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United States v. Vaughn

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

December 17, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
JOSHUA'A RAMELLE VAUGHN and SEAN DORIAN SHINN

          MEMORANDUM

          Curtis L. Collier Judge

         Defendants Joshua'a Ramelle Vaughn and Sean Dorian Shinn have been charged with conspiracy to distribute fentanyl and heroin, possession with intent to distribute fentanyl and heroin, and with possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. (Doc. 1.) Defendant Vaughn is also charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. (Id.)

         The matter is now before the Court on the Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) of Magistrate Judge Susan K. Lee, recommending the Court deny Defendants' motion to suppress the evidence obtained as a result of the July 12, 2018, search of Defendant Vaughn's apartment. (Doc. 53.) Defendants have objected to the R&R. (Doc. 54.) The United States (“the Government”) has filed a response in opposition to the objection. (Doc. 55.)

         I. BACKGROUND

         The R&R sets out a detailed summary of the events that occurred on July 12, 2018, based on the stipulated testimony of 17th Judicial District Drug Task Force (“Task Force”) Special Agent John Lasater and the live testimony of Metropolitan Nashville Police Department (“MNPD”) Detective Robert Ruiz, Task Force Special Agent Jose Ramirez, Task Force Special Agent Kyle Brewer, and Task Force Assistant Director/Special Agent Shane George. (Doc. 53.)

         The Magistrate Judge noted there were some differences in the witnesses' testimony, but found such inconsistencies did not make the pertinent testimony untrustworthy. Defendants object to this finding, but have failed to explain why the Court should reject it. (See Doc. 54 at 1.) Based on the Court's review of the testimony and the Magistrate Judge's determination as to the witnesses' credibility, see United States v. Irorere, 69 Fed.Appx. 231, 236 (6th Cir. 2003) (explaining the Magistrate Judge's credibility assessment is entitled to deference), the Court will adopt the finding that the inconsistencies impact only the strength of certain testimony.

         The following is a summary of the factual background in this matter derived from the R&R and evidence presented at the suppression hearings.

         On July 12, 2018, MNPD and Task Force officers were conducting surveillance at Park Trail Apartments in Shelbyville, Tennessee, to locate and arrest Marquavis Lytle (“Lytle”), an individual believed to be involved in dangerous gang-related drug trafficking and violent shootings in the Nashville area. The surveillance was focused on Building 5 because historic cell site location data had placed a cell phone, believed to belong to Lytle, [1] at that location.

         Before anyone else was seen entering or leaving Building 5, law enforcement observed a black male exit the building and leave the parking lot in a black Chevrolet Equinox. The vehicle had a Florida tag and the officers determined it was a rental car, which was unusual for the location. As the vehicle drove past Detective Ruiz, he determined the driver was not Lytle, but he thought the driver looked like Lytle's associate, De Angelo Young (“Young”), who also had outstanding arrest warrants. Detective Ruiz relayed this information to Agent Brewer who conveyed it to the other Task Force agents. A short time later, the cell phone location data indicated Lytle's cell phone was now mobile, leading Detective Ruiz to conclude the driver left with Lytle's cell phone, which reinforced his conclusion that the driver was Young. The officers agreed the driver should be detained if he returned to the apartment complex.

         Ten to twenty-five minutes later, the driver returned to the parking lot and was observed speaking to another individual before parking next to Agent Ramirez's undercover vehicle. The subsequent events took place concurrently or in rapid succession. Agent Ramirez exited his vehicle and placed the driver, later identified as Defendant Vaughn, in handcuffs. Then, Detective Ruiz approached the driver and immediately recognized he was not Young, which he communicated to the officers at the arrest scene. Defendant Vaughn gave officers his name, but did not have any identification for officers to verify his claimed identity.

         Meanwhile, Agent Brewer questioned the individual Defendant Vaughn was seen speaking with moments earlier. Agent Brewer learned the individual lived at the complex and had seen Defendant Vaughn there before. The individual then indicated where Defendant Vaughn lived- the first apartment on the right on the first floor of Building 5. Agent Brewer testified that at this point he had not spoken with Detective Ruiz and was not aware that the arrested driver, Defendant Vaughn, was not Young.

         As Agent Brewer was interviewing the neighbor, Agent George and Agent Lasater began approaching Building 5 to conduct a knock and talk at each apartment unit. Agent Brewer told them the location of Defendant Vaughn's apartment because he still believed Defendant Vaughn was Lytle's associate, Young. Agent George and Agent Lasater then went straight to Defendant Vaughn's apartment to knock on the door. A man, later identified as Defendant Shinn, opened the apartment door about a foot wide, and Agent George immediately smelled both raw and burnt marijuana. Defendant Shinn then tried to close the door, but Agent George prevented him from doing so and told him he needed to step inside to discuss the odor of marijuana emanating from the apartment.

         After entering the apartment, Agent George saw a small amount of marijuana residue and burnt roaches on the coffee table along with a powder he suspected was heroin. Defendant Shinn was detained and frisked, and law enforcement conducted a protective sweep of the apartment. Agent Brewer entered the apartment ten to twenty minutes later and informed Agent George that the arrested driver was not Young, as they originally believed. Agent Brewer then returned to his office to write an affidavit for a warrant to search Defendant Vaughn's apartment (the “July Affidavit”). Agent Brewer obtained the search warrant and a search was conducted on July 12, 2018. Several months later, in December 2018, Agent Brewer applied for a second warrant to seize and search several cell phones collected in the July search of Defendant Vaughn's apartment, including the one tracked on July 12, 2018. Another search warrant was issued (the “December Warrant”) and additional evidence was obtained.

         Based on the evidence obtained in these searches, Defendants Vaughn and Shinn were charged with conspiracy to distribute forty grams or more of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of fentanyl and 100 grams or more of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of heroin in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B); possession with intent to distribute 100 grams or more of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of heroin in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C) and 18 U.S.C. § 2; possession with intent to distribute more than forty grams of fentanyl in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C) and 18 U.S.C. § 2; and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 924(c)(1)(A)(i) and 2. (Doc. 1.) Defendant Vaughn is also charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). (Id.)

         On July 8, 2019, Defendants filed a motion to suppress all evidence obtained as a result of Defendants' detentions and the search of Defendant Vaughn's apartment. (Doc. 25.) The Government responded in opposition (Doc. 30), and Defendants replied (Doc. 33). The Magistrate Judge held a hearing on Defendants' motion on August 14 and 26, 2019. (Docs. 34, 35, 38, 39.) After the hearings, the parties submitted additional briefing on the issues. (Docs. 43, 49, 51.)

         Following the hearing, the Magistrate Judge issued an R&R pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), recommending the Court deny Defendants' motion to suppress. (Doc. 53.)

         In the R&R, the Magistrate Judge first discussed the validity of Defendant Vaughn's detention. The Magistrate Judge concluded that law enforcement had probable cause to arrest Defendant Vaughn initially because the officers reasonably mistook him for Young, who had outstanding arrest warrants. (Id. at 20-21(quoting Hill v. California, 401 U.S. 797, 802 (1971)).) Although probable cause dissipated when Detective Ruiz recognized Defendant Vaughn was not Young, the Magistrate Judge found the continued detention did not last longer than necessary to accomplish the purpose of the stop. (Id. at 23.)

         The Magistrate Judge then considered the validity of the knock and talk and protective sweep of Defendant Vaughn's apartment. The Magistrate Judge noted Defendants did not directly dispute whether the officers could engage in a knock and talk, but instead contended that by determining the location of Defendant Vaughn's apartment while he was detained, the knock and talk was unlawful. (Id. at 26.) The Magistrate Judge explained that the knock and talk was not tainted by Defendant Vaughn's detention because the location of the apartment was gleaned from a neighbor and occurred before Agent George and Agent Lasater learned Defendant Vaughn was not Young. (Id. at 26.) The Magistrate Judge also found the evidence viewed during the protective sweep ...


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