818 F.2d 679 (8th Cir. 1987), 86-1616, United States v. Poitier

Docket Nº:86-1616.
Citation:818 F.2d 679
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Appellant, v. Tunya Reginera POITIER, Appellee.
Case Date:May 13, 1987
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Page 679

818 F.2d 679 (8th Cir. 1987)

UNITED STATES of America, Appellant,


Tunya Reginera POITIER, Appellee.

No. 86-1616.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

May 13, 1987

Submitted Feb. 13, 1987.

Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc Denied July 30, 1987.

Page 680

Robert J. Govar, Asst. U.S. Atty., Little Rock, Ark., for appellant.

Howard Sohn, Miami, Fla., for appellee.

Before BOWMAN and MAGILL, Circuit Judges, and HARPER, Senior District Judge. [*]

MAGILL, Circuit Judge.

In this case we examine whether the district court correctly ordered suppression of evidence obtained through a search at an airport. We conclude that the district court erred in suppressing the evidence, and accordingly we reverse.


At about 11:30 a.m. on December 19, 1985, Special Agent Paul Markonni of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was at Gate A-20 of the Atlanta Airport in Atlanta, Georgia, watching the arrival of Delta Airlines Flight No. 817 from Miami, Florida. He saw the appellee, Tunya Reginera Poitier, leave the plane, approach a Delta agent, and request information as to her connecting flight to Little Rock, Arkansas. Following the Delta agent's direction, Poitier headed for Gate A-7. Markonni noted that Poitier was "very well dressed" and carrying a coat over her arm, but he noticed nothing unusual or suspicious about her.

A few seconds later, however, Markonni saw a man later identified as Larry Gene Harvey walk past and quickly follow Poitier, tracking her route, down the concourse toward Gate A-7. Another DEA agent told Markonni that Harvey had also left Flight No. 817. Harvey was casually dressed, wearing blue jeans and a black leather jacket with a distinctive fish scale design on the back. Harvey caught up to Poitier and they walked side by side, maintaining about five feet between them, yet they appeared to be speaking to each other. Markonni suspected that they might be trying to conceal the fact that they were traveling together. He had in the past seen drug couriers do this to avoid the possibility of both being arrested should an arrest take place.

Markonni followed Harvey and Poitier to Gate A-7, saw them get together, give their tickets to the Delta agent, and get on Delta Flight No. 705 to Little Rock, Arkansas. Markonni then retrieved the two tickets from the Delta agent, and saw that the names on the tickets were Tunya Poitier and Al Harvey and that the tickets were sequentially numbered, were both purchased for cash, and had an identical travel schedule, Miami to Atlanta and Atlanta to Little Rock. Markonni got a copy of the passenger name record for Poitier and Harvey, reconfirmed that they had identical itineraries, and also noted that they had used the same telephone number in Miami as a reference number, but that they had made their reservations separately and were seated in separate sections of the plane for both legs of the flight. He also found that their separate reservations had been made within the same minute. Markonni then called the Miami telephone number listed on the reservation records, and the woman answering told him that she knew Poitier, but not Al Harvey, and that Poitier would be returning the following day. Markonni then telephoned Special Agent Gary Worden of the DEA office in Little Rock, Arkansas, and told him all the information he had gained as to Poitier and Harvey and gave physical descriptions of the two.

Based on this information, DEA agents in Little Rock decided to establish a surveillance team at the Little Rock airport to watch Flight No. 705 from Atlanta. During a debriefing session before the plane landed, the team was told to let Harvey and Poitier go on their way if they did not want to cooperate with the officers or answer questions. After 4:00 p.m. that afternoon, the surveillance team saw two people matching the descriptions of Harvey and Poitier leaving Flight No. 705. Harvey left the plane before Poitier and walked at first

Page 681

approximately 15 to 20 feet ahead of her, but she eventually caught up with him and they spoke, although walking about four feet apart. Little Rock narcotics detective David Hudson and DEA Special Agent Edward DiScenza then approached Poitier from both sides and DiScenza produced DEA credentials, while another five or six federal and local agents stopped Harvey in the same area. DiScenza told Poitier that he wanted to ask her some questions, she agreed, and he suggested that they move out of the main concourse towards...

To continue reading