United States District Court, D. Vermont
OPINION AND ORDER RE: DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS EVIDENCE (Doc. 14)
GEOFFREY W. CRAWFORD, District Judge.
On September 15, 2014, two law enforcement officers approached a vehicle parked in a Motel 6 parking lot near Exit 16 off Interstate 89 in Colchester, Vermont. Defendant Shaeen C. Jenkins was a passenger in the vehicle. Based on information gathered prior to and during the encounter, the officers suspected that a narcotics transaction was taking place. Following a pat-down search and a brief altercation, Jenkins was arrested and found to possess eighteen grams of crack cocaine. He is charged with possession with intent to distribute cocaine base, a Schedule I Controlled Substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1).
Jenkins filed a motion seeking to suppress the evidence gathered as a result of the stop on the grounds that he was stopped without reasonable suspicion and subsequently seized or arrested without probable cause. (Doc. 14.) The court conducted a hearing on Jenkins' motion on February 5, 2015 and February 9, 2015.
The court makes the following findings based upon the testimony and evidence admitted at the suppression hearing. As an initial matter, the court finds that the testimony of Officer Daniel Merchand and DEA Agent Timothy Hoffmann was credible in all respects.
On September 10, 2014, DEA Task Force Officer Daniel Merchand met with a confidential informant who admitted currently abusing narcotics. The informant had been buying drugs from two individuals, known to him or her as "V" and "Blue." The informant did not know the true identity of Blue, but stated that V's real name was Gerard Johnson. The CI stated that Johnson was at that time in the Bronx and was expected to return to the Burlington area within several days with approximately seventy to eighty grams of crack cocaine and a number of buprenorphine pills. Tr. 20-25.
Two days later on September 12, 2014, Officer Merchand learned that on September 11, 2014, Vermont State Police had stopped a New York-registered vehicle traveling northbound on Interstate 89 near Hartford, VT. During the traffic stop, police identified the three male occupants of the vehicle as Darryl J. Thompson, Gerard Johnson (the male identified by the CI as "V"), and Shaeen Jenkins. Tr.26-27. Officer Merchand recalled the name of Gerard Johnson from his previous conversation with the informant. He formed a suspicion that there were illegal drugs in the car. Tr. 27.
On September 15, 2014 at about 12:15 p.m., Officer Merchand and DEA Special Agent Tim Hoffmann were in the vicinity of Exit 16 conducting surveillance for an unrelated case. Both officers knew that the parking lots and motels at Exit 16 were frequently used by drug dealers. Tr. 20, 81. The agents observed a white Chevrolet Malibu drive past the Quality Inn twice within approximately three minutes and then enter the Motel 6 parking lot, which was adjacent to a McDonald's parking lot. The vehicle parked in a spot removed from the entrance to the motel and adjacent to the tree line. Tr. 33-34. The two occupants remained in the Malibu. The passenger's seat was pushed back so that the passenger was hardly visible.
Five minutes later, a dark blue Chevrolet pickup truck entered the McDonald's parking lot. The driver of the truck was talking on his cell phone and remained parked for approximately two minutes. The truck then exited the McDonald's parking lot and entered the Motel 6 parking lot, parking alongside the Malibu. The man driving the truck exited his vehicle and entered the rear passenger side door of the Malibu. After a brief period, the driver of the truck left the Malibu and walked into the Motel 6. A few minutes later, the same man left the motel and got back into his original seat in the rear of the Malibu. Tr. 38.
At this point, the two officers decided to interview the occupants of the Malibu. Officer Merchand drove his unmarked SUV to within twenty feet of the Malibu. He came to a stop at a thirty degree angle directly behind the Malibu. Although the Malibu could have driven off, the maneuver would have required backing and filling in a manner similar to leaving a parallel parking spot. Tr. 76.
The two officers approached the white Malibu from different sides. Officer Hoffmann was on the passenger side. They identified themselves as police or DEA officers. Tr. 45, 96. Officer Merchand spoke with the driver of the vehicle, later identified as Timothy Hatgen, while Agent Hoffmann spoke with the front seat passenger, later identified as defendant Jenkins. Officer Merchand told the driver not to move and to place his hands on the steering wheel. Tr. 7-8 (02/09/15 Hatgen testimony). Agent Hoffmann displayed his badge to defendant. Tr.47, 96-97. Hoffmann asked defendant what his name was, and defendant identified himself as "Shaeen." Officer Merchand asked if his last name was "Jenkins, " and defendant confirmed that it was. Tr. 51. Merchand stated that he also asked Jenkins if his nickname was "V" or "Blue." Jenkins was surprised that the officers knew his identity. Tr.51-52.
While Jenkins was still in the passenger seat, Agent Hoffmann asked permission to pat him down for weapons. Jenkins said, "Go ahead, " and climbed out of the Malibu. Tr.99. Agent Hoffmann then asked him to place his hands on the roof of the car. Tr. 100. Jenkins complied with the agent's request. Agent Hoffmann began to pat him down starting at the bottom of his legs.
During the patdown, Agent Hoffmann announced that he felt something hard in the lower portion of Jenkins' buttocks and asked Jenkins what the object was. Jenkins replied that it was "his dick." Tr.54. Agent Hoffmann then ordered Jenkins to place his hands behind his back to be handcuffed. According to the affidavit, Jenkins pulled away from Hoffmann, struck him in the right eye and attempted to flee. A short physical struggle ensued, and Jenkins was subdued, arrested and handcuffed.
Jenkins was transported to the Colchester Police Department in a marked police vehicle. Police searched the police vehicle prior to Jenkins being placed inside to ensure there was no contraband. Tr. 110. When the cruiser arrived at the police department, officers opened the rear door and observed plastic sandwich bags with an off-white colored substance that appeared to be crack cocaine on the rear driver's side floorboard. Tr. 111. Photographs were taken of the suspected crack cocaine. Jenkins was removed from the vehicle. He had what appeared to the officers to be granules of crack cocaine on his hands and on the rear of his pants. Tr. 62, 112. He was subsequently searched, and additional suspected crack cocaine was found in his underwear and on his buttocks. The substance was field-tested, resulting in a positive test for the ...