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United States v. Bennerson

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

October 4, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
EUGENE BENNERSON, Defendant.

          Steger Magistrate Judge

          ORDER

          HARRY S. MATTICE, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On August 26, 2019, United States Magistrate Judge Christopher Steger filed his Report and Recommendation (Doc. 64) pursuant 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), in which he recommends the Motion to Suppress (Doc. 44) filed by Defendant Eugene Bennerson be denied. Defendant timely objected to the Report and Recommendation and the Government responded. The Court has reviewed the record and submissions of the parties and accepts and adopts the findings of fact and conclusions of law set forth in the Report and Recommendation, with one exception. The Court does not agree that the record establishes how much time elapsed between when the informants observed evidence of drug trafficking and when the search warrant was issued. However, based on the surrounding circumstances, the Court finds probable cause for the search existed even without this finding, as the relevant time period was less than 24 hours. Accordingly, the Court will accept and adopt in part the Report and Recommendation (Doc. 64) and deny Defendant's Motion to Suppress (Doc. 44).

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Court reviews de novo those portions of the Report and Recommendation to which an objection is made and may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the Magistrate Judge's findings or recommendations. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         II. FACTS

         The facts set forth in the Report and Recommendation are not in dispute.[1] On February 13, 2019, special agents with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation executed a search warrant at Room 245 at the Red Roof Inn Plus and Suites, located at 208 Market Place Blvd., Knoxville, Tennessee (the “Red Roof Inn”). (Doc. 64 at 1). Officers discovered, inter alia, digital scales, approximately 9 ¼ ounces of methamphetamine, and a Red Roof Inn receipt in the name of Eugene Bennerson. (Id.). On April 23, 2019, Defendant was indicted for several federal drug and firearm crimes, including conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, distribution of methamphetamine, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. (Doc. 1).

         On July 2, 2019, Defendant moved to suppress all evidence seized as a result of the search of Room 245. (Doc. 44). Defendant argues the affidavit in support of the warrant did not provide probable cause for the search because it relies on hearsay information without either establishing the reliability of the informants or corroborating their information. (Id. at 7-10). Defendant also argues the affidavit fails to establish his continued occupancy of the motel room and consequently the information in the affidavit was stale. (Id. at 6-7). The motion was referred to Magistrate Judge Steger, see Doc. 46, who recommends it be denied. (Doc. 64). On September 3, 2019, Defendant filed timely objections to the Report and Recommendation. (Doc. 67). The United States responded on September 9, 2019. (Doc. 68).

         III. ANALYSIS

         The Fourth Amendment provides no warrant shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation ....” U.S. Const. amend IV. “The test for probable cause is simply whether there is a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place.” United States v. Murphy, 241 F.3d 447, 457 (6th Cir. 2001) (internal citation omitted). The issuing magistrate is tasked with making a “practical, common-sense decision, ” based on the affidavit, including the veracity, reliability, and basis of the knowledge of any persons supplying hearsay information. Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 238 (1983). On review, the Court affords great deference to the magistrate's determination of probable cause. United States v. Allen, 211 F.3d 970 (6th Cir. 2000).

         Here, the affidavit reflects that special agents with the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) were investigating a drug trafficking organization in the Knoxville, Tennessee area. (Doc. 45-3 at 3). The ATF had developed information that Grenardic Williams distributed methamphetamine in Knoxville, specifically near Cedar Bluff Road. (Id.). According to the affidavit, ATF agents had used a Confidential Source (CS) to purchase methamphetamine from members of the organization. (Id.).

         On February 13, 2019, the ATF used a CS to arrange a controlled buy of 4 ounces of methamphetamine. (Id.). According to the CS, Grenardic Williams told the CS that his brother and a woman would arrive in Athens, Tennessee “later in the afternoon on February 13, 2019, to complete the transaction” and that they would be in a black two-door sedan with front-end damage. (Id.). The described vehicle arrived at the expected location, with a white female driver and a black male passenger. (Id.). Agents detained the occupants of the vehicle, identified as Malorie Houser and Gretavius Williams. (Id.).

         The affidavit continues:

After the Miranda Rights had been read, HOUSER and GRETAVIUS WILLIAMS admitted that approximately four (4) ounces of Methamphetamine was located in their vehicle in the center cupholder…. HOUSER and GRETAVIUS WILLIAMS added that they brought the Methamphetamine from Room #245 of the Red Roof motel located near Cedar Bluff Road in Knoxville, Tennessee. Houser and GRETAVIUS WILLIAMS also stated that they had observed multiple ounces more of Methamphetamine located in Room #245. HOUSER and GRETAVIUS WILLIAMS described the multiple ounces of Methamphetamine to be inside a jar in Room #245. HOUSER and GRETAVIOUS WILLIAMS also stated that the way the multiple ounces of Methamphetamine was packaged in Room #245 was the same way the four (4) ounces of Methamphetamine was packaged that was found in their ...

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