State v. Price-Williams

Citation973 N.W.2d 556
Decision Date22 April 2022
Docket Number19-1857
Parties STATE of Iowa, Appellee, v. Kha Len Richard PRICE-WILLIAMS, Appellant.
CourtIowa Supreme Court

Martha J. Lucey, State Appellate Defender, and Theresa R. Wilson (argued), Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Sharon K. Hall (argued), Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

CHRISTENSEN, Chief Justice.

It was late at night when police officers stopped a Lyft vehicle for traffic violations. Upon hearing the passenger's name, one of the officers recognized the passenger from past eluding incidents, including a previous traffic stop with the officer in which the passenger attempted to flee from the traffic stop on foot with a firearm in his hand. Concerned for the officers’ safety, the officer ordered the passenger out of the vehicle to conduct a pat-down for weapons. During the pat-down, the passenger admitted in response to questioning from the officer that he had a firearm and the police discovered a firearm in the passenger's coat pocket, leading to a criminal charge of felon in possession of a firearm in violation of Iowa Code section 724.26 (2019).

The passenger moved to suppress all evidence obtained after the exit order, arguing law enforcement violated his rights under article I, section 8 of the Iowa Constitution and the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution by ordering him out of the vehicle and subsequently patting him down without reasonable and articulable facts to justify those actions. He also sought to suppress his admission to possessing a firearm, claiming law enforcement violated his state and federal rights against self-incrimination by questioning him about whether he had any weapons on him without a Miranda1 warning. The district court denied the motion to suppress concerning the discovery of the firearm and the passenger's admission to possessing it and later convicted the passenger following a bench trial on the minutes.

The court of appeals affirmed, and we granted further review. Upon our review, we affirm the court of appeals decision and district court judgment because the officer had reasonable suspicion to justify ordering the passenger out of the vehicle and subsequently patting the passenger down for weapons. Because the State confirmed it is not separately relying on the defendant's admission to possessing a firearm and reasonable suspicion existed to support the pat-down regardless of the admission, we do not address the defendant's Miranda claim.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

Around 11:30 p.m. on February 14, 2019, Kha Len Price-Williams was a rear-seat passenger in a Lyft2 vehicle in Des Moines when Officer Brian Buck of the Des Moines Police Department pulled the Lyft driver over for multiple traffic violations. Officer Buck's body camera captured this encounter. Officer Buck informed the driver of the reasons for the stop and asked him for his license, registration, and proof of insurance. While the driver was retrieving those documents, Officer Buck asked Price-Williams where the driver was taking him. Price-Williams explained he was going to visit his child. Officer Buck asked Price-Williams for his identification card, but Price-Williams said he left it at home. Officer Buck then asked Price-Williams for his name, date of birth, and the last four digits of his social security number, which Price-Williams provided. Officer Brandon Holtan arrived to assist Officer Buck as Officer Buck was speaking to the vehicle's occupants.

After retrieving the occupants’ information, Officer Buck returned to his vehicle to check whether either of them had outstanding warrants on the police department's mobile database. In the meantime, Officer Holtan turned his body camera on and positioned himself outside the rear passenger side of the vehicle where Price-Williams was sitting. The recording of the first minute of Officer Holtan's conversation with Price-Williams does not contain audio because there is a one-minute buffer period prior to turning the camera on that provides video but not audio. Nevertheless, the video shows Officer Holtan and Price-Williams having what appears to be an amicable conversation.

When the audio begins about a minute into the video, Officer Holtan is heard asking Price-Williams about something that happened in November and Price-Williams indicated he was involved in an eluding incident for speeding. Price-Williams then began to explain again where he was going, stating, "I'm just going home to see my kid. I just, my baby mama, she just got me a Lyft, you can call her. I'm just—I'm just a passenger." He tried to get the mother of his child on the phone to talk to Officer Holtan, but Officer Holtan indicated that was not necessary. Price-Williams then continued to talk about how he noticed the Lyft driver speeding until Officer Holtan asked him to "step out for [him] real quick."

Upon being asked to step out, Price-Williams stated, "say what?" and, though the video becomes dark and harder to see because Officer Holtan moved his flashlight, there was a pause with no conversation. Officer Holtan told Price-Williams again to step out of the vehicle and Price-Williams moved his hand toward his coat pocket. Officer Holtan then warned Price-Williams not to reach and Price-Williams put his arms up as he remained in the vehicle and stated he was putting his phone in his pocket. Officer Holtan drew his weapon and ordered Price-Williams out of the vehicle. Officer Buck observed Officer Holtan draw his weapon while he was still entering the vehicle occupants’ information to search for outstanding warrants and quickly left his vehicle to assist Officer Holtan.

After Officer Buck arrived to assist, Officer Holtan can be heard saying that he "arrested [Price-Williams] for a gun about a year ago, so we're going to do a Terry3 pat." As Officer Holtan was patting down Price-Williams, Officer Buck asked Price-Williams if he had any weapons on him. Price-Williams indicated he did, and Officer Buck asked him where the weapons were while Officer Holtan continued to perform the pat-down. Just as Officer Holtan was patting Price-Williams's front coat pocket area, where he felt the weapon, Price-Williams stated the firearm was in his coat pocket and the officers subsequently placed Price-Williams in handcuffs before Officer Buck retrieved a loaded nine-millimeter semiautomatic pistol from the coat pocket. The State formally charged Price-Williams with being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of Iowa Code section 724.26, a class "D" felony.4

Price-Williams pleaded not guilty and moved to suppress all evidence obtained during the search and seizure, arguing he "was questioned and seized without reasonable and articulable facts to justify such actions." The district court conducted a suppression hearing on the motion. During the hearing, Officer Holtan testified to his description of the encounter, explaining,

I was positioned on the passenger side of the vehicle adjacent to the rear seat passenger. When Officer Buck asked [Price-Williams's] name, I recognized his name as Kha[ L]en Price[-]Williams, who I had previously encountered on, I believe December 10, 2017, when I conducted a traffic stop where Kha[ L]en was the driver for a minor traffic offense.
He then attempted to elude me [in 2017]; stopped the vehicle; ran from the vehicle while holding a firearm; ultimately was taken into custody; and a firearm was located near him.
And then separate from that encounter, I had heard his name at the station when another officer had arrested him for eluding. And so his name was fresh in my mind from his most recent arrest at the time.
I engaged him in conversation regarding those events, and I asked him if he had a firearm. His eye contact -- He broke eye contact with me and started to overexplain how he was a passenger in a vehicle and tried to distance himself from the vehicle when obviously I could tell that he was a passenger in a vehicle, and it was clear he was not associated with the driver because he was sitting in the back seat by himself.
I asked him to step out because I was going to conduct a Terry pat; and at that time his demeanor, which was friendly to this point, I observed his fight or flight response to be activated. And it wasn't the fight or flight response, it was the freezing in time where he was attempting to decide what was going to happen next or figure out what was going to happen next.
I advised him not to reach because, at that point, I was more aware of his possibility of being armed, and I drew my firearm because I was so concerned.... I motioned for Officer Buck to assist me in doing so; and then [Price-Williams] was taken into custody, and a firearm was located in his front left jacket pocket.

Officer Holtan clarified that it was Price-Williams's change in demeanor and his previous history with Price-Williams that led him to draw his firearm "[f]or [his] safety" because he "felt [Price-Williams] was armed." He also stated he would have continued to perform the Terry pat even if Price-Williams had told Officer Buck he did not have a weapon and that he felt the weapon on Price-Williams as he was patting him down.

Following the hearing, the district court denied Price-Williams's motion to suppress as it pertained to the officers’ discovery of the firearm and his statements about the firearm. The district court explained,

It was reasonable for Officer Holtan to believe that defendant may be armed and dangerous based upon his previous encounter with the defendant and his action of moving his hand(s) towards his pocket. The patdown that occurred when defendant exited the car was lawful particularly when defendant admitted prior to the patdown he had a gun in his pocket.

Price-Williams waived his right to a jury trial and agreed to a trial on the minutes of testimony. The district court found Price-Williams guilty of being a felon in...

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4 cases
  • State v. Hunt
    • United States
    • Iowa Supreme Court
    • May 20, 2022
    ... ... See, e.g. , State v. Price-Williams , 973 N.W.2d 556, 56490 (Iowa Apr. 22, 2022) (Appel, J., dissenting) (arguing that a valid stop does not mean that a frisk is necessarily permitted; there must be a reasonable suspicion that the individual is armed and dangerous); State v. Hauge , 973 N.W.2d 453, 469506 (Iowa Apr. 22, 2022) ... ...
  • Wakonda Club v. Selective Ins. Co. of Am.
    • United States
    • Iowa Supreme Court
    • April 22, 2022
    ... ... v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. , 861 N.W.2d 230, 235 (Iowa 2015). Summary judgment is proper when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and ... ...
  • State v. Youm
    • United States
    • Iowa Court of Appeals
    • August 31, 2022
    ... ...          Abu ... Youm appeals the denial of both his motion to suppress and ... his motion for a new trial. Because his motion to suppress ... was rooted in a violation of his constitutional rights, our ... review is de novo. State v. Price-Williams, 973 ... N.W.2d 556, 561 (Iowa 2022). We review a district court's ... denial of a motion for new trial for an abuse of discretion ... State v. Serrato, 787 N.W.2d 462, 472 (Iowa 2010). A ... district court abuses its discretion when it is exercised on ... grounds ... ...
  • State v. Redmond
    • United States
    • Iowa Court of Appeals
    • August 30, 2023
    ...which led the court to find an officer had reasonable suspicion to order the defendant out of the vehicle. State v. Price-Williams, 973 N.W.2d 556, 563 (Iowa 2022) (discussing Bergmann, 633 N.W.2d at 333); see also State v. Riley, 501 N.W.2d 487, 489 (Iowa 1992) ("[A]n officer may [also] ma......

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