United States v. Brooks

Decision Date14 December 2018
Docket NumberCrim. No. 17-250
Citation358 F.Supp.3d 440
Parties UNITED STATES of America, v. Jamal BROOKS, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Pennsylvania

Jerome A. Moschetta, Washington County District Attorney's Office, Washington, PA, for United States of America.

Samantha L. Stern, Federal Public Defender, Western District of Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, PA, for Defendant.


Joy Flowers Conti, Senior United States District Judge


Pending before the court is a motion to suppress evidence and statements (ECF No. 38) filed by defendant Jamal Brooks ("Brooks"). Brooks is charged in a criminal indictment with possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon on August 22, 2017, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). The charge in the indictment is based upon three firearms and ammunition recovered from a search of Brooks' residence conducted pursuant to a search warrant on August 22, 2017. Brooks in the motion to suppress and supplemental submissions argues that law enforcement violated his rights guaranteed by the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the United States Constitution and the evidence and statements obtained from those violations should be suppressed.

On February 12, 2018, the government filed a response in opposition to Brooks' motion to suppress. (ECF No. 43.) On February 23, 2018, Brooks filed a supplemental brief with respect to the motion to suppress. (ECF No. 44.) On March 19, 2018, the government filed a response in opposition to Brooks' supplemental brief. (ECF No. 52.) On March 25, 2018, Brooks filed a reply brief with respect to the motion to suppress. (ECF No. 53.)1

On October 12, 2018, the court held a hearing with respect to Brooks' motion to suppress. The parties entered exhibits into evidence and the government presented the testimony of three witnesses. On November 15, 2018, the parties each filed proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. (ECF Nos. 82, 83.)

On November 28, 2018, the court sua sponte raised the issue of inevitable discovery with respect to the search of the crashed gray sedan and requested the parties to brief the issue. The court inquired whether additional evidence was necessary. On November 30, 2018, the parties filed their supplemental briefs. (ECF Nos. 89, 90.) Brooks did not request the record be reopened for additional evidence. To the contrary, Brooks objected to reopening the record. (ECF No. 89.) The government requested an opportunity to reopen the record to present testimony by Howard Burton, the chief of police for the Penn Hills Police Department, about the Penn Hills Police Department's inventory policy. (ECF No. 90 ¶ 6.) The court denies the government's request because the record is sufficient without that additional evidence.

The motion to suppress having been fully briefed is now ripe to be decided by the court. The court makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.

A. Warrantless Search of the Gray Nissan Rental Car on July 23, 2017

1. On July 23, 2017, at 3:28 a.m., Adam Lawrence ("Lawrence"), a police officer with the Penn Hills Police Department, and other police officers were dispatched to a residence on Leechburg Road in Penn Hills, Pennsylvania, for a reported burglary in progress involving "possible kidnapping" and "reports of gunshots." (H.T. 7/10/2018 (ECF No. 67) at 18-19.)

2. Prior to being dispatched to the incident on Leechburg Road, Lawrence, who was in a police uniform, was at a gas station with other police officers. (Id. ) Once the police officers received the call with respect to the incident on Leechburg Road, they drove with lights and sirens on toward that area. Lawrence's marked police car was the last in a line of police cars heading in the direction of the Leechburg Road. (Id. at 19.)

3. While the other police cars drove straight on Verona Road in Penn Hills, Pennsylvania, Lawrence took an alternate route via Shannon Road to "cover more area and maybe encounter suspects fleeing[.]" (Id. at 19-20.)

4. Once Lawrence turned onto Shannon Road, he saw a vehicle in his lane of travel, i.e., driving in the opposing lane of travel. (H.T. 7/10/2018 (ECF No. 67) at 20.) Lawrence explained:

They just passed a vehicle coming to the end of the roadway which is a T intersection with the stop sign. The stop sign is on their end, and I had to lock up my brakes, stop to avoid a head-on collision with them, and they proceeded past me and ran the stop sign and turned left on to 2nd Street.

(Id. ) The vehicle observed by Lawrence was a "newer" gray sedan, i.e., a 2016 Nissan Altima, with an Ohio registration plate and had two occupants, i.e., a driver and front seat passenger. (Id. at 20, 23; Gov't Ex. 3.) Lawrence described the driver as a "light skinned black male with black dreadlocks." (Id. at 23.) Lawrence could not describe the passenger of the vehicle. (Id. )

5. Brooks "is not a light skinned black male[.]" (H.T. 7/10/2018 (ECF No 67) at 49; H.T. 10/12/2018 (ECF No. 84) at 24.)

6. Lawrence explained that the gray sedan, which almost struck his police vehicle, appeared to be "trying to quickly get away from a certain area" and was coming from the direction of Leechburg Road where the robbery had taken place. (H.T. 7/10/2018 (ECF No. 67) at 24.) He suspected that the vehicle was involved in the robbery that had taken place at the residence on Leechburg Road. (Id. ) Lawrence, therefore, turned his police vehicle around and began to pursue the gray sedan. (Id. )

7. Lawrence pursued the gray sedan as it drove down various streets in the area, and he observed several traffic violations3 during the pursuit. (H.T. 7/10/2018 (ECF No. 67) at 25.) For example, the gray sedan did not have its lights on, which made it more difficult for the vehicle to be detected. (Id. ) The gray sedan was travelling at a rate of approximately forty to fifty miles per hour on side streets and residential streets, which have speed limits of twenty-five miles per hour. (Id. at 26.)

8. Lawrence attempted to conduct a traffic stop on the gray sedan. (Gov't Ex. 5 ¶ 18.)

9. He eventually lost sight of the gray sedan because he could not see the vehicle's taillights. (H.T. 7/10/2018 (ECF No. 67) at 26.)

10. A few moments after Lawrence4 lost sight of the gray sedan, a police officer with the Verona Police Department located the vehicle crashed nearby at the intersection of Penn Street and Allegheny Avenue in Verona Borough, Pennsylvania. (H.T. 7/10/2018 (ECF No. 67) at 26-27; H.T. 10/12/2018 (ECF No. 84) at 29.) The vehicle was wrecked into a fence of a parking lot, there were no occupants inside the vehicle, the engine was running, and the vehicle was partially on the roadway. (H.T. 7/10/2018 (ECF No. 67) at 27-28; H.T. 10/12/2018 (ECF No. 84) at 30.)

11. Lawrence did not see anyone exit the vehicle. (H.T. 10/12/2018 (ECF No. 84) at 26.) He believed, however, that the occupants ran away from the vehicle. (Id. ) He explained:

[G]iven the time that, you know, the distance that they were ahead of me until the time that I covered that distance, when they had turned right where they crashed and didn't negotiate the turn properly, it wasn't that long. So, there is no way that they were walking. They had to have got out and run. I mean, I was there within seconds passing by and I would have noticed people walking.

(Id. )

12. Lawrence determined the vehicle was registered to Enterprise Rental Car, also known as "EAN Holdings." (H.T. 7/10/2018 (ECF No. 67) at 28; H.T. 10/12/2018 (ECF No. 84) at 15, 33.) The vehicle was rented from Enterprise Rental Car by Brooks. (H.T. 10/12/2018 (ECF No. 84) at 45.)

13. Lawrence and other police officers with the assistance of two police service dogs searched the area in which the gray sedan was crashed in an attempt to locate its occupants. (H.T. 7/10/2018 (ECF No. 67) at 28-29.) The police officers did not locate either occupant of the vehicle. (H.T. 10/12/2018 (ECF No. 84) at 32.)

14. After Lawrence briefly participated in the search for the occupants of the vehicle, he5 returned to the crashed gray sedan to conduct an inventory search of the vehicle.6 (H.T. 7/10/2018 (ECF No. 67) at 29.)

15. Lawrence testified that he conducted an inventory search of the crashed gray sedan because "[i]t was involved in a crash, after a vehicle pursuit[,]" and, therefore, it was subject to being impounded by the Penn Hills Police Department. (H.T. 10/12/2018 (ECF No. 84) at 8-9.) Lawrence explained: "The driver and the other occupant of the vehicle fled after crashing the vehicle and we were unable to locate them." (Id. )

16. Lawrence conducted an inventory search of the vehicle at the scene of the crash, i.e., it was not towed to a separate location prior to Lawrence's inventory search. (H.T. 10/12/2018 (ECF No. 84) at 36.)

17. On July 23, 2017, the Penn Hills Police Department had a policy in place with respect to the "Inventory of Impounded Vehicles" (the "inventory policy"). (H.T. 10/12/2018 (ECF No. 84) at 6; Gov't Ex. 2.)

18. The inventory policy, in pertinent part, provided:

It shall be the policy of the Penn Hills Police Department that all vehicles impounded by the authority and direction of the Department shall be examined and inventoried immediately upon acceptance into the custody and control of the Penn Hills Police Department or as soon after as is practical under the circumstances.
A. Officer Responsibility
1. The Penn Hills Police Department Impounded Vehicle Information Sheet and an inventory of personal items of value in said vehicle will be completed and submitted by the officer who took custody or control of the vehicle or his designee.
2. Containers found within the impounded vehicle shall be opened and inventoried, unless the contents can be easily ascertained from examining the exterior of the container. If the container is locked and cannot be opened without damaging [the] same, it shall not be forced open, but rather noted on the inventory sheet as a locked

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