United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge
pending before the Court is Defendant Diangelo Vales'
Motion to Suppress. [Filing No. 23.] Mr. Vales has
been indicted with being a felon in possession of a firearm
in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1).
[Filing No. 1.] He seeks to suppress evidence
recovered after what he contends was an illegal search in
violation of his Fourth Amendment rights, as well as evidence
of a statement made following that search. Because the
evidence does not support any constitutional violations, the
Court denies his Motion.
September 21, 2017, the Court held an evidentiary hearing on
Mr. Vales' Motion to Suppress. [See Filing
No. 39.] The following are the Court's factual
findings from the evidence presented at that hearing and
submitted with the parties' briefs. In making the
findings that follow, the Court has considered the testimony
and the demeanor of the witnesses who testified at the
evidentiary hearing: Indianapolis Metropolitan Police
Department (“IMPD”) Officer Richard
Faulkner, IMPD Officer Trent Fortson, and IMPD Officer Dane
14, 2016 at approximately 8:14 p.m., Officer Faulkner was
driving his marked police vehicle behind Mr. Vales, who was
driving northbound on Kenwood Avenue in Indianapolis,
Indiana. [Filing No. 22-1 at 2.] While turning
eastbound on 34th Street, Mr. Faulkner observed
Mr. Vales disregard a stop sign. [Filing No. 22-1 at
2.] Officer Faulkner immediately initiated a traffic
stop of Mr. Vales' vehicle. [Filing No. 22-1 at
2.] 34th Street contained three lanes of
traffic moving eastbound, and Mr. Vales brought his vehicle
to a stop in the southernmost open lane, next to a vehicle
that was parallel parked adjacent to the curb.
Faulkner approached the vehicle and asked Mr. Vales, who was
the only occupant of the vehicle, for his driver's
license. [Filing No. 22-1 at 2.] After receiving it,
at approximately 8:16 p.m., Officer Faulkner requested Mr.
Vales' driving record information using the laptop
computer in his police vehicle. [Filing No. 22-1 at
2; Filing No. 22-2 at 2.] Officer Faulkner, via
his laptop, received information that Mr. Vales had a
suspended driver's license. Because Mr. Vales was the
only occupant of the vehicle, had a suspended license, and
the car was stopped in a lane of traffic (as opposed to
legally parked), Officer Faulkner determined that the vehicle
should be towed from the scene. At approximately 8:17 p.m.,
Officer Faulkner radioed for backup. [See Filing No. 22-2
approximately 8:18 p.m., backup Officer Trent Fortson arrived
at the scene of the traffic stop, and Officer Faulkner
advised Officer Fortson of the need to tow the vehicle. The
officers approached the vehicle and asked Mr. Vales to exit.
Both officers testified that Mr. Vales became argumentative
and initially would not exit the vehicle. When he did exit
the vehicle, and remained argumentative, the officers placed
him in handcuffs “for the safety” of both the
officers and Mr. Vales. [Filing No. 22-1 at 2.]
Officer Faulkner then commenced an inventory search of the
vehicle, as required by IMPD policy, prior to the
impoundment. [Filing No. 22-1 at 2.] During that
search, Officer Faulkner discovered a loaded handgun in the
console of the vehicle. [Filing No. 22-1 at 2.] At
approximately 8:23 p.m., Officer Faulkner radioed for the
assistance of a gun liaison officer. Officer Faulkner
obtained a summary of Mr. Vales' criminal history and was
informed that Mr. Vales did not have a valid handgun permit
and had been previously convicted of a felony offense. Mr.
Vales was placed under arrest for carrying a handgun without
a license with a prior conviction and possession of a handgun
by a serious violent felon, and the handgun was seized.
[Filing No. 22-1 at 3.] Mr. Vales was read his
Miranda rights and stated that he understood them.
[Filing No. 22-1 at 3.] Mr. Vales knowingly waived
those rights and voluntarily stated that the handgun belonged
to him, and that he carried it for protection.
October 5, 2016, a federal grand jury indicted Mr. Vales of
the charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm in
violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). [Filing No.
1.] Mr. Vales now moves to suppress the evidence of the
firearm recovered after what he contends to be an illegal
search, as well as evidence of statements he made regarding
the firearm. Having conducted a hearing on September 21, 2017
regarding the Motion, it is now ready for the Court's
Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects
the “right of the people to be secure in their persons,
houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and
seizures. . . .” U.S. Const. amend. IV. Generally, a
warrantless search or seizure in the absence of probable
cause is unreasonable. United States v. Slone, 636
F.3d 845, 848-49 (7th Cir. 2011). When police
conduct an unreasonable search or seizure, the exclusionary
rule usually vindicates the Fourth Amendment's
protections by keeping out the unlawfully obtained evidence.
Evidence of Firearm
“Inventory searches are a recognized exception to the
warrant and probable-cause requirements of the Fourth
Amendment. Searches conducted by the police prior to towing a
car are lawful if conducted pursuant to standard police
procedures aimed at protecting the owner's property-and
protecting the police from the owner's charging them with
having stolen, lost, or damaged his property.”
United States v. Cherry,436 F.3d 769, 772-73 (7th
Cir. 2006) (internal citations and quotations omitted). Mr.
Vales argues that, while the Government contends that the
search of Mr. Vales' vehicle was a valid inventory
search, the “inventory search” label was merely a
pretextual, after-the-fact justification for an otherwise
illegal search. [Filing No. 22 at 6.] In his
briefing, Mr. Vales raises a question as to the chronology of
events, arguing that an evidentiary hearing was necessary in
order to clarify the timeline of actions taken by Officer
Faulkner during the traffic stop. [Filing No. 22 at
8-9.] Mr. Vales appears to argue that (1) the IMPD was
not required to tow ...