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United States v. Holston

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville Division

July 15, 2019



          Clifton L. Corker, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Defendant, Alton Maurinse Holston, filed a Motion to Suppress, addressing the duration of the traffic stop, his admission to possessing contraband and a firearm in his vehicle, and the ultimate discovery of additional contraband and firearms in his hotel room [Doc. 30, 36, 41]. The United States responded to the motion [Doc. 35, 38, 42]. This matter is before the Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 636(b) and the standing orders of the District Court for a Report and Recommendation.

         On June 27, 2019, the Court conducted an evidentiary hearing on Holston's motion. Present at the hearing were Holston, his counsel, Tim S. Moore, Esq., and Assistant United States Attorney Thomas A. McCauley, Esq. Testifying at the hearing was Johnson City Police Department (“JCPD”) Officer William Saulsbury. The matter is now ripe for resolution. For the reasons stated herein, the undersigned RECOMMENDS the Motion to Suppress [Doc. 30], as supplemented, [Doc. 36, 41] be GRANTED.


         On August 15, 2018, the Grand Jury returned a three count indictment charging Holston with possessing with the intent to distribute a quantity of crack cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(C), possessing a firearm by a convicted felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), and possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense as charged in count one in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(c)(1)(A).

         In Holston's initial Motion to Suppress, he claimed law enforcement violated the Fourth Amendment in searching his hotel room in Johnson City, Tennessee, where officers seized crack cocaine and several firearms [Doc. 30, pg. 1]. He filed a second motion to suppress also challenging the search of his vehicle at the scene of the traffic stop that had occurred earlier[1] [Doc. 36]. Finally, when the Government noted that his second motion was insufficient to even respond to, Defendant filed a supplement claiming, among other things, that he was “seized and held for a period too long for the purposes of the stop.” [Doc. 41, pg. 2]. He also argued his statement was obtained in violation of Miranda.

         The United States responded that the search of the hotel room was by consent of Defendant's girlfriend who was present in the room at the time of the search. [Doc. 35, pg. 5]. The United States also argued that the search of the vehicle was supported by probable cause as Defendant had admitted to possessing crack cocaine and a firearm in his vehicle prior to the search. The United States also argued that the detention was not unreasonable and that Miranda does not apply to investigatory detentions.


         At about 6:40 a.m. on July 12, 2018, dispatch reported that an employee from the Exxon gas station called to report a suspicious person near its place of business off Boones Creek Road in Johnson City, Tennessee. Patrol Officer William Saulsbury (Saulsbury) of the Johnson City Police Department responded along with other officers. Saulsbury drove up to the Shell station across from the Exxon and saw a vehicle matching the description provided in dispatch. The vehicle was about to exit the parking lot of the Shell station and enter onto Boones Creek Road. At 6:41 a.m., Saulsbury activated his blue lights and pulled up next to the vehicle. The vehicle stopped. Saulsbury did not witness any traffic violations. The entire incident was recorded by the officer's dash cam and admitted into evidence. See Exhibit One.

         Saulsbury approached the vehicle and asked the driver, later identified as Holston, to turn off the car and “step on out of the car for me.” Saulsbury opened the driver's side door for Holston to exit. Holston complied and stepped out. Saulsbury then asked for his driver's license and that he would explain why he stopped him “in just a minute.” Holston did not have it on his person so he re-opened the car door to retrieve it. Saulsbury said “I'll get it for you, where's it at?” Holston said he would get it. Saulsbury initially permitted him to look for it, but when he noticed a bag in the car, he said, “Come on back here, I'll look you up. Don't dig in the bag. I'll look you up.” Holston closed the door and followed Saulsbury to the front of his cruiser. Saulsbury directed Holston to stand in front of his cruiser. Holston inquired about why he was stopped again, and Saulsbury said he would explain “in just a minute.” (DVD 6:41:40). Saulsbury went back to his car and then returned and asked for Holston's social security number. He provided it. (DVD 6:41:55). The following colloquy then occurred:

6:42:00 Saulsbury: What are you doing up here this morning?
Holston: I just stopped at the store and got me some beer and go back to my room.
Saulsbury: What store did you stop at?
Holston: The Exxon. Then I stopped over there to check on the air pump but it was out of order
Saulsbury: Check on what?
Holston: Air pump. (pointing to his back tires) check on my low tires. (inaudible) Headed back to my room. I am staying right there at Woodsprings.
Saulsbury: How long have you been staying up there for?
Holston: About five weeks now.
Saulsbury: Five weeks?
Holston: Yeah.
Saulsbury: What was your social again?
Holston: (Provides his social security number)
Saulsbury: Tennessee?
Holston: No, I'm from Georgia.
Saulsbury: What brings you up to Tennessee?
Holston: My girlfriend.
Saulsbury: Who's your girlfriend? What's her name?
Holston: Katesha.
Saulsbury: What's your last name?
Holston: Holston. H-O-L-S-T-O-N.
Saulsbury: What's your first name?
Holston: Alton. A-L-T-O-N.
Saulsbury: What's your date of birth, Mr. Holston?
Holston: (Provides date of birth).
06:42:58 Saulsbury: Do you work anywhere?
Holston: I just do the Uber when I go to Knoxville and come back here at home.
Saulsbury: Where's your girlfriend at?
Holston: Up in the room.
Saulsbury: The reason I'm talking to you today is ladies over there at that Exxon have called in and complained on you. Said you're acting strangely and they feel like you're watching them.
Holston: What?
Saulsbury: Have you done anything to give them an indication that ...

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