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United States v. Allen

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Chattanooga

July 11, 2019


          McDonough, Judges



         I. Introduction

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Richard T. Allen's ("Allen") Amended Motion to Suppress evidence. [Doc. 84].[1] Allen contends that a police officer who pulled him over for a traffic violation lacked probable cause to search his vehicle. Allen also alleges that, on a separate occasion, law enforcement agents conducted an illegal search of an apartment-not his apartment-although the agents obtained consent to search from the legal tenant of the apartment. The Government responds that both searches were lawful.

         The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution secures the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. Against this backdrop, the Court must determine whether: (1) the police officer had probable cause to search Allen's car; (2) the tenant's consent to search her apartment was valid; and (3) Allen had a reasonable expectation of privacy in an apartment in which he was not a legal tenant.

         For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Amended Motion to Suppress will be DENIED.

         II. Facts

         A. Search Incident to Traffic Stop

         On January 25, 2016, Allen was driving his Lincoln Town Car when Chattanooga Police Department Officer Jamaael Noble pulled him over for having a tinted license plate cover in violation of Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-4-110(b). When Officer Noble approached the driver-side door, he noted that Allen was driving and had two passengers in the car. Allen rolled down his window. Officer Noble asked Allen for his driver's license and proof of insurance. Allen responded that his license was inside his jacket pocket and that his jacket was on the backseat. While speaking with Allen, Officer Noble smelled marijuana in the vehicle.

         Officer Noble ordered Allen and the two passengers out of the car. Noble asked Allen about the marijuana odor in the car. Allen responded that he had smoked marijuana in the car an hour earlier, but the car contained nothing illegal. Noble reached into the backseat and retrieved Allen's jacket. He located Allen's license in the left jacket pocket. When he looked in the right jacket pocket, he found a white substance in a baggie. Noble field-tested the substance and discovered that it consisted of 8.1 grams of cocaine.

         After finding the cocaine, Noble searched Allen's car. Inside the center console, he found a scale with white, powdery residue on it. Noble then placed Allen under arrest. When Allen arrived at the jail, officials searched him and discovered cash as well as another baggie of cocaine.

         B. Search of Apartment

         Nearly a year later in early 2017, Allen and co-defendant Amanda Wynn were being surveilled by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ("ATF") because they were suspects in a heroin and cocaine trafficking ring in Chattanooga. ATF Special Agent Adam Baldwin-who appeared in court at the hearing on this motion-testified that he was working a joint investigation with the Chattanooga Police Department into an armed drug-trafficking organization. Agent Baldwin discovered that Allen was a supply source for cocaine and heroin as well as that Wynn distributed the drugs for Allen. Armed with this information, Agent Baldwin and other ATF agents set up several controlled drug buys with Wynn.

         On February 23, 2017, ATF agents established surveillance on Wynn and Allen to conduct another controlled cocaine buy from Wynn. The ATF had learned from the U.S. Marshal service that there were active arrest warrants pending for both Allen and Wynn. Consequently, the ATF agents made plans to execute the warrants and arrest both Allen and Wynn immediately after the controlled drug buy. Surveillance revealed Allen picking up Wynn and others in a Pontiac Bonneville at Eastlake Court Apartments in Chattanooga. Allen drove to several locations, concluding his trip at an apartment complex located at 2001 South Lyerly Street in Chattanooga. Allen and his passengers waited in the parking lot until Brandon Edwards-a known associate of Allen-arrived and let himself into Apartment 217. At that point, Allen, Wynn, and others got out of the car and joined Edwards in the apartment.

         During this time frame, an ATF confidential informant ("CI") contacted Wynn to make a controlled buy. Wynn instructed the CI to go to a location a short distance from the apartment. Wynn then left the apartment, met the CI, and sold the CI three ounces of powdered cocaine. The CI used ATF marked bills to make the buy so that the money could be tracked. Following that transaction, Wynn returned to apartment 217.

         While surveillance of apartment 217 continued, law enforcement-including ATF agents, Chattanooga Police Officers, and U.S. Deputy Marshals-met nearby to create a plan to execute the arrest warrants for Wynn and Allen. They proceeded to the apartment complex, found Wynn in the breezeway, and immediately arrested her; Allen, meanwhile, was still in the apartment.

         Law enforcement knocked on the door of apartment 217 and announced their presence. Allen responded that he would not open the door, so they forced entry into the apartment. The officers found Allen and another man, Gregory Brewer, lying face-down inside near the entrance. Allen and Brewer refused to stand, so officers picked up both men and took them into the breezeway. As officers escorted Allen outside, he repeatedly stated that it was not his apartment and that it belonged to some unidentified person who was at work. While being handcuffed, Allen told the officers that he had ...

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