State v. Miller, A20-0558

Decision Date19 April 2021
Docket NumberA20-0558
PartiesState of Minnesota, Respondent, v. Ezekiel John Miller, Appellant.
CourtMinnesota Court of Appeals

This opinion is nonprecedential except as provided by Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 136.01, subd. 1(c).


Gaïtas, Judge

Concurring in part, dissenting in part, Larkin, Judge

Ramsey County District Court

File No. 62-CR-19-5753

Keith Ellison, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and

John J. Choi, Ramsey County Attorney, Thomas R. Ragatz, Assistant County Attorney, St. Paul, Minnesota (for respondent)

Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Laura Geyer Heinrich, Assistant Public Defender, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant)

Considered and decided by Cochran, Presiding Judge; Larkin, Judge; and Gaïtas, Judge.



Appellant Ezekiel John Miller was convicted of aggravated robbery and unlawful possession of a firearm following a stipulated-evidence court trial to preserve dispositive issues for appeal. He now appeals his convictions, challenging the district court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence obtained from an unlawful seizure and his motion to exclude suggestive eyewitness identifications. Because we conclude that officers unreasonably seized Miller when they detained him for 27 minutes in the back of their moving squad car, we reverse.


In August 2019, M.B. and M.V., a young couple, went to a St. Paul gas station in the middle of the afternoon to sell a gaming system to a buyer they had connected with online. While there, they were robbed at gunpoint by the purported buyer.

The buyer—a man who appeared to be in his mid-20s to mid-30s—spoke with M.B. and M.V. in the gas-station parking lot for about four minutes before robbing them. During their conversation, a few juveniles who seemed to know the buyer approached and then walked away. At the end of the four-minute encounter, the buyer pulled out a gun, pointed it at M.B. and M.V., took M.B.'s bag, and ran away. M.V. chased the robber, and, while he did so, the juveniles approached M.B. and one of them stole her cellphone. M.B. contacted 911, and officers were immediately dispatched to the scene.

Police encounter with Miller

Shortly after the robberies, Miller entered a store a few blocks away from the gas station declaring that he had just been robbed. Someone in the store2 called the police, and two St. Paul Police officers, referred to here as Officer A and Officer B, responded to the call. These two officers were already aware of the gas-station robbery when they responded to the store because a large team of officers was looking for the suspects and had established a perimeter.

When the officers entered the store, they asked an employee if someone had been robbed, and the employee directed them to Miller. They approached Miller and asked what had happened. Miller told the officers that "a bunch of guys" had come running at him and had pushed him to the ground. Officer A asked if the guys took anything from Miller, and Miller replied that they tried but were unsuccessful. He said that he was able to get up and run and that the guys who pushed him kept running. The officers asked Miller for identification, and Miller handed them a temporary license. They also asked if Miller would be able to recognize the guys that pushed him, and he replied that he would.

Miller then told the officers that he was waiting on a car from a ride-share service, and asked if he could make a phone call. Officer A replied that there was no car outside when they arrived and asked if the address on Miller's identification was current. Miller replied that it was not and provided a different address. Miller then answered an incomingcall and told the person on the other end that he was talking to the police about the people who tried to rob him and that he was waiting on the ride-share car. Officer A continued to ask Miller about the people who had pushed him, and Miller told him that they were two Black males and that one was wearing all red and the other was wearing tan shorts and a white or gray shirt. Miller then asked if he could check on his ride-share car, and Officer A replied, "Yeah, we can go walk outside for a second." Officer A and Miller proceeded out of the store together.

Miller's ride-share car was waiting outside. He thanked Officer A and attempted to walk to the car, but the officer responded, "Give me one second. Let me just check with my partner, we might have you identify these guys." Miller replied that he needed to get going because he had a meeting and wanted to get to the train station. Officer A stated "Okay," and asked "so you can't hang out and do that then?" Miller responded that the officers had his phone number and could call him, or that he could come back later. Officer A indicated that would be fine, telling Miller "you're good to go." At that moment, though, Officer B, who was still in the store, came out. Officer B, observing Miller preparing to leave, exclaimed "no, no, no, no, you're coming with us! We're going to probably do a show-up." Officer A then reversed course and agreed, explaining to Miller that they needed him "to do a show up to . . . to get these guys." By this time, the officers had been speaking with Miller for almost five minutes.

Miller, who was standing by the open door of the car, objected again, stating "Sir, I really gotta go. I really gotta go." Officer B replied, "We really need your help, so you're coming so . . . you're coming with us. We need you to I.D. somebody. They're wantedfor a robbery." Miller asked if the officers could bring the suspects to the store, and Officer B replied that they had to bring Miller to them. Additionally, Miller expressed concern that the suspects would see him, but the officers explained that he would not be visible from the back of the squad car. As Officer A continued to reassure Miller, noting that the identifications would not take long, they walked towards the squad car, which was parked right in front of the ride-share car.

As they walked to the squad car, Miller handed his cellphone to Officer A to speak with the person who had called Miller earlier and was still on the line. Officer A spoke briefly with the caller, who identified himself as Miller's "mentor" and gave the officer his number before ending the call. Officer A then opened the door to the back of the squad car for Miller, again assuring him that it would not take long to identify the guys who robbed him and emphasizing that they did not want anyone else to get robbed.

The officers did not search Miller before he got in the squad car. Officer A later testified that the officers did not search him because they believed he was a victim; he was not a suspect for the gas-station robbery in their minds. At the time, the officers believed the robbers from the gas station had also attempted to rob Miller.

With Miller in the backseat of the squad car, the officers drove around for approximately 27 minutes. They initially drove a few blocks to where other officers had a suspect in custody and asked Miller whether that suspect had knocked him down. Miller positively identified the suspect, stating that he was 100% certain about his identification. The officers showed Miller two other people he did not recognize. Then, they told Millerhe had been "a big help" and asked where he wanted to go. He gave them the address of his meeting, and they proceeded in that direction.

When the squad car neared Miller's meeting location, the officers received notice from dispatch about another suspect in custody. They turned around to take Miller back for another identification. Miller objected, telling the officers that he really needed to get to his meeting. The officers reiterated that Miller had been a huge help, and, when Miller asked to charge his phone, willingly plugged it in for him. When they arrived for the show-up involving a fourth suspect, Miller stated he did not recognize the individual. The officers again began to drive Miller back to his meeting location.

Just as they were again nearing that location, the officers received a photograph on their computer from a closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera at the gas station that reportedly showed the person who robbed M.B. and M.V. at gunpoint. The officers showed the photograph to Miller and asked if he recognized the person. Miller replied that the person in the photograph looked like him, and the officers brushed off this comment and laughed. However, as the officers pulled up to the meeting location and took a closer look at the photograph, they realized that the person in the photo was wearing the exact same clothing as Miller—both wore khaki shorts and a distinctive shirt that was gray on the torso area, with red sleeves and a big front logo. The officers removed Miller from the squad car, conducted a pat search, and handcuffed him. During the search, they found a small handgun in Miller's pocket.

Officers A and B remained where they were with Miller until other officers brought M.B. and M.V. for a show-up. M.B. and M.V. positively identified Miller as the person who robbed them at gunpoint, and the officers took him into custody.

M.B. and M.V.'s identification of Miller

While Officers A and B were driving Miller to various sites for show-ups, other officers did the same with M.B. and M.V.

After M.B. had contacted 911, an officer arrived but spoke with M.B. only briefly before the officer left on foot to chase suspects possibly heading into an alleyway. Before the foot pursuit, M.B. told the officer that a man had robbed her at gunpoint, that a girl took her phone, and that the girl who took her phone was with a group of people including a male wearing all red.

Shortly after the first officer left, another officer, referred to here as Officer C, and his partner arrived at the gas station to meet with M.B. and M.V. and bring them to show-ups of potential suspects. M.B. and M.V. got into the back of...

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