United States v. Williams, Case No. 14–CR–30164–MJR

CourtUnited States District Courts. 7th Circuit. Southern District of Illinois
Citation79 F.Supp.3d 888
Docket NumberCase No. 14–CR–30164–MJR
PartiesUnited States of America, Plaintiff, v. Darrell Williams, Defendant.
Decision Date09 February 2015

79 F.Supp.3d 888

United States of America, Plaintiff
Darrell Williams, Defendant.

Case No. 14–CR–30164–MJR

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois.

Signed February 9, 2015

79 F.Supp.3d 892

Laura V. Reppert, Assistant U.S. Attorney, Fairview Heights, IL, for Plaintiff.

Thomas C. Gabel, Assistant Federal Public Defender, East St. Louis, IL, for Defendant.


REAGAN, Chief Judge:

In August 2014, law enforcement officers procured an arrest warrant for Herman Smith, Jr., who is not a party to this case.1 Smith resided at 1516 Second Street in Madison, Illinois. Unbeknownst to the officers, that address comprised three residences: a traditional single-family ranch house facing the street, plus two units (one upstairs, one downstairs) in a detached, two-story apartment building at the back of the property. Smith lived in the downstairs apartment in the freestanding building.

Darrell Williams, the instant Defendant, lived in the upstairs unit. Officers—after ingress into the single-family home (with those residents' consent) and discovering the existence of the second building—entered Defendant's residence. It is undisputed officers had neither a warrant to search Defendant's residence nor a warrant to arrest him. Once inside, officers discovered over 500 grams of crack cocaine.

Defendant, who has been indicted of possession with intent to distribute those drugs, has moved to suppress the evidence as unconstitutionally obtained. For the reasons explained below, Defendant's motion (Doc. 26) is GRANTED.


Unless otherwise noted, the facts are undisputed.

By the summer of 2014, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (“ATF”) had opened an investigation into Herman Smith, Jr., whom officers suspected of dealing crack cocaine. Agents initiated a series of three controlled buys, where a confidential informant (“CI”) and Smith were recorded exchanging money for crack. During the first buy, Smith arrived in a blue Chevrolet Impala. Agents who ran the Impala's plates determined it belonged to Smith, whose address was listed as 1662 Second Street, Madison, Illinois. All three buys occurred on the 1600 block of Second Street. In total, the CI bought over 150 grams of crack from Smith.

Smith was indicted, and agents procured a warrant for his arrest. Officers had a driver's license photo2 of Smith and two addresses for him: 1662 Second Street,

79 F.Supp.3d 893

and 1516 Second Street. How they discovered the latter address is not a matter of record. During the week prior to serving the warrant, officers noted the Impala registered to Smith was parked more frequently in front of the 1516 address, so they approached that address first: at approximately 6:00 a.m. on August 28, 2014.

From the street, officers—between six and nine local and federal police comprised the arrest team—could see a ranch-style home that appeared to be a single family residence. The blue Impala was parked on the street in front of the house. Most of the officers approached the front door; two were stationed behind the property, in an alley behind the two-story building that abutted the property line.

Officers, announcing they had a federal arrest warrant for Herman Smith, knocked and announced their presence. Rochelle Williams–Gardner (“Gardner”), who had lived at 1516 Second Street since 1991, opened the door. Gardner—sister to both Smith and to the instant Defendant—informed officers that Smith did not live with her, and consented to a search of her house. When asked if Smith lived there occasionally, she told officers no—but that sometimes he did stay with her son in the two-story building at the back of the property. There is some disagreement as to whether she told officers Smith simply lived in the freestanding building, or, more specifically, that he lived downstairs out back. Though the Court found Gardner's testimony credible, a finding of fact on that particular conversation is unnecessary, since officer's eventual entry into Defendant's upstairs apartment was unreasonable in either case. See FN 9, infra.

Leaving one officer inside with Gardner (and her husband and son), agents walked into the backyard, where they could see the freestanding building. From across the yard, their view of the lower level was obscured by a hedge. But they could see two upstairs windows and an external stairway leading to a second-story door on the left side of the building. While talking amongst themselves, agents saw an African–American man peek through a window. According to ATF Agent Matt Inlow (“Inlow,” the arrest team leader), agents were 40 to 50 feet away at the time, and the peek through the window lasted at most one or two seconds. The upstairs lights were not on, and dawn had not broken: Inlow claims an internet search revealed a 6:19 a.m. sunrise that day.

Believing the peeking head belonged to Herman Smith, Inlow—within a matter of seconds—led a team to the outside stairs. On approaching the building, officers passed the hedge and saw a downstairs door close to the bottom of the stairs. Two officers were left to cover the downstairs entrance, and approximately five officers ascended to the door upstairs. Inlow saw no apartment numbers on the building, but admitted the building's “layout gave us pause,” and that “we had no idea if it was one, two, three or four” residences. “[W]e had no idea what the layout of the building was.”

Officers in the back alley—a short distance around the corner from the five officers on the landing—saw no exits in that direction, so (as Inlow ceded) nobody from inside the building could have possibly escaped. According to Gardner, anyone standing in the alley behind the freestanding building could have also seen the building had two sets of utility meters.

Inlow knocked and announced, and after twenty or thirty seconds—enough time for an officer to go downstairs for a ram—officers forced entry into the apartment. Inlow testified he would not have entered the apartment but for his belief that Herman Smith was inside and—based on “training and experience with narcotics violations”

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—a belief he was destroying evidence.

Officers did not, however, hear any suspicious sounds before entering the unit. Rather, after entry and during a sweep of the residence, officers heard a running toilet. Closer examination revealed over 500 grams of crack, some of which was in that toilet. Officers secured the floating drugs, then procured a search warrant for the rest of the apartment. Of course, they also found the instant Defendant, Darrell Williams, who lived in that upstairs apartment. Agents—thinking they were arresting Herman Smith, Jr.—arrested Defendant Williams during their initial protective sweep. Williams adamantly maintained (and officers soon discerned, after Smith looked through a downstairs window, slammed a door, and was quickly arrested) he was not the target of the arrest warrant. Discovery of the drugs and discovery that officers had entered the wrong residence were roughly contemporaneous, but both happened after the critical juncture in this case: the ultimate question is whether, based on the facts available to them, officers' entry into Defendant's apartment was constitutional.

Defendant moved to suppress, the Government responded, and the undersigned held a hearing on the matter. Rochelle Gardner and several law enforcement officers, including Inlow, testified. After a thorough review of the evidence, the arguments, and legal precedent, the Court GRANTS the motion for the reasons explained below.

Legal Standard

The right of a man in his own home to be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion “stands at the very core of the Fourth Amendment.” Groh v. Ramirez, 540 U.S. 551, 559, 124 S.Ct. 1284, 157 L.Ed.2d 1068 (2004) (quoting Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27, 31, 121 S.Ct. 2038, 150 L.Ed.2d 94 (2001) ). Accord U.S. v. U.S. Dist. Court for Eastern Dist. of Mich., Southern Div., 407 U.S. 297, 313, 92 S.Ct. 2125, 32 L.Ed.2d 752 (1972) ( “[P]hysical entry of the home is the chief evil against which the wording of the Fourth Amendment is directed”). Searches and seizures inside a home without a warrant3 are, therefore, presumptively unreasonable. Kentucky v. King, ––– U.S. ––––, 131 S.Ct. 1849, 1856, 179 L.Ed.2d 865 (2011) ; Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 586, 100 S.Ct. 1371, 63 L.Ed.2d 639 (1980).

That presumption can be overcome when the occupant consents to entry, or where police are faced with exigent circumstances like “hot pursuit,” a suspect's potential escape, injury (or danger of injury) to an occupant, danger posed by the occupant to others, or the imminent destruction of evidence. Sutterfield v. City of Milwaukee, 751 F.3d 542, 557 (7th Cir.2014). The government carries the burden pointing to some affirmative sign of exigency. U.S. v. Delgado, 701 F.3d 1161, 1165 (7th Cir.2012). Key to the inquiry is whether it was reasonable for officers on the scene to believe, in light of the circumstances they faced, that there was a compelling need to act and no time to obtain a warrant. Sutterfield, 751 F.3d at 557. The exigent...

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