Mayo v. United States

Decision Date06 January 2022
Docket NumberNo. 18-CF-1132,18-CF-1132
Citation266 A.3d 244
Parties Landon R. MAYO, Appellant, v. UNITED STATES, Appellee.
CourtD.C. Court of Appeals

Vincent A. Jankoski and Sean R. Day, College Park, were on the briefs for appellant.

Jessie K. Liu, United States Attorney at the time the briefs were filed, Channing D. Phillips, then Acting United States Attorney, and Elizabeth Trosman, Elizabeth H. Danello, Chrisellen R. Kolb, Monica Dolin, Jennifer Loeb, and Meredith E. Mayer-Dempsey, Assistant United States Attorneys, were on the briefs for appellee.

Before Easterly, McLeese, and Deahl, Associate Judges.

Dissenting opinion by Associate Judge McLeese at page 272.

Easterly, Associate Judge:

Nineteen-year-old Landon Mayo was "just hanging out" with some other people in an alley in the Kenilworth neighborhood when a group of officers from the Metropolitan Police Department's Gun Recovery Unit, part of a two-car convoy, pulled up. Three GRU officers exited the vehicle and focused their attention on Mr. Mayo, who had walked away from them to talk to other people in the alley. Following and flanking him, the GRU officers told Mr. Mayo they just wanted to talk—but then asked if he had a gun. When Mr. Mayo started to run, one officer dove to tackle him. The officer got a hand on Mr. Mayo's foot and tripped him up, but Mr. Mayo managed to continue running. He was apprehended by the second car of GRU officers a short distance away and the officers subsequently recovered a gun and drugs they believed him to have discarded or handed off to others in flight.

In this appeal, Mr. Mayo argues that the GRU officers seized him in violation of the Fourth Amendment and that the gun and drugs should have been suppressed. We agree. First, we hold that Mr. Mayo was seized when the GRU officer dove to tackle him and tripped him, even though he got away. We rely on the Supreme Court's recent decision in Torres v. Madrid , ––– U.S. ––––, 141 S. Ct. 989, 209 L.Ed.2d 190 (2021), which effectively overruled this court's decision in Henson v. United States , 55 A.3d 859 (D.C. 2012). Second, we hold that this seizure was unsupported by reasonable, articulable suspicion and therefore unlawful. Third, we hold that the items of physical evidence subsequently recovered by the police from Mr. Mayo's person and in the area of the chase were fruits of this unlawful seizure that must be suppressed. Accordingly, we vacate Mr. Mayo's convictions.1

I. Facts and Procedural History
A. Suppression Hearing

The government presented one witness at the hearing on Mr. Mayo's motion to suppress, Sergeant Jose Jaquez of the GRU. Sergeant Jaquez was one of the seven GRU officers at the scene of Mr. Mayo's arrest. He dove to tackle Mr. Mayo, and got a hand on him, but he was not the officer who ultimately arrested Mr. Mayo.2

Sergeant Jaquez testified that, on the evening of October 26, 2016, he was riding in an unmarked car with two other GRU officers, John Wright and Michael Ashley, all wearing tactical vests and badges identifying them as police. The GRU officers were out looking for illegal weapons, along with four other GRU officers riding in a separate vehicle. Sergeant Jaquez testified that they were in "the Kenilworth area" in the Northeast quadrant of the District, which (in the prosecutor's words) he "kind of gestured to" on a map but did not define by specific boundaries.3 He further testified that the GRU was "often sent to patrol that area," and that, in the preceding three years, his unit had recovered "multiple weapons, handguns, and also narcotics." When asked by the prosecutor to "estimate ... how many guns you've recovered," Sergeant Jaquez responded "over 10 guns. It could be more[,] ... but I feel comfortable at this time saying about 10." And when asked to compare "the number of guns that you've recovered in that area compare[d] to other areas," Sergeant Jaquez testified that this was "one of the ... higher amounts of guns that we've recovered compared to other parts of the city."

The car in which Sergeant Jaquez was riding pulled into an alley off of Quarles Street N.E., in between and parallel to Kenilworth Avenue and 45th Street N.E. There the GRU officers saw a group of at least five individuals "just hanging out." Still sitting in the car, Sergeant Jaquez focused on one individual, later identified as Mr. Mayo. According to Sergeant Jaquez, Mr. Mayo "immediately disengage[d] from the group" and moved "to engage with a gentleman in a wheelchair" near a dumpster in the alley.4 While facing this other person, Mr. Mayo's back was to the officers. Sergeant Jaquez could not see Mr. Mayo's hands and observed "just motions from his back." Sergeant Jaquez demonstrated the movement he observed, which the prosecutor characterized for the record: "[J]ust as [Sergeant Jaquez] was gesturing, his back was turned to me, and you could see shoulders kind of moving up and down as though the hands were kind of in the center of a waistband." Notwithstanding that his vantage point from the police vehicle behind Mr. Mayo made it impossible for him to see what Mr. Mayo was doing with his hands, Sergeant Jaquez asserted that Mr. Mayo was "making slight adjustments with his front waistband."

After "a few seconds," Mr. Mayo walked away from the gentleman in the wheelchair and toward another person standing further away from the officers in a walkway area off the alley leading toward 45th Street (where Sergeant Jaquez knew the other car of GRU officers were).5 Around that time, the three GRU officers exited their car. Officers Wright and Ashley walked directly toward Mr. Mayo, while Sergeant Jaquez split off to the side and walked toward Mr. Mayo but in a path parallel to his. Sergeant Jaquez later explained at trial that he used this flanking maneuver "to prevent any escape route from going past" him if Mr. Mayo tried to run.6

As the officers approached Mr. Mayo, Officer Wright called out, "Hey, we just want to talk. We just want to talk to you. Do you have any guns?" When the officers got closer, Mr. Mayo began to run from them. As he ran past Sergeant Jaquez, Sergeant Jaquez "tried to tackle him." Although Sergeant Jaquez "leaped ... with the hope and the intent to just grab [Mr. Mayo] right there," when he "reached out" to Mr. Mayo, he only "managed to trip up one of [Mr. Mayo's] feet." (Sergeant Jaquez also described his action as a "d[i]ve to try to stop" Mr. Mayo, which explains why, when he "reached out," he touched Mr. Mayo's foot.) Mr. Mayo "kind of fell" as a result, but "put his hand down" to catch his balance and then continued running away from Sergeant Jaquez and his two GRU colleagues who had joined the chase.

Sergeant Jaquez and Officer Ashley discontinued the pursuit and stopped to investigate when they heard an object (Officer Ashley's flashlight) hit the ground. But Officer Wright kept running after Mr. Mayo. Within a short distance,7 the GRU officers in the second car, who had been alerted to Mr. Mayo's flight on the radio, stopped him. Meanwhile, Officer Wright recovered a loaded handgun from the purse of a woman in the area of the chase, which subsequent fingerprint examination and DNA analysis connected to Mr. Mayo. Another officer found zip lock bags containing marijuana in the bushes adjacent to Mr. Mayo's flight path. Officers searched Mr. Mayo's person and found smaller, unused bags that matched those in the bushes, as well as several hundred dollars and a large zip lock bag of marijuana.

The defense called an eyewitness, Dwayne Lane, to testify at the suppression hearing. According to Mr. Lane, he and Mr. Mayo were part of a larger group just "hanging" and "talking" in the alley when "police pulled up and harassed" them, asking, "do [you] have any guns?" Mr. Lane testified that they all answered "no," and "lift[ed] [their] jackets up [to] show[ ] them that [they] didn't have any guns." Mr. Lane explained that "[w]hen [the GRU] come[s] in the neighborhood, we already know what they [are] coming for, so we automatically just show our waistband, like we don't have anything." Mr. Lane testified that the group's actions did not satisfy the GRU; "they still got out [of] the car" and walked toward him and his companions, at which point everyone in the group, who had already "spread out," "just scattered," with "everybody" running away from the officers. He explained that the fact that the police continued to approach "worried" him and the others in the group: "We all were just like[,] we are going to take off.’ " The police did not follow Mr. Lane, however; instead they focused on and ultimately apprehended Mr. Mayo.

B. Trial Court's Rulings

The day after the witnesses testified, the trial court announced its ruling from the bench, granting Mr. Mayo's suppression motion. The trial court found that "there [wa]s no evidence at all" that the GRU had stopped in the alley because "there was any issue with guns"; "[t]hey were not called about anybody with a gun or any shooting. They were just in their usual patrol ... hunting for illegal guns." The court further found that when the police first saw the group that included Mr. Mayo, "they did not say there was any criminal activity afoot. They didn't see anything." The court acknowledged that Sergeant Jaquez had explained that the police "singled out [Mr. Mayo] as the one that detached from the group." But the court stated that it "tend[ed] to believe more" Mr. Lane's testimony that he and the rest of the group including Mr. Mayo "knew [the GRU]"; "understood ... what they were coming to do"; and "started to disperse" in response to the GRU's arrival in the alley.

The court found that after Mr. Mayo walked over to the gentleman in the wheelchair, the police saw him making movements "around his groin area."8 The court acknowledged that these movements made Sergeant Jaquez suspect that Mr. Mayo had a gun. But the court indicated that that suspicion lacked adequate foundation because (1) the...

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    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Suppressing Criminal Evidence Fourth amendment searches and seizures
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