United States v. Patterson

Decision Date04 February 2022
Docket NumberAugust Term 2021,No. 19-4332-cr,19-4332-cr
Parties UNITED STATES of America, Appellant, v. Justin PATTERSON, Defendant-Appellee
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit

James Ligtenberg, Assistant United States Attorney (Michael D. Maimin, Anna M. Skotko, Assistant United States Attorneys, on the brief), for Audrey Strauss, Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, New York, New York, for Appellant.

Yuanchung Lee, Federal Defenders of New York, Inc., New York, New York, for Defendant-Appellee.

Before: Raggi, Lynch, and Park, Circuit Judges.

Reena Raggi, Circuit Judge:

Defendant Justin Patterson stands charged in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Cathy Seibel, J. ) with one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. See 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) & 2.1 The subject firearm, a loaded Makarov pistol, was seized from the Chevrolet Camaro that Patterson was driving on the night of January 30, 2019, in Cortlandt, New York. State and county police had detained the vehicle at a gas station because it fit the description of a car whose occupants had reportedly menaced a woman with a firearm in a nearby supermarket parking lot. The district court granted Patterson's motion to suppress the firearm, orally ruling on October 30, 2019, that (1) the degree of force used by police in detaining Patterson's vehicle and its occupants—specifically, pointing firearms at, shouting orders toward, and blocking an exit route for the vehicle—exceeded that permissible for a reasonable investigatory stop and, thus, had to be viewed as a de facto arrest; (2) the arrest was unlawful because, when first effected, it was not supported by probable cause; and (3) thus, the firearm seized from the car's glove compartment after Patterson fled the scene had to be suppressed as a fruit of the unlawful arrest.

The district court memorialized its suppression ruling in a written order dated December 27, 2019, which the government now appeals pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3731. The government argues that Patterson's initial detention in a motor vehicle was not an arrest but a lawful investigatory stop because (1) it was supported by reasonable suspicion pursuant to Terry v. Ohio , 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968) ; and (2) the police actions found excessive by the district court were reasonable safety precautions given that officers were investigating a report of menacing with a firearm. We agree with these arguments and further conclude that other challenges to the firearm seizure are meritless as a matter of law. Thus, we reverse the district court's suppression order, and we remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


As the district court observed, the facts relevant to Patterson's motion to suppress are largely undisputed, with many of the pertinent events recorded on audiotapes or videotapes that are part of the record.2

I. The 911 Call for Help

At approximately 8:47 p.m. on January 30, 2019, a woman in Cortlandt, New York—a town in Westchester County—dialed 911 and, identifying herself by name, address, and telephone number, requested that police go to her home at 3469 Lexington Avenue. The caller explained that two black men in a black Camaro had threatened her with a gun at a nearby ShopRite parking lot and had gone to her home in search of her son.3

II. The Police Radio Exchanges

Within minutes, at approximately 8:52 p.m., a New York State Police radio dispatcher put out an announcement calling for officers to respond to the 911 caller's 3469 Lexington Avenue address. The dispatcher stated that "a menacing [had] occurred in the ShopRite parking lot" and that the suspects were "two black males" in "a black Camaro" who had "displayed a handgun." Joint App'x, Disc Ex. 2A at 0:15–0:40. The dispatcher directed officers to "start over to 3469 Lexington" because the "two suspects are possibly en route" to that location, and "they're looking for [name of caller's son] at that location." Id. at 0:08–0:12, 0:20–0:24, 0:39–0:42.

Moments later, a Westchester County Police dispatcher contacted County Police Officer David DiRienzo, directing him to go to 3469 Lexington Avenue to support State troopers investigating a "menacing with a handgun at ShopRite." Joint App'x, Disc Ex. 2C at 0:12–0:19.4 The dispatcher stated that "the suspect vehicle"—described as "a black Camaro" carrying "two black males"—was believed to be "en route over" to the Lexington Avenue location. Id. at 0:19–0:25. Confirming these instructions, DiRienzo radioed back, "black Camaro, two black males, menacing with a handgun at the ShopRite." Id. at 0:25–0:30. A Westchester County dispatcher then immediately instructed County Police Officer Adam Wirth to assist DiRienzo, who was "heading over to 3469 Lexington Avenue for a menacing with a handgun," explaining that "wanted is a black Camaro [and] two black males." Joint App'x, Disc Ex. 2D at 0:37–0:45.

When DiRienzo arrived at 3469 Lexington Avenue, he saw two State troopers speaking with a person whom he understood to be the 911 caller, but he observed no black Camaro at the scene. At approximately 8:57 p.m., DiRienzo radioed that he was leaving 3469 Lexington Avenue and going to "canvass[ ] Route 6"—the main road between the Cortlandt ShopRite and 3469 Lexington Avenue, where the victim resided, a distance of approximately one mile—for "a black two-door Camaro." Joint App'x, Disc Ex. 2E at 0:13–0:20. At the suppression hearing, DiRienzo testified that he headed toward the ShopRite because that is where the reported menacing had occurred, and he knew from experience that radio miscommunications can occur when multiple locations are broadcast. Meanwhile, Wirth, having heard DiRienzo's communication, reported by radio that he was already on Route 6.

Minutes later, at approximately 9:01 p.m., a State trooper radioed an updated description of the suspect vehicle as a "black or possibly dark gray ... Challenger or a Camaro." Joint App'x, Disc Ex. 2B at 0:05–0:12.5 Although a State Police dispatcher repeated—with some modification—that the suspect vehicle was "a dark colored or dark gray Challenger or Camaro," id. at 0:18–0:22, DiRienzo radioed that he "copied" that the suspects were in "a dark gray or black Camaro or Challenger," Joint App'x, Disc Ex. 2G at 0:11–0:17, just as the reporting trooper had stated.

At that point, Officer Wirth reported that he was then "behind a black Camaro ... going westbound" on Route 6. Id. at 0:22–0:30. At the suppression hearing, Wirth testified that he had first spotted the Camaro leaving the ShopRite parking lot and turning onto Route 6.6 He testified that he rarely saw Camaros or Challengers on local roads during the winter and had seen no other such cars that night, when roads were slick, snow was on the ground, and traffic was generally lighter than normal.7

Upon hearing Wirth's communication, DiRienzo promptly drove to his fellow officer's stated location and joined in following the Camaro. Unable to see inside the Camaro to determine the number or identity of the occupants, the officers, communicating by radio, decided to stop the vehicle. Seeing the Camaro's turn signal and brake lights illuminate near a Mobil gasoline station, Wirth turned on his vehicle's flashing emergency lights to signal the Camaro's driver—subsequently identified as defendant Patterson—to pull over. The driver did so, stopping at one of the station's gas pumps at approximately 9:02 p.m. The ensuing encounter was videotaped from various angles by police cameras and the Mobil station's security cameras.8

III. Detention of the Camaro and Its Occupants at the Mobil Station

With the Camaro then stopped at a gas pump, Officer Wirth, Officer DiRienzo, and State Police Trooper Coglitore, who had also joined in following the Camaro, stopped their three vehicles—all now displaying flashing lights—a short distance behind the Camaro, effectively blocking the Route 6 entrance/exit point through which the vehicle had just entered the station. The Camaro's front-facing access to the station's Locust Avenue entrance/exit was unimpeded.

Almost immediately, the three officers exited their vehicles, drew their firearms—handguns for DiRienzo and Wirth, an AR-15 rifle for Coglitore—and pointed them at the Camaro.9 At the suppression hearing, Wirth and DiRienzo testified that they drew and raised their weapons because the crime under investigation was menacing with a firearm, which by its nature presented a risk of the Camaro's occupants shooting an officer.

After brief consultation, Wirth and DiRienzo used their cars’ public address systems to order the Camaro's still-unknown occupants to get out of the vehicle with their hands up. DiRienzo additionally told the occupants to roll down the car's windows and to place the car keys on the roof.10 After the occupants failed to respond to any of these orders, Wirth—concerned that amplification might have distorted his order—shouted toward the Camaro for the occupants to exit the car with their hands up. DiRienzo testified that the driver of the Camaro (i.e. , Patterson), rather than follow these instructions, appeared to reach around the car's interior, including behind the front seats and under the steering wheel, as if preparing or hiding something, possibly a firearm.

Moments later—approximately one minute and fifteen seconds after the Camaro was first stopped at the gas station—the passenger-side occupant, a black man subsequently identified as Deshawn Smalls, exited the car. Seconds later, the Camaro's driver, Patterson, also a black man, did likewise. Initially, the two men followed the officers’ instructions for Smalls to walk to the front of the vehicle and to place his hands on the car hood and for Patterson to walk to the rear of the vehicle and to place his hands on the trunk. At about this time, a second State trooper arrived at the scene,...

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