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United States v. Fitch

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

May 24, 2018



          Susan Collins United States Magistrate Judge

         Before the Court is a motion to suppress all evidence (DE 32) filed by Defendant Andrew Fitch. Fitch seeks to suppress evidence discovered by police officers during an encounter on August 20, 2016, contending that all of the evidence was obtained as a result of violations of his Fourth Amendment rights. After considering the evidence and argument submitted by the parties in this matter, I RECOMMEND that Fitch's motion to suppress all evidence be DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On November 18, 2016, Fitch was indicted by way of a single-count indictment and charged with possessing with the intent to distribute methamphetamine, a Schedule II Controlled Substance, in violation 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). (DE 1). On December 20, 2016, Fitch pleaded not guilty. (DE 15). On November 13, 2017, Fitch filed the instant motion. (DE 32). This matter was referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for a report and recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). (DE 36). An evidentiary hearing on this matter was held on January 9, 2018. (DE 38). On March 7, 2018, Fitch filed a post-hearing brief in support of his motion to suppress. (DE 41). The Government filed its response on April 9, 2018. (DE 42). On April 23, 2018, Fitch filed his reply brief. (DE 43).


         At the evidentiary hearing, the Government offered the testimony of Angola City Police Department (“ACPD”) Officer Matthew Kling (“Officer Kling“) and ACPD Officer Brandon Booth (“Officer Booth”).[1] (DE 40, Transcript of Motion to Suppress Hearing (“Tr.”) 2). Fitch did not offer the testimony of any witnesses and did not meaningfully contest the officers' testimony in any way, and I FIND their testimony to be credible.

         On the morning of August 20, 2016, Officer Kling was working patrol shift, driving along I-69 freeway, traveling southbound. (Tr. 9-11). That night, Officer Kling was wearing a police uniform, and driving a Ram Truck, [2] which was fully marked and identified as an ACPD police vehicle. (Tr. 9-10).

         At around 4:43 a.m., Officer Kling observed a motorcycle coming up about a quarter of a mile behind him, and catching up with him quickly. (Tr. 10-11, 39). The speed limit on that stretch of freeway was 70 miles per hour. (Tr. 11). Officer Kling's radar indicated that the motorcycle was approaching him at 87 miles per hour.[3] (Tr. 11-12). At that time, Officer Kling decided to perform a traffic stop on the motorcycle for speeding. (Tr. 12-13).

         Officer Kling slowed his vehicle down and proceeded to the exit ramp to U.S. route 20. (Tr. 14-15). The motorcycle did the same. (Tr. 14-15). After the motorcycle passed Officer Kling, he activated the emergency lights on his truck and began following the motorcycle. (Tr. 15-16; Ex. 1 at 2:18-28). The motorcycle turned right off the ramp onto U.S. route 20, and Officer Kling believed that the motorcycle was pulling into a local store where people often stop. (Tr. 16-17).

         However, after turning, the motorcycle accelerated rapidly away from Officer Kling in an attempt to evade him. (Tr. 17; Ex. 1 at 2:55). Officer Kling pursued the motorcycle, reaching speeds of 106 miles per hour. (Tr. 17). Eventually, the motorcycle attempted to make a turn onto a dirt road, but because it was traveling too fast the driver, later identified as Fitch, lost control of the motorcycle and laid it down beneath him. (Tr. 18; Ex. 1 at 5:15).

         Officer Kling approached Fitch with his gun drawn, commanded Fitch to lay down, which Fitch did, and kept his gun trained on Fitch until Officer Booth arrived. (Tr. 20). Once Officer Booth arrived, Officer Kling approached Fitch and handcuffed him. (Tr. 20-21, 57). At some point, Officer Brian Snyder (“Officer Snyder”) also arrived on the scene. (Tr. 62). Officer Kling performed a pat down of Fitch's outer clothing, which did not produce any contraband or weapons. (Tr. 21, 57). Officer Booth then placed Fitch in his police vehicle. (Tr. 22, 57).

         Fitch's driver license did not have a motorcycle endorsement, which is required under Indiana law to operate a motorcycle. (Tr. 23). Officer Kling checked the registration of the motorcycle and found that it was registered to Luther Fitch. (Tr. 22). After running Fitch's information, Officer Kling learned that Fitch had an active arrest warrant in DeKalb County, Indiana, for possession of methamphetamine. (Tr. 23; Ex. 1 at 10:27-32). Fitch also had a conviction for possession of methamphetamine in 2010. (Tr. 25). Additionally, Officer Kling was familiar with reports that Fitch was involved in trafficking methamphetamine and that he had been the driver in another motorcycle pursuit a few days earlier but was not apprehended. (Tr. 24).

         Officer Kling called a tow truck to impound Fitch's motorcycle. (Tr. 28-29, 30, 41). When impounding a vehicle, Angola City Police Standard Operating Guidelines provide:

An inventory of the vehicle will take place. The inventory is solely for the purpose of identifying and document any items of value that may be within the vehicle, . . . . Officers are authorized and should open any container located within the vehicle that may be capable of containing anything of value. Any items of value that are located within the vehicle should be noted in the proper location on the approved impound form.

(Ex. 3). Officer Kling testified that he searched the motorcycle, including a bag or compartment near the gas tank of the motorcycle pursuant to ACPD policy. (Tr. 30-31, 41; see Ex. A). Officer Kling did so before the impound truck arrived, and he testified that such pre-impound searches are standard ACPD practice. (Tr. 31, 44, 53).

         Inside the compartment Officer Kling found a large quantity of pills that were later identified as Sudafed, and small baggies. (Tr. 31). Officer Kling testified that, based on his experience, Sudafed is commonly used to manufacture methamphetamine and small baggies are commonly used to distribute small amounts of drugs. (Tr. 31). The compartment also contained electronic scales, ...

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