding that the “Window tint measures at 45%.” (Aff. Compl., Ex. 3.)

         On January 26, 2017, a grand jury indicted Monroe for possession with intent to distribute marijuana, possession with intent to distribute cocaine, possession of a firearm in relation to a drug trafficking crime, and possession of a firearm as a convicted felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). (Indictment, ECF No. 1.)

         On April 5, 2017, more than seven months after Monroe's arrest, Detective Myers supplemented the Incident Report to correct the window tint test to 41%. (Suppl. Incident Rep., Ex. 4.)

         On June 28, 2017, Monroe filed a Motion to Suppress evidence obtained by the MPD during the August 17, 2016 traffic stop. (Def.'s Mot. Suppress, ECF No. 26.) The government responded on July 12, 2017. (ECF No. 32.)

         United States Magistrate Judge Diane K. Vescovo held an evidentiary hearing on August 25, 2017. (Min. Entry, ECF No. 43.) The government called three witnesses: Detectives Myers, Smith, and Darnell Gooch (“Detective Gooch”). (Id.) Monroe testified and called six witnesses. (Id.) Monroe called MPD Officers Louis Brownlee and Darnell Banks, and Detectives Stephens and Myers. (Id.) Monroe also called Byron Cook, operations manager at Swivels Auto Sale, and Michael Pryor, an investigator with the federal public defenders' office. (Hr'g Tr., ECF No. 45 at 197:11-12, 249:11-12).

         At the hearing, Detective Myers testified that he stopped Monroe for an apparent window tint violation and that Detective Myers smelled marijuana on approaching the vehicle. (Id. at 16:20-21.) Detective Myers testified that he and Detective Smith approached Monroe's vehicle. (Id. at 94:19.) Detective Myers stood on the driver's side and Detective Smith stood on the passenger side. (Id. at 94:16-21.) Detective Myers testified that he asked Monroe about the marijuana odor and whether Detective Myers could search the vehicle. (Id. at 94:16-95:2.) Detective Myers testified that Monroe consented to the search of the vehicle. (Id. at 94:23-95:2.)

         Detective Myers testified that Monroe “was removed from the vehicle, ” patted down, and told to stand at the back of the vehicle. (Id. at 95:3-9.) According to Detective Myers, Detective Smith stood at the rear of the vehicle with Monroe, while Detective Myers searched the interior. (Id. at 95:21-25.) Detective Myers testified that the odor of marijuana became stronger towards the rear of the vehicle. (Id. at 96:1-2.) Detective Myers searched the backseat, where he opened a compartment behind an armrest that led to the truck. (Id. at 96:7-11, 120:18-121:17.) In that compartment, he testified, he found a pink shoebox. (Id.) Detective Myers testified that, when he opened the shoebox containing drugs, Monroe fled. (Id. at 96:10-11, 120:18-121:17.)

         Detective Smith testified that he also smelled marijuana as he approached the vehicle. (Id. at 154:21-23, 165:24-25.) On direct examination, Detective Smith testified that Detective Myers received Monroe's consent to search the vehicle. (Id. at 156:25-77:5.) On cross examination, Detective Smith testified that he could not hear whether Detective Myers asked for or obtained Monroe's consent. (Id. at 168:15-169:6.) Detective Smith testified that Detective Myers began searching the vehicle. (Id. at 155:6-7.) Detective Smith did not testify that he saw Detective Myers access the backseat, open a backseat armrest compartment, or pull out a pink shoebox. Detective Smith testified that, while Detective Myers searched the vehicle, Detective Smith spoke with Monroe at the rear of the vehicle. (Id. at 155:8-24.) Detective Smith testified that at some point, while he was looking away, he heard Monroe flee. (Id. at 155:8-24.) Detective Smith gave chase. (Id. at 156:1.)

         Detective Smith testified that he returned to the scene of the traffic stop after Monroe had fled and began “inventorying” the trunk of Monroe's vehicle. (Id. at 157:8-13.) Detective Smith did not remember whether the trunk was open when he returned or whether he opened the trunk. (Id. at 171:3-94:5.) Detective Smith testified that Monroe's vehicle was then sent to the impound lot. (Id. at 179:4-14)

         Monroe testified that the officers did not mention smelling marijuana and did not ask Monroe to consent to a search. (Id. at 258:5-12.) According to Monroe, Detective Myers began searching the vehicle without consent and, while in the front seat, opened the trunk where the contraband was stowed. (Id. at 259:13-20.) Monroe concedes that he fled once the trunk had been opened. (Id.)

         At the end of the evidentiary hearing, the Magistrate Judge permitted the parties to file supplemental briefs addressing whether Monroe had consented to the search. (Id. at 269:21-22.) Monroe filed his supplemental brief on September 25, 2017. (ECF No. 52.) The government filed its supplemental brief on October 14, 2017. (ECF No. 55.)

         On November 30, 2017, the Magistrate Judge filed her Report. (ECF No. 62.) She found the officers' testimony incredible and concluded that Monroe's Fourth Amendment rights had been violated. (Id.)

         On December 21, 2017, the government filed its objections to the Report and requested a de novo hearing. (ECF No. 66.) The government objects to the Magistrate Judge's credibility determinations, four of her findings of fact, and six of her conclusions of law. (Id.) The government argues that the evidence should not be suppressed because Monroe consented to the search, the detectives had reasonable suspicion to search, and the ...

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