United States v. Bell, 5:16-CR-338.

CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of New York
Writing for the CourtDAVID N. HURD, United States District Judge
Citation256 F.Supp.3d 222
Parties UNITED STATES of America, v. Charles BELL, Defendant.
Decision Date27 June 2017
Docket Number5:16-CR-338.

256 F.Supp.3d 222

UNITED STATES of America,
v.
Charles BELL, Defendant.

5:16-CR-338.

United States District Court, N.D. New York.

Signed June 27, 2017


HON. RICHARD S. HARTUNIAN, United States Attorney for the Northern District of New York, OF COUNSEL: ROBERT S. LEVINE, ESQ., Ass't United States Attorney, 100 South Clinton Street, Syracuse, NY 13261

HON. LISA PEEBLES, Federal Public Defender for the Northern District of New York, OF COUNSEL: RANDI JUDA BIANCO, ESQ., Ass't Federal Public Defender, Attorneys for Defendant, 4 Clinton Square, 3rd Floor, Syracuse, NY 13202

MEMORANDUM–DECISION and ORDER

DAVID N. HURD, United States District Judge

I. INTRODUCTION

On November 17, 2016, after a state court suppressed the prosecution's evidence and threw out firearms charges against defendant Charles Bell ("Bell" or "defendant"), the United States of America (the "Government") sought and obtained an indictment charging defendant with new, federal crimes based on the same conduct.

On November 28, 2016, at around 10:30 at night, New York State parole officers conducted a scheduled parole visit at Bell's home, where they arrested him on these federal charges. Defendant was taken to the Onondaga County Justice Center (the

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"Justice Center") in downtown Syracuse, New York, where federal agents booked him in for an overnight stay.

At around 9:00 a.m. the next morning, U.S. Marshals Service ("USMS") Deputy Alexander Baker ("Marshal Baker") moved Bell from the Justice Center to the nearby federal courthouse and notified fellow USMS Deputy Ross Richard ("Marshal Richard"), who arranged for defendant's initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Therese Wiley Dancks at 12:30 p.m. that day.

But instead of just leaving Bell to cool his heels in a holding area at the federal courthouse until that afternoon's scheduled appearance before the magistrate, Marshal Baker and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives Special Agent Francis Neeley ("Special Agent Neeley") had already planned to make better use of this downtime: they interrogated him, extracting defendant's written confession over the course of the next hour.

With the federal case all buttoned up, Marshal Baker returned Bell to a cell in the holding area, fed him lunch, and then escorted him to courtroom number three, where Judge Dancks waited to warn him about the importance of his constitutional rights and to appoint the Office of the Federal Public Defender ("FPD") to represent him on the charges to which he had just recently finished confessing his guilt.

On February 10, 2017, Bell, through his newly appointed counsel, moved to suppress for a second time the evidence recovered during his initial arrest. This time around, defendant also moved to exclude the inculpatory statement he made to law enforcement agents the morning after his re-arrest on the federal charges. The Government opposed both branches of defendant's motion. After a review of the parties' briefing, an evidentiary hearing was ordered to determine the circumstances surrounding law enforcement's procurement of defendant's statement.

On April 6, 2017, that evidentiary hearing was conducted in Utica, New York, where the parties stipulated to the admission of four exhibits, including an audio recording of Bell's interrogation. In addition, the Government introduced testimonial evidence from three witnesses: Marshal Richard, Marshal Baker, and Special Agent Neeley.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the parties were directed to review the transcript and to submit proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. Those submissions have been received and have been reviewed together with the transcript. Both branches of Bell's suppression motion are now fully briefed.

II. BACKGROUND 1

The evening of September 23, 2015, two Syracuse Police Department detectives and a member of the U.S. Marshals Service were jointly patrolling the east side of the City of Syracuse, New York. The trio were riding in an unmarked Chevrolet Impala, with William Kittell ("Detective Kittell") behind the wheel and Mamoun Abraham ("Detective Abraham") beside him in the front passenger seat. Marshal Baker, also along for the ride, was seated in the back. All three agents were dressed in plain clothes, but they were also wearing

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vests marked "Police" on the front and back.

At around 8:45 p.m., as the agents approached the intersection of Maple and East Genesee streets in their unmarked sedan, they observed a vehicle come to a stop in the middle of the road. According to Detectives Abraham and Kittell, they observed a black male in a dark hooded sweatshirt, later identified as Bell, approach the driver's side of the stopped vehicle and reach his hands inside the car.

Although Detective Abraham claimed that he could somehow manage to make out the shape of Bell's hands through the late September darkness, neither detective actually observed anything illegal occur through the vehicle's window. After a brief moment, the agents observed the pedestrian step back and point to the vehicle's occupants, a gesture the detectives understood as one directing the driver to pull his vehicle over onto Maple Terrace, a nearby side road.

The agents followed their quarry up Maple Street, planning to investigate what they suspected to be an illegal drug transaction in an area known for drug activity. As the agents pulled up in their unmarked car, Bell and another male were standing outside it with their backs turned away from the agents. Although Detective Abraham believed the two men to be inspecting something, he could not identify any items in their hands.

At this point, Detective Abraham exited the unmarked patrol car, startling the two men. Bell took a quick look at Detective Abraham, turned his body away from the agent, and began walking briskly away in an easterly direction. When Detective Abraham ordered defendant to stop, he fled on foot.

Detective Abraham gave chase, quickly tackling Bell to the ground behind an apartment complex on Maple Terrace and holding him there until Marshal Baker arrived to handcuff him. In the meantime, Detective Kittell activated his unmarked sedan's lights and sirens and stopped the other vehicle, issuing traffic tickets to the driver.

No drugs were recovered in connection with the incident. Instead, after Marshal Baker finished handcuffing Bell, Detective Abraham rolled defendant over on the ground and observed a pearl and white handgun fall from the front pocket of his hooded sweatshirt. Defendant was arrested and transported to the Justice Center for booking, where he made statements that suggested the driver of the vehicle had "set him up." Defendant was later indicted for state law firearms offenses.

On May 6, 2016, following an evidentiary hearing at which Attorney James Hopkins represented Bell, Onondaga County Court Judge Anthony F. Aloi suppressed the evidence recovered the night defendant was apprehended and dismissed the state court indictment against him.

III. FINDINGS OF FACT 2

Special Agent Neeley began a federal investigation into Bell shortly after the state law charges were dismissed. Tr. at 57.3 According to Special Agent Neeley, someone from the U.S. Attorney's Office had contacted his supervisor, who in turn

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had instructed him to investigate whether the conduct underlying the now-dismissed state charges against defendant constituted a violation of federal firearms law. Id.

First, Special Agent Neeley contacted Marshal Baker, who was present at Bell's original arrest, and solicited some "brief background" information about defendant's case. Tr. at 7, 19, 58. Special Agent Neeley then obtained certified copies of defendant's prior felony convictions as well as a report from a firearms specialist that confirmed the firearm at issue had been manufactured outside New York State. Id. at 58. Based on this information, Special Agent Neeley informed his supervisor that defendant's case "was worthy of looking at and moving [forward]." Id.

On November 17, 2016, following grand jury testimony by Special Agent Neeley, the Government obtained a two-count federal indictment that charged Bell with being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) and with possessing a firearm with an obliterated serial number in violation of § 922(k). Tr. at 18, 59. U.S. Magistrate Judge Therese Wiley Dancks issued a warrant for defendant's arrest on these charges the very same day this federal indictment was handed down. Id. at 18.

However, because Special Agent Neeley "lives rather far away from Syracuse," he elected to work with Marshal Baker to arrange for Bell's arrest on these new, federal charges.4 Tr. at 7. Marshal Baker learned that defendant was on state parole and contacted New York State Parole Officer Brian Mahar ("PO Mahar"), who explained that the parole office had actually scheduled a home visit with defendant during the evening of November 28. Id. at 7–9. Marshal Baker provided PO Mahar with a copy of defendant's federal arrest warrant and indicated to PO Mahar that, if defendant...

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1 practice notes
  • United States v. Jones, 17-CR-103 (DLI)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • March 29, 2018
    ...clothes individuals exiting an unmarked car, at night, began to yell at and run after Defendant. See also United States v. BellPage 14 256 F. Supp.3d 222, 235 (N.D.N.Y. 2017) (finding that officers did not have reasonable suspicion although defendant fled because defendant was startled when......
1 cases
  • United States v. Jones, 17-CR-103 (DLI)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • March 29, 2018
    ...clothes individuals exiting an unmarked car, at night, began to yell at and run after Defendant. See also United States v. BellPage 14 256 F. Supp.3d 222, 235 (N.D.N.Y. 2017) (finding that officers did not have reasonable suspicion although defendant fled because defendant was startled when......

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