163 F.3d 795 (4th Cir. 1998), 97-4931, United States v. Grogins

Docket Nº:97-4931.
Citation:163 F.3d 795
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. George Alan GROGINS, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:November 16, 1998
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
 
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Page 795

163 F.3d 795 (4th Cir. 1998)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

George Alan GROGINS, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 97-4931.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

November 16, 1998

Argued Sept. 24, 1998.

Page 796

Argued: Timothy Richard Murphy, Special Assistant United States Attorney, Norfolk, Virginia, for Appellant. Timothy Gerard Clancy, Cumming, Hatchett & Jordan, Hampton, Virginia, for Appellee. On brief: Helen F. Fahey, United States Attorney, Robert E. Bradenham II, Assistant United States Attorney, Norfolk, Virginia, for Appellant. Lisa A. Mallory, Cumming, Hatchett & Jordan, Hampton, Virginia, for Appellee.

Before WILKINSON, WILKINS and NIEMEYER, C.J.

Reversed and remanded by published opinion. Chief Judge WILKINSON wrote the opinion, in which Judge WILKINS and Judge NIEMEYER joined.

OPINION

WILKINSON, C.J.

George Alan Grogins was charged with possession with intent to distribute heroin and cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). The district court granted Grogins' motion to suppress drug evidence seized at his home on the grounds that the police officers unreasonably failed to knock and announce their presence in violation of Wilson v. Arkansas, 514 U.S. 927, 115 S.Ct. 1914, 131 L.Ed.2d 976 (1995). The government appeals, arguing that the officers had a reasonable suspicion that knocking would have placed them in personal danger. We agree. Officers need not gamble with their safety when they execute a search warrant at a drug stash house. We therefore reverse the suppression ruling of the district court.

I.

The search in this case grew out of a police investigation of Alonzo "Cutt" Wooten's activities in Newport News, Virginia. The Newport News police received information that Wooten was a drug dealer who supplied his downtown retail location from a residential "stash house" in which he stored cocaine, heroin, and related paraphernalia. Grogins lived in this stash house.

Wooten was not unfamiliar to the police. Detective Dawes testified that he had known Wooten since 1980 and that Wooten had a notorious history of drug-related and violent activities. Wooten had been involved in shoot-outs and had managed a drug-selling operation. In the 1980s, he spent time in jail. After he was released, Wooten continued selling drugs. In the mid-1990s, he intimidated several people who owed him money by shooting into their dwellings. In addition, Wooten trained his associates in techniques of evidence destruction. He instructed his confederates on the street to discard drug evidence upon the first sight of police. He told other accomplices to keep a bucket filled with water and lye nearby; if police officers arrived on the scene, Wooten told them to throw the drugs into the bucket because officers would not put their hands in the lye. Wooten also had stated that he was not going back to jail and that he would do whatever was necessary to avoid it.

Dawes learned from a reliable informant that Wooten would visit Grogins' house daily to retrieve drugs that were stored there. Wootentook steps to avoid being connected with the stash house. He frequently drove the vehicles of others and occasionally walked to the stash house. On September 6, 1997, the informant told Dawes that Wooten had visited the house earlier in the day in a gray Fiero. That informant also stated that Wooten would visit the house that evening. Based upon the information that the home was a stash house, Dawes obtained a search warrant for Grogins' residence.

As Dawes and his fellow officers prepared to conduct the search, surveillance of Grogins' home revealed that a yellow car was parked outside. The police...

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