United States District Court, D. Vermont
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTIQN TO SUPPRESS EVIDENCE
CHRISTINA REISS, Chief District Judge.
This matter came before the court on April 9, 2014 for an evidentiary hearing on Defendant Mamie Allen's Motion to Suppress Evidence. (Doc. 19.) Defendant contends that her encounter with two federal agents that occurred outside a residence in Rutland, Vermont was not consensual, but rather was a seizure unsupported by a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. She seeks suppression of all evidence gathered as a result of the alleged unlawful seizure, including her subsequent statements at a police station which she claims are tainted by the unlawful seizure.
Post-hearing, Defendant submitted a transcript of a police cruiser video that depicts DEA Special Agent Thomas Doud's interaction with Defendant's travelling companions on the evening in question. Defendant contends that Agent Doud's statements are indicative of the non-consensual nature of her interaction with law enforcement. The court took the matter under advisement on April 29, 2014.
Defendant is charged in a one count indictment with possession of heroin with intent to distribute, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(l) & (b)(l)(C).
The government is represented by Assistant United States Attorney Kevin J. Doyle. Defendant is represented by Maryanne E. Kampmann, Esq. and William V. Cristman, Esq.
I. Findings of Facts.
On the evening of October 9, 2013, Special Agent Doud and FBI Special Agent Christopher Destito were engaged in surveillance of the Castleton, Vermont Amtrak station based upon information that drug couriers were using Amtrak trains and other sources of mass transit to transport drugs from source cities to Vermont. Because the Rutland, Vermont Amtrak station was often under surveillance by law enforcement, informants had advised the agents that drug couriers were disembarking at other stations, including the Castleton station, to avoid detection. In the previous year-and-a-half, law enforcement averaged two seizures per month of heroin and crack cocaine from individuals using public transportation to travel to Vermont. On the day in question, however, the agents had no specific information that an individual transporting drugs may be arriving at the Castleton Amtrak station.
The agents arrived at the station in an unmarked vehicle at approximately 8 p.m. and parked in the west parking lot, where at least two other vehicles were parked. In accordance with his customary practice, Agent Destito walked around the station before the arrival of the train and noticed vehicles parked in the paved west parking lot. Agent Destito observed a lone vehicle parked in the east parking lot, which is a gravel lot with only one street light. Based on his training and experience, Agent Destito was aware that persons picking up drug couriers may await their arrival in a parking lot, rather than risk being associated with the courier if he or she is apprehended while disembarking from a train or bus.
Agent Destito, who was carrying a notebook, walked around the lone vehicle and observed that the female operator of the vehicle avoided making eye contact with him. He observed that the vehicle's male passenger also avoided eye contact and shifted his body further into his seat and looked over his shoulder. According to Agent Destito, it was "apparent" that these individuals were "nervous" that he might be law enforcement, although he was not in uniform. (Tr. 4/9/14 at 13:18-23.) Brenda Emery, the female operator, credibly testified that she saw Agent Destito, but believed he worked for the Amtrak station. She did not try to avoid eye contact with him but, instead, was making room in her vehicle for Defendant. Ms. Emery had agreed to pick up Defendant at the Castleton Amtrak station for an acquaintance who claimed Defendant was his aunt.
Agent Destito returned to the agents' vehicle and informed Agent Doud that he was "very suspicious" of the vehicle in the east lot. Id. at 14:7-10. Agent Doud agreed that it was "interesting and suspicious" and "strange" that this vehicle was parked in that location and that the occupants were acting nervous. Id. at 81:6-10. He had never seen anyone park in that location before this incident. He described his suspicion as follows:
One of the reasons would be that they're aware that they're in a high risk situation in that they're about to pick up somebody who is transporting illegal narcotics, and they want to sit back on the edges of the action, if you will, to see if the courier has any type of problem or contact with law enforcement. And of course [they] wouldn't want to be associated with that or near that.
Id. at 81:18-25.
When the train arrived shortly thereafter, Agent Doud stood on the east side of the platform, and Agent Destito stood on the west side. Agent Destito noted that there were people waiting on the platform to greet the arriving passengers. Neither of the two occupants of the vehicle in the east lot came to the platform for the train's arrival, which the agents thought was behavior "consistent with not wanting to associate yourself with a courier." Id. at 15:15-16. Agent Destito conceded that there were also non-suspicious reasons for this behavior.
The agents watched the train passengers disembark. They did not perceive anything suspicious about Defendant, who is in her mid-forties and was dressed appropriately for the weather, other than she had no apparent luggage beyond her purse. Although the agents did not know where Defendant had traveled from, they knew that the train originated in Philadelphia and traveled ...