United States v. Phillips, 18 CR 284

CourtUnited States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)
Citation430 F.Supp.3d 463
Docket NumberNo. 18 CR 284,18 CR 284
Parties UNITED STATES of America v. John L. PHILLIPS
Decision Date01 January 2020

430 F.Supp.3d 463


No. 18 CR 284

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division.

Signed January 1, 2020

430 F.Supp.3d 466

AUSA, Elizabeth Rose Pozolo, Kalia M. Coleman, United States Attorney's Office, Chicago, IL, Pretrial Services, for United States of America.

Gal Pissetzky, Pissetzky & Berliner, Chicago, IL, for John L. Phillips.


Honorable Edmond E. Chang, United States District Judge

Law enforcement officers stopped and searched Defendant John Phillips' car without a warrant on two different occasions. Both times, the officers recovered guns and ammunition from the car. Ultimately, Phillips was charged with dealing firearms without a federal firearm license, transferring firearms to out-of-state residents, and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Phillips has moved to suppress all evidence obtained as a result of those searches, arguing that the stops and seizures violated the Fourth Amendment.1 R. 69, Mot. Suppress 7/9/17 Stop; R. 102, Mot. Suppress 8/24/17 Stop. One of the motions required an evidentiary hearing to resolve, during which the Court heard witness testimony, reviewed video evidence, and received other evidence into the record. R. 153, 12/2/19 Order. For the reasons discussed in this Opinion, the Court denies both motions.

I. Background

On July 9, 2017 and then again on August 24, 2017, law enforcement officers stopped Phillips for what the officers believed were traffic-related violations. As a result of both stops, law enforcement obtained firearms and ammunition from Phillips' white 2016 Dodge Challenger. Phillips moves to suppress the evidence obtained during both stops. The factual details of the stops are set forth next and are based on video recordings from squad-car dash cameras; officer body cameras; reports and affidavits of the Chicago Police Department (CPD), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), and the Illinois State Police (ISP); and in-court testimony.

A. July 9, 2017

On the evening of July 9, 2017, Chicago Police Officers Butkovic and Farias were patrolling the area of 6043 South Throop Street, where there had been earlier reports of gun shots. R. 69-1, Def.'s Exh. 1, Phillips Arrest Report at 2; R. 69, Def.'s Exh. 2, 7/9/17 Squad Car Video. The officers were patrolling this area in case there was any retaliation in response to the shots fired, and to locate possible offenders. Below is a satellite map of the area that the officers were patrolling that night:

430 F.Supp.3d 467

R. 150, Gov.'s Exh. 2, Map.

As they patrolled the area, the officers drove northbound down the north-south alley located east of the house on 6043 South Throop (in the map, the alley is between Throop and Elizabeth Streets, running parallel to those streets). 7/9/17 Squad Car Video at 00:00-10; see also Map. Both Officers Farias and Butkovic testified that, while driving north through the alley, they approached a vacant lot, across from which they noticed a white Dodge Challenger driving southbound on Throop Street. Butkovic testified that the Challenger caught his attention because it was a high-performance vehicle, and based on his experience, those types of vehicles are commonly used in shootings and are also commonly stolen.2 When Butkovic first noticed the car, the officers were around halfway down the alley and near a garage, somewhere between 5 to 10 seconds into the squad car video. 7/9/17 Squad Car Video at 00:10.

After noticing the Challenger, Farias made a left turn into the vacant lot and drove through it toward Throop. 7/9/17 Squad Car Video at 00:11-30. Based on the squad-car video, it took around 19 to 21 seconds to cross the lot. Id. During that time, the officers could not see the Challenger, which had continued southbound down Throop. Then, as the squad car approached the end of the lot, just before turning left on Throop, the officers testified that they saw the Challenger again.

430 F.Supp.3d 468

Butkovic testified that, as the officers began to turn onto Throop, he saw the Challenger pull up alongside the curb without using a turn signal. According to Butkovic, this occurred at around 30 seconds into the squad-car video. The squad-car video, however, does not show the parking maneuver or the failure to use a turn signal. See 7/9/17 Squad Car Video at 00:30. Instead, the Challenger appears in the squad-car video for the first time at around 32 seconds into the video, at which point the car is already stopped along the left curb line—though its brake lights are still illuminated. 7/9/17 Squad Car Video at 00:32-36. The taillights of the car then flash briefly in the video as the gears are shifted to park. Id. As detailed later in the Opinion, the circumstantial evidence standing alone would be a close call on whether the officers saw the Challenger pull to the curb (without a signal) versus whether the Challenger was already stopped at the curb. But the Court is convinced by Officer Butkovic's in-court testimony: he testified credibly, forthrightly, and calmly throughout both his direct examination and cross examination, and he conceded when he did not remember facts about that night.

Officers Farias and Butkovic then initiated a traffic stop at around 9:53 p.m., pulling up alongside and then behind the Challenger. 7/9/17 Squad Car Video at 00:36-1:02. After pulling up behind the Challenger, Farias approached the driver's side of the car and asked the driver to lower his window. R. 69, Def.'s Exh. 3, Farias Body Camera Video at 00:30-42. Inside the car were two men: Phillips, the driver; and Byron Moore, who was sitting in the passenger seat. Id. at 00:46. Farias then asked Phillips for his license and proof of insurance. Id. at 00:47-48. As Phillips looked for those documents, Phillips asked Farias why he had been stopped. Id. at 00:48-58. Farias told Phillips that he failed to use a turn signal as he pulled into the parking spot. Id. at 00:59-01:05. Phillips did not dispute Farias' claim and continued to look for the license and insurance card. Id. at 01:05-09. Phillips told Farias that Phillips and Moore were in the area after the mother of Moore's child notified them about the gun shots in the area. Id. at 01:23-28. During the conversation with Farias, Phillips was generally calm and responsive. Id.

Meanwhile, Officer Butkovic stood on the passenger side of the Challenger. 7/9/17 Squad Car Video at 1:10-3:14. After receiving and reviewing Phillips' driver information, Farias then joined Butkovic on the passenger side of the car and asked Moore for identification. Farias Body Camera at 02:40. After asking Phillips and Moore a few more questions, the officers returned to their car to run a name check on both individuals, at which time they discovered that Moore had an outstanding arrest warrant. Id. at 05:17-06:53; R. 90-1, Gov.'s Exh. 1, Moore Arrest Warrant.3 So the officers asked Moore to step out of the car, patted him down, and then arrested him. Farias Body Camera Video at 07:23-08:11; R. 90, Gov.'s Exh. 4, Butkovic Body Camera Video at 07:50-08:42. Farias then asked Phillips to step out of the car to talk to him. Farias Body Camera Video at 08:24-26. Meanwhile, Butkovic searched Moore and found a loaded magazine in his pocket. Butkovic Body Camera Video at 10:12-30. After being notified about the magazine, Farias also placed Phillips in handcuffs and conducted a pat down. Farias Body Camera Video at 10:48-11:50. Farias then proceeded to search the car; this search happened at around 10:03 p.m., which was 10 minutes after the officers' initially approached Phillips and Moore.

430 F.Supp.3d 469

Id. at 11:50-15:48. Farias eventually found ammunition and two firearms in the car. Id. ; Def.'s Exh. 1, Phillips Arrest Report at 2. Phillips was issued a citation for two traffic violations: (1) failure to signal while changing lanes, Municipal Code of Chicago § 9-40-200(a); and (2) failure to dim lights while parked, Municipal Code of Chicago § 9-76-090(a). Id.

B. August 24, 2017

The second traffic stop happened almost two months later, on August 24, 2017, and was done in connection with the ATF's investigation of Phillips.4 In the summer of 2017, the ATF was investigating Phillips for the unlawful trafficking of firearms from Kentucky to Chicago. R. 110-1, Gov.'s Exh. 1, Warrant Application, Vachy Warrant Affidavit ¶ 4. As detailed next, the ATF believed that Phillips, who is a convicted felon, and his co-defendant, Christopher Henderson, were buying guns in Kentucky and reselling them in Chicago. Id. The ATF further believed that Phillips and Henderson used a 2016 white Dodge Challenger registered to Phillips with license plate number Z249675 to get to and from Kentucky and to transport the firearms. Id. ¶¶ 5-6. During the course of the investigation, ATF agents interviewed dozens of private gun sellers about firearm sales that took place in Kentucky. R. 1, Complaint, Vachy Complaint Affidavit ¶¶ 47-96. Those sellers identified Phillips and Henderson as the buyers who purchased firearms from them. Id. ¶¶ 68, 74, 79, 84. Many also identified the Challenger as the car used...

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