998 F.2d 629 (8th Cir. 1993), 93-1166, United States v. Thompkins

Docket Nº:93-1166.
Citation:998 F.2d 629
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Silas O. THOMPKINS, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:July 15, 1993
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

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998 F.2d 629 (8th Cir. 1993)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellant,


Silas O. THOMPKINS, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 93-1166.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 15, 1993

Submitted June 15, 1993.

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Richard Monroe, Springfield, MO (Gregory K. Johnson, on brief), for plaintiff-appellant.

Roger Jones, Springfield, MO, for defendant-appellee.

Before WOLLMAN and LOKEN, Circuit Judges, and BOGUE, [*] Senior District Judge.

BOGUE, Senior District Judge.

The United States appeals from the district court's ruling suppressing cocaine which was seized from a suitcase ostensibly belonging to defendant Silas Thompkins. For the reasons that follow, we reverse the district court's decision to suppress the cocaine.

The following factual summary is derived from the transcript of the suppression hearing. Mr. Thompkins was riding a Greyhound bus which left Los Angeles, California on the afternoon of October 24, 1992. During a stop in Springfield, Missouri on October 26, DEA agent Carl Hicks, who was looking for drug couriers, boarded the bus and took an interest in Thompkins. Hicks identified himself and asked if he could visit with Thompkins.

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According to Hicks, Thompkins appeared nervous. On request, Thompkins produced a Pennsylvania license bearing his name and a ticket reflecting bus travel from Los Angeles to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Thompkins told Hicks that he had been working in California for the last four months, but declined to say where. Thompkins allowed Hicks to search his jacket and a bag he was carrying. Neither contained drugs. Since Thompkins was not carrying extra clothing, Hicks asked whether he had any suitcases checked into the bus's baggage compartment. Thompkins replied in the negative. Hicks thanked him for cooperating, got off the bus, and went to the luggage compartment--where he intended to see whether Thompkins really was traveling without checked baggage. Thompkins also got off the bus, watched Hicks proceed to the luggage compartment, then went inside the terminal.

Agent Hicks located a suitcase with the word "Pittsburgh" on the identification tag, but no name. He took the bag into the snack bar inside the bus station, where Thompkins was now seated, and placed it on the table in front of him. Thompkins admitted that the bag was his, and said he had lied about not having luggage because he had been surprised when confronted on the bus. Hicks got permission to search the suitcase. There were no drugs in the bag, but there was a plane ticket showing travel from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles on October 23, 1992, issued in the name of William Thompson; and a hotel receipt from that same night issued to Silas Thompkins. While Hicks was perusing the bag, Thompkins got up and ran out of the station--leaving the suitcase behind. Hicks gave chase and commanded Thompkins to stop, reiterating his authority as a police officer. While Thompkins was trying to scale a chain-link fence, Hicks intercepted him and pulled him off. A struggle ensued, during which Hicks informed Thompkins that he was under arrest for assaulting a federal officer. Thompkins tried unsuccessfully during the fracas to stab Hicks with a pencil. Finally, with the help of bystanders, Hicks subdued and handcuffed Thompkins and led him back to the bus station.

Meanwhile local police, including Officer Brady Stark, arrived at the bus station. Hicks went to the snack bar to retrieve the suitcase, and Stark checked the bus's baggage compartment for more luggage belonging to Thompkins. Stark found another suitcase checked to Pittsburgh, with a claim check number consecutive to the bag earlier identified as Thompkins'. The identification tag said "Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania" in handwriting that Brady thought appeared similar to that on Thompkins' first bag. The bus driver informed Hicks that Thompkins was the only passenger ticketed to Pittsburgh. Hicks then approached Thompkins with the second bag and advised him of his constitutional rights. Thompkins agreed to talk with the officers, and in response to questioning he disclaimed ownership of the suitcase. He said he had no objection to them searching the bag for drugs since it did not belong to him. The officers opened the suitcase and found a kilogram of cocaine inside. They then took Thompkins to the U.S. Marshal's office, where they searched him. In his pocket they found keys that fit the lock on the suitcase which had contained the cocaine.

On November 20, 1992, Thompkins was indicted for possession with intent to distribute cocaine (21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1)) and assaulting a federal officer (18 U.S.C. §§ 111, 1114). Thompkins moved to suppress the cocaine, arguing that it was procured through an unlawful seizure because Hicks had no probable cause to chase him down when he ran from the bus station. At a hearing on the motion to suppress, Hicks and Stark both gave their accounts of the above-recited facts. Thompkins offered no evidence, but his counsel cross-examined the officers. The trial court granted the motion--not addressing Thompkins' seizure argument--but expressing concern that the suitcase might have belonged to an innocent traveler and saying that the government had no right to open it. The United States appeals, seeking reversal of the district court's decision to suppress the cocaine.

We review the district court's decision to grant Thompkins' motion to suppress under a clearly erroneous standard. Therefore, reversal is proper only if the decision was

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"unsupported by substantial evidence, based on an erroneous interpretation of applicable law, or, in light of the entire record, we are left with a firm and definite conviction that a mistake has been made." United States v. Meirovitz, 918 F.2d 1376, 1379 (8th Cir.1990), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 112 S.Ct. 101, 116 L.Ed.2d 71 (1991) (citations omitted). Because of the limited record in this matter it is difficult to ascertain exactly what legal precedent the...

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