United States v. Taylor, Criminal. No. 2:20-0121-RMG

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtRichard Mark Gergel, United States District Judge
Citation572 F.Supp.3d 199
Parties UNITED STATES of America, v. Alouis Levorge TAYLOR, Defendant.
Docket NumberCriminal. No. 2:20-0121-RMG
Decision Date10 November 2021

572 F.Supp.3d 199

Alouis Levorge TAYLOR, Defendant.

Criminal. No. 2:20-0121-RMG

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division.

Signed November 10, 2021

572 F.Supp.3d 202

Robert William Harrell, III, Assistant US Attorney, US Attorneys Office, Charleston, SC, for United States of America.

Jerry Nicholas Theos, Theos Law Firm LLC, Charleston, SC, for Defendant.


Richard Mark Gergel, United States District Judge

572 F.Supp.3d 203

Before the Court is Defendant's motion to suppress from evidence cocaine, marijuana, and a firearm recovered by the police. (Dkt. No. 65). The Court held a suppression hearing on November 2, 2021. For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion is denied.

I. Background

The Court conducted an evidentiary hearing on November 2, 2021 in which Charleston Police Officers Bruce and Frederick and former Charleston Police Officer (now FBI Agent) Bianchi testified. The Court found highly credible the testimony of each officer and further found the Officers’ testimony was corroborated by bodycam footage and other evidence. Accordingly, the Court credits their testimony and draws much of the facts set forth below from their testimony as well as the bodycam footage submitted to the Court.

On March 1, 2018, around 8:20 PM, Charleston Police Officers Bianchi, Bruce, and Frederick (collectively the "Officers") were on a routine patrol at an apartment complex called Bridgeview Village Apartments (the "complex") located on North Romney Street in Charleston, South Carolina. Both the management of the complex as well as various residents had asked the Charleston Police Department to patrol the complex because of problems with nonresidents who were, inter alia , selling drugs and committing violent crimes at the complex. The Officers were members of the Quick Response Squad ("QRS"). QRS was originally created as a critical intervention unit in response to a 2016 incident in Dallas, Texas where five police officers were ambushed and killed. QRS's functions evolved, however, and as of 2018 it also engaged in proactive community policing throughout the Charleston area. Consistent with its history and mission, QRS units typically consisted of multiple officers.

On the night in question, the Officers rode in an unmarked Chevy Tahoe. The Tahoe was equipped with a bar of police lights but no spotlight. At the time the Officers entered the complex, Officer Bruce drove, Officer Bianchi sat in the front passenger seat, and Officer Frederick rode in the rear. All Officers were in uniform, carrying their service arms, and equipped with bodycams.

Upon entering one of the complex's parking lots, the Officers observed a Toyota Camry which was properly parked, but which had its headlights switched off and its engine running. The Officers observed an individual inside the car but could not ascertain either the race or gender of the individual. The Officers would later discover, and Defendant does not dispute, that he was the individual in the Camry. The Officers did not observe other parked but occupied cars that evening.

Office Bruce drove past Defendant, passing the Camry on the Tahoe's left. Because Defendant's vehicle was parked in a space which was perpendicular to a sidewalk, to leave his parking space Defendant would need to back his car up and then maneuver either left or right. Office Bruce stopped the Tahoe parallel to and about one or two spots past Defendant's Camry. See Gov. Ex. 2, (Officer Frederick Bodycam Footage) (0:00:14) (showing Officer Frederick exit the Tahoe and walk back toward Defendant's Camry). Office Bruce blinked the Tahoe's rear blue police light for one second. See Gov. Ex. 3, (Officer Bianchi Bodycam Footage) (0:00:16-17) (showing rear blue police light reflect off Officer Frederick's back). The Officers activated their blue light to identify themselves as police officers to Defendant and to avoid surprising Defendant as they approached

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his car. Officer Bruce did not activate the Tahoe's siren. After Officers Bianchi and Frederick exited the Tahoe, Officer Bruce pulled the Tahoe forward roughly five spaces. See Gov. Ex. 1, (Officer Bruce Bodycam Footage) (0:00:04) (parking and exiting Tahoe and looking back toward Defendant's Camry). It was standard procedure for two officers to approach a single individual—the second officer providing cover to the first who would initiate the consensual interaction with the citizen.

As confirmed by bodycam footage, Officers Frederick and Bianchi approached Defendant's Camry at a casual, even slow pace. Officer Frederick walked towards the driver's door of the Camry while Officer Bianchi walked towards the front passenger door. As he approached the Camry, Officer Frederick switched on a flashlight but did not draw his weapon. When Officer Frederick arrived at the rear of the Camry, Defendant—without any prompting from either Officer Bianchi or Frederick—opened the driver's door of his vehicle. At this moment, Officer Frederick smelt what he believed was marijuana emanating from the car. The following conversation transpired:

Officer Frederick : Hi, there. How are you? Hey, sir. How are you? I'm Officer Frederick with the Charleston Police Department. We're just getting out with you because we see you sitting over here. We've been having a lot of problems with loitering in the parking lot. Do you stay over here?

Defendant: Uh uh.

Officer Frederick: You visiting somebody?

Defendant : Yeah, my aunt.

Officer Frederick Bodycam Footage, (0:00:18-30). While speaking with Defendant, Officer Frederick stood between Defendant and the driver's door of the Camry and kept his flashlight pointing down and away from Defendant's face.

During this conversation, Officer Bianchi, who had walked up to the front passenger door, began to look inside the Camry with his flashlight. In a cup holder in the center console, next to a large drink, Officer Bianchi saw a plastic bag filled white powder—a substance Officer Bianchi believed was cocaine. Officer Bianchi also saw, on the floor of the front passenger side of the Camry, a black garbage bag. Officer Bianchi Bodycam Footage, (0:00:32) (view into Camry through front passenger window showing center console, a plastic bag with a white substance inside, and an object on the front passenger floor).

Upon viewing these items, Officer Bianchi told Officer Frederick to "pull [Defendant] out" of the car. Id. (0:00:33-34). Officer Frederick instructed Defendant to "Get out of the car" and "Keep [his] hands where [Officer Frederick] c[ould] see them." Defendant, however, did not comply. Instead, Defendant fled—quickly reversing out of his spot, darting forward, colliding with a parked vehicle, and speeding away from the Officers. Officer Frederick Bodycam Footage, (0:00:30-40).

At this point, all three officers got into the Tahoe and pursed Defendant. In another part of the complex, the Officers found Defendant's Camry abandoned in the middle of a roadway connecting two parking lots. The front right wheel of the vehicle was almost horizontal to the ground. When the Officers found the Camry, the driver's door was open. Officer Frederick Bodycam Footage, (0:01:54). While other officers searched for Defendant, Officer Frederick remained with the Camry.

With the assistance of K9s, in the breezeway of one of the apartment buildings, officers found a large vacuum sealed

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bag containing five smaller heat-sealed bags, each containing roughly one pound of marijuana. Officer Bruce Bodycam Footage, (0:02:00-09). Upon finding the garbage bag, an officer audibly comments that he "can smell it"—"it" being marijuana. Officer Bianchi identified this garbage bag as the same one he first observed in the Defendant's Camry. Upon returning to the Camry, Officer Bianchi found, in the same spot he had initially seen it, the bag of white powder originally observed through the Camry's passenger side window. The Officers performed a field test on the substance in the bag. The substance tested presumptive for cocaine.

While inspecting the interior of the open Camry, Officer Bruce noticed a loose panel on the right side of the center console, around the point where the carpet of the vehicle meets the console. Upon removing the panel, under the Toyota's gearshift, in a natural void, Office Bruce found a firearm.

On February 12, 2020, the Government charged Defendant in a three-count indictment with (1) possession with intent to distribute cocaine and marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1), 841(B)(1)(C), and 841(b)(1)(D) ; (2) possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 924(c)(1)(A)(i) ; and (3) felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), 924(a)(2), and 924(e). Defendant now moves to suppress from evidence the cocaine, marijuana, and firearm found by the police. (Dkt. Nos. 65, 82). The Government responded in opposition (Dkt. No. 72) and the Court conducted a suppression hearing on November 2, 2021. At the hearing, the Government offered evidence in the form of live testimony from Officers Bianchi, Bruce,...

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