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United States v. Williams

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

August 22, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
JOSEPH ANTONIO WILLIAMS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JON E. DEGUILIO JUDGE

         Defendant Joseph Williams is charged with one count of possessing a firearm as a felon. He was arrested after an undercover officer reported to other officers that he believed a black male wearing a red hat was attempting to burglarize a home (located at 1208 Kentucky Street) by removing a window screen. Upon seeing a marked patrol unit approach the area, Mr. Williams fled on foot and refused to stop after commanded to do so by pursuing officers. Mr. Williams was eventually tased and brought to a halt. While officers attempted to secure Mr. Williams with handcuffs, they observed him reaching down toward his pants. Once arrested, a search of his person revealed a loaded firearm. At the scene, dispatch confirmed that Mr. Williams had active warrants for his arrest, after which, Mr. Williams was transported to the police station.

         Mr. Williams has now moved to suppress the firearm's admission into evidence, arguing that no reasonable suspicion supported the officers' approaching him at 1208 Kentucky Street, and that, ultimately, his arrest and the pat down search were unlawful. For the following reasons, the Court denies the motion because the application of the attenuation doctrine precludes suppression. Moreover, even absent the application of that exception to the exclusionary rule, the officers acted lawfully.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         On the afternoon of October 6, 2016, officers from the Michigan City Police Department (“MCPD”) setup an undercover drug transaction to take place at a corner store in Michigan City, Indiana. MCPD Detective Al Bush, a thirty-nine year law enforcement veteran, was in charge of video-taping the encounter and verifying the safety of the confidential informant (“CI”) given that the store was considered a violent location known for open drug dealing and shootings. During the controlled buy, the CI purchased $200 worth of cocaine from a black male known only to officers as “Eric, ” but referred to by them as “the target.” After the drug deal took place, the officers did not intend to arrest Mr. Williams. Rather, Detective Bush continued to surveil the target in order to gain more information about him, including his identity.

         As Detective Bush watched the target, he proceeded down an alley and through an empty lot that was adjacent to a home located at 1208 Kentucky Street. The target then approached the Kentucky Street home, where Detective Bush observed him grab a white plastic chair, place it underneath a window on the north side of the house, stand on the chair, and remove a screen from the window. Detective Bush then contacted his commander, Sergeant Ken Drake, to report what he thought was a burglary in progress by the target of the drug deal.

         In response, Sergeant Drake of the MCPD Street Crimes Unit radioed for marked patrol cars to proceed to the Kentucky Street home. Once Sergeant Drake arrived near the home, he parked his unmarked vehicle just north of it, where he was able to see the target carrying a screen and setting it down. At one point, Detective Bush saw the target sit briefly on the front porch, but it was still unclear exactly what the target was doing. In response to the call out for a possible burglary in progress, MCPD Officer Kyle Shiparski proceeded toward the Kentucky Street home in his fully marked police SUV, but he overshot the location. Sergeant Drake observed the target look at Officer Shiparski's police cruiser and take off running.

         MCPD Officer Michael Oberle spotted Mr. Williams running and exited his car to chase him. Despite Officer Oberle's verbal commands to stop for police (who intended to conduct an investigative stop), the target continued to flee until Officer Oberle was able to tase him and bring him to the ground. Officer Shiparski, who had also started running after the target, arrived in time to assist with the arrest while catching the events on his bodycam.[1] As officers tried to place the target in handcuffs, Sergeant Drake, Officer Shiparski, and Officer Oberle observed him reaching for his waistband. Sergeant Drake instructed Officer Oberle to again deploy the taser, which then allowed the handcuffs to be placed on the target.[2]

         When asked for identification, Mr. Williams told officers he didn't have any ID on him. When asked what his name was, officers learned for the first time that the target was actually the defendant, Mr. Joseph Williams. Mr. Williams was then advised that he was seen trying to break into a house, to which Mr. Williams responded that the Kentucky Street home belonged to his grandmother. Officer Shiparski immediately conducted a protective pat down search of Mr. Williams, which revealed a loaded 9mm Smith & Wesson handgun in his front left pants pocket-the same area that he had been reaching for when tased a second time. After bringing Mr. Williams to his feet, Officer Shiparski was able to locate Mr. Williams' driver's license in another pocket.[3]

         Mr. Williams was then placed in a patrol car, while Officer Shiparski provided dispatch with Mr. Williams' name and date of birth in order to confirm his identity. Dispatch then informed the officers that Mr. Williams had three outstanding warrants[4] for his arrest (for an escape, probation violation, and criminal mischief).[5] Thereafter, Mr. Williams was taken to the MCPD where he was ultimately charged with resisting law enforcement and being a serious violent felon in possession of a handgun.

         That same day, Sergeant Drake went to the Kentucky Street home and interviewed Mr. Williams' grandmother, Bernice Williams. According to Sergeant Drake, Bernice Williams denied that the defendant lived with her, but she had asked him to fix the window screens earlier that day. At the evidentiary hearing, Mr. Williams' mother explained that the defendant was essentially reared in the Kentucky Street home because she was young and needed her parents' assistance with raising him but did not go so far as to indicate he was living there at the time. Thus, while it may be that the 1208 Kentucky Street home was the residence of Mr. Williams at some time, the Court finds credible the MCPD officers' testimony indicating that at the time of the arrest, no officer knew the identity of Mr. Williams, nor did any officer associate Mr. Williams with being a resident of the Kentucky Street house (despite having prior dealings with Mr. Williams at the same home several years prior to the incident in question).[6]

         After being indicted as a felon in possession of a firearm, Mr. Williams moved to suppress admission of the firearm into evidence.

         II. DISCUSSION

         The Fourth Amendment protects “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” A warrantless search is per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment unless one of a few well-established exceptions applies. Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332, 129 (2009); United States v. Zahursky, 580 F.3d 515, 521 (7th Cir. 2009). Three of these exceptions involve the causal relationship between the unconstitutional act and the discovery of evidence. Utah v. Strieff, 136 S.Ct. 2056, 2061 (2016). Those exceptions are known as the independent source doctrine, the inevitable discovery doctrine, and the attenuation doctrine. Id. Relative to the attenuation doctrine, it allows for the admission of evidence obtained unlawfully when the connection between the unconstitutional police conduct and the evidence is remote or has been interrupted by some intervening circumstance, so that “the interest protected by the constitutional guarantee that has been violated would not be served by suppression of the evidence obtained.” Id. (quoting Hudson v. Michigan, 547 U.S. 586, 593 (2006)); see also Nevada v. Torres, 136 S.Ct. 2505 (2016) (granting the petition for writ of certiorari in light of Strieff and vacating holding that without reasonable suspicion, the discovery of arrest warrants could not purge the taint from an illegal seizure and search incident to arrest revealing a firearm). Under that doctrine, the Supreme Court has held that a valid arrest warrant precludes the suppression of evidence seized in an ...


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