United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Chattanooga
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
CHRISTOPHER H. STEGER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
jury indicted Robert Penn for being a felon in possession of
a firearm under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). [Doc. 1]. This
charge arose after a loaded 9mm pistol was recovered from a
motel room in which Penn was present. Penn filed a Motion to
Suppress [Doc. 55] requesting that the Court suppress the
evidence seized and statements made as a result of police
officers' warrantless entry into the motel room. The
undersigned conducted a hearing on the suppression motion on
May 8, 2019. Penn and his attorney, Keith Davis, were present
at the hearing. AUSA Kyle Wilson represented the Government.
undersigned RECOMMENDS that Defendant's
Motion to Suppress [Doc. 55] be DENIED for
reasons set forth below.
his indictment, Defendant filed a suppression motion [Doc.
22] in February 2018. The undersigned conducted a hearing on
that motion on March 28, 2019 [Doc. 29]. During the hearing,
Penn's then-attorney, Gianna Maio, discovered that she
had overlooked the existence of a body-cam video maintained
by one of the officers. At defense counsel's request, the
Court postponed the suppression hearing to allow her to
review and analyze the body-cam footage.
reviewing the video footage, Defendant moved to strike his
suppression motion. [Doc. 32]. The Court granted that motion.
[Doc. 33]. The undersigned conducted Defendant's
re-arraignment on May 8, 2018, and entered a report and
recommendation memorializing Defendant's plea of guilty
to Count 1 of the Indictment. [Doc. 37]. The District Judge
entered an order adopting the undersigned's report and
recommendation on May 30, 2018. [Doc. 38].
before the date for Defendant's sentencing hearing, his
attorney, Ms. Maio, filed a Motion to Request a Hearing
Regarding Attorney Representation. [Doc. 41]. The undersigned
conducted a hearing on that motion, relieved Ms. Maio from
further representation, and appointed Attorney Keith Davis to
represent Defendant. [Doc. 45]. Defendant filed a motion to
withdraw his guilty plea [Docs. 47, 49], which the District
Judge granted by order dated February 14, 2019. [Doc. 53].
withdrawing his guilty plea, Defendant renewed his Motion to
Suppress on March 25, 2019 [Doc. 55]. Before briefing was
complete, Defendant sent a letter to the Court, complaining
of "ineffective assistance of counsel." [Doc. 57].
The letter prompted Defendant's current attorney, Keith
Davis, to file a Motion to Determine Status of Attorney
Representation. [Doc. 58]. The undersigned conducted a
hearing on the motion and denied Defendant's request for
new counsel. [Doc. 64]. The Court then held a hearing on the
motion to suppress. [Doc. 68].
following chain of events led to the discovery of a firearm
in Defendant's possession in a motel room in East Ridge,
Tennessee. Initially, a red Ford Focus was stolen from a gas
station in Chattanooga. The Chattanooga Police Department
broadcasted a message to officers to be on the lookout for
the stolen vehicle. Around 9:00 A.M. on the following
morning, two East Ridge police officers noticed a red Ford
Focus-matching the description of the stolen car-parked
outside Room 141 at a local Motel 6. The motel was known to
the police as a particularly high-crime location in a
high-crime area. Officers ran a search of the car's
registration and confirmed that it was the stolen Ford Focus.
officers entered the motel lobby and interviewed the motel
clerk at the reception desk. The clerk advised them that a
motel guest by the name of Trevor Casteel had arrived in the
red Ford and rented Room 141. The clerk provided them with a
copy of Casteel's identification and told officers that
Casteel checked in by himself at around 2:00 A.M., but paid
an additional fee for a guest. The clerk further advised the
officers that, per Motel 6 policy, local residents staying at
the motel were required to provide photo identification for
themselves as well as for any guests staying in the room with
police officers returned to their cruiser and ran a
background check on Trevor Casteel. They discovered that
Casteel was a convicted felon and that he was currently on
probation. Armed with this information-and because
Casteel had arrived in a stolen car which was parked outside
his room-the police officers knocked on the door to Room 141
and announced their presence. Adjacent to the door was a
window with the blinds drawn. The police saw a man peek
through the blinds. After approximately one minute had
elapsed, a young woman, later identified as Sarah Croy,
opened the door. When Croy opened the door, officers could
see Casteel, partially covered by one or more blankets, lying
on one of the beds. They also observed another man, later
identified as Robert Penn, dart quickly into the bathroom at
the rear of the motel room.
for their safety, the officers immediately entered the hotel
room and ordered Penn out of the bathroom. Penn complied. The
officers then conducted a protective sweep of the room;
detained Penn, Casteel, and Croy; and read them their
Miranda rights. Upon questioning by the police
officers, Casteel admitted to arriving in the stolen car,
although he indicated that his girlfriend was the
driver. When officers asked if there were any
weapons in the room, both Penn and Casteel denied it.
asked Casteel-the only registered occupant of the room-for
consent to search the room. Casteel provided consent to the
officers to search the motel room. When the officers searched
the bathroom, they found a loaded 9mm pistol with a towel
wrapped around it. In a later interview, Penn admitted that
he possessed the gun. More specifically, Penn said that he
planned to buy the firearm from Croy and that he handled and
examined it as he was deciding whether to purchase it. Penn
stated that, although he did not have enough money at the
time to buy the gun, he intended to get the money to purchase
it. Penn stated that he came to the motel not only to examine
the firearm but also to "turn up, smoke, and chill"
time of the search, Penn was on probation. As part of his
probation order, Penn agreed to a warrantless search of his
"person, vehicle, property, or place of residence by a
Probation/Parole Officer or law enforcement officer, at any
time." Penn's probation officer, Andrew Gavin,
testified at a hearing that he told Penn that, under this
provision, a motel room would be ...