U.S. v. Ramos

Decision Date29 August 2008
Docket NumberCr. No. 04-10198-MLW.
Citation591 F.Supp.2d 93
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, v. Edgar RAMOS and John Mehia, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Massachusetts

Melvin Norris, Mel Norris, Wayland, MA, for Defendants.


WOLF, District Judge.


Defendants Edgar Ramos and John Mehia are charged with the unlawful transportation of aliens illegally in the United States in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1324. These charges are a result of an investigation conducted by the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority ("MBTA") police at the MBTA's Sullivan Square station in Charlestown, Massachusetts on May 28, 2004.

As described in detail in this Memorandum, after the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001 ("9/11"), MBTA personnel were instructed to be on alert for unusual activity that might suggest that a terrorist bombing of an MBTA facility was being planned or executed. On March 11, 2004, there was a highly publicized terrorist bombing of a train station in Madrid, Spain.

On May 28, 2004, an MBTA Inspector, who had MBTA terrorism training the day before, observed a van at the Sullivan Square station which aroused her suspicions for several reasons, including the facts that it was parked and occupied in an area that commuters almost always left immediately, it had a Texas paper license plate, and it had tinted windows. The Inspector, reasonably but mistakenly, believed that the men who briefly got out of the van were of Middle Eastern origin. One of them appeared to be taking notes. Concerned that the men were plotting a terrorist attack, the inspector prompted the MBTA police to investigate the matter.

MBTA police officers came to the station, parked their cruiser behind the van, and approached it. They too observed the matters that had made the Inspector suspicious. Unable to see the hands of the passenger in the front seat or the people in the back of the van, and fearing that at least one of them had a weapon or a device to detonate explosives, an officer opened the front passenger side door and ordered the occupants to get out.

Subsequent, limited questioning and a review of the occupants' identification documents indicated that the people in the back of the van were Brazilians who had not been authorized to enter the United States. Therefore, Ramos and Mehia, the driver and front-seat passenger respectively, were taken into custody because it appeared that they were transporting illegal aliens.

United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") officers were called to assist in the investigation. ICE officers read Ramos and Mehia their Miranda rights in Spanish. The ICE officers assert that Ramos and Mehia acknowledged that they understood and waived those rights. Ramos and Mehia were subsequently interviewed.

Ramos and Mehia moved to suppress all of the evidence against them, claiming that the MBTA officers violated their rights under the Fourth Amendment. More specifically, they contend that the MBTA officers did not have the constitutionally required reasonable, articulable suspicion for what the government concedes should be considered a stop of their vehicle at the Sullivan Square station. They also claim that the officers' subsequent conduct was unreasonable. Therefore, the defendants argue that the officers' seizures and searches violated their Fourth Amendment rights.

In addition, Ramos, but not Mehia, asserts that he did not knowingly and voluntarily waive his Miranda rights before speaking to the ICE agents. Therefore, he argues that his statements to them should be suppressed.

The court conducted an evidentiary hearing on the motion to suppress. It also received a succession of post-hearing memoranda as certain legal and factual issues came into sharper focus.

For the reasons explained in this Memorandum, the court concludes that the government has proven that the conduct of the MBTA officers was at all times reasonable and, therefore, did not violate the Fourth Amendment. In addition, the government has established that Ramos understood, and knowingly and voluntarily waived his Miranda rights before speaking to the ICE agents. Therefore, the motion to suppress is being denied.


The following facts have been proven beyond a preponderance of the evidence.

On May 28, 2004, Patricia Pitts had been employed by the MBTA for 20 years, most recently as an Inspector, at the MBTA's Sullivan Square station in Charlestown, Massachusetts. As an Inspector, Pitts' duties included observing activities at the station and alerting the MBTA police of any suspicious activity.

On 9/11, 19 men of Middle Eastern origin perpetrated terrorists attacks that killed several thousand people in the United States. Following those attacks, the MBTA began training all of its employees to be alert for possible terrorist threats. On March 11, 2004, there was a highlypublicized terrorist bombing at a train station in Madrid, Spain.

Pitts received her specialized MBTA terrorist training on May 27, 2004. She returned to work at Sullivan Station at about 7:00 a.m. on May 28, 2004, the Friday before Memorial Day weekend.

As Pitts arrived at the station she immediately noticed a large white van in the parking lot. After entering her Inspector's booth, Pitts watched the van. She quickly noted that the van had at least two people sitting in it. She regarded this as unusual because the van was in an area in which commuters pay to park and leave immediately to get some form of public transportation. Pitts saw two men get out of the van and observed one of them writing something on a piece of paper. She had been taught the day before to watch particularly for people making notes at a MBTA station because they could be planning to plant explosives.

Therefore, Pitts decided to investigate the matter by walking by the van. As she did so, she noticed that the van had tinted windows. Nevertheless, she could see that there were several people in the back of the vehicle. In addition, she saw that the van had a Texas temporary paper license plate placed over a regular license plate. She had been taught in her terrorism class that paper license plates should also be regarded as suspicious.

As she walked past, Pitts, who is African-American, noted that the two men in the front seat of the van were also dark skinned and thought that they were Middle Eastern. This belief was reasonable in the circumstances, but mistaken because the men were actually of Mexican descent.

Because of the suspicions aroused by her observations, Pitts called the MBTA dispatcher in order to get the MBTA police to investigate further. The MBTA police were told that the dispatcher had just received a call from the Inspector at Sullivan Square station. The dispatcher went on to say:

Sullivan lower parking lot. There are two, two vans pulled up, uh, and one of them had a paper plate. A couple of guys got out of them, believe it or not, of Middle Eastern descent. She described them as to be on [second hand]. It made her feel very uncomfortable. She saw them congregatin' and one had a paper plate. So, she was wondering if we could send[ ].

Exhibit 6 at 1 (alterations in original).

MBTA Patrolman Steven O'Hara and his partner Officer Silen were the first officers to respond to the dispatch. O'Hara had been an MBTA Patrolman for more than seven years. After 9/11, he had received specialized terrorist training which was far more extensive than Pitt's one day class.

O'Hara knew that the 9/11 terrorists were Middle Eastern men. Although not articulated, the dispatcher's reference to Middle Eastern men communicated to O'Hara that the Inspector was concerned about a possible terrorist attack. O'Hara had been taught that the next terrorist attack could be at a metropolitan transit station. He knew of the then recent bombing of a train station in Madrid. O'Hara had been taught to be particularly suspicious of any vehicle that could hold a large amount of explosives like a van.

O'Hara was also very familiar with the Sullivan Square station. He had worked there and his duties included doing protective patrols. Like Pitts, O'Hara knew that people did not stay in their vehicles in the area of the parking lot in which the van was parked. He knew that it was necessary to pay to park in that area, and that there was another area where people who are dropping off or picking up passengers could wait for free.

O'Hara saw the van as his cruiser pulled into the station. The officers parked their cruiser about 15 feet behind the van, at an angle so they could get a clear view of both sides of it. A second cruiser driven by MBTA Officer Federico arrived and parked opposite O'Hara and Silen's cruiser.

O'Hara was concerned that the van might contain explosives to be used in a terrorist attack. He and Silen approached the van in what O'Hara characterized as a "tactical" formation, with Silen on the driver's side and O'Hara on the passenger side. They were in uniform. Their guns were not drawn.

O'Hara observed the temporary paper plate, which he had been trained to regard as suspicious. In addition, he saw that it was a Texas plate, which was unusual. Ordinarily, vehicles at the station had Massachusetts plates, or occasionally New Hampshire or Rhode Island plates. It was very uncommon to see plate from as far away as Texas.

O'Hara also saw that all of the windows of the van behind the front seat were tinted. Nevertheless, he observed the shadows of several heads in the back of the van, which seemed to have several seats. O'Hara considered it suspicious that many people, who could not be seen, were sitting in a van, that was parked in an area in which people regularly exited their vehicles after parking.

When O'Hara reached the front passenger side...

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