United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division
OPINION AND ORDER
S. Van Bokkelen United States District Judge
matter is before the Court on Defendant Charles Ringger's
motion (DE 45) to suppress his statements to law enforcement
officers made during the execution of a search warrant. The
Court held an evidentiary hearing on the motion in two
installments. The motion is now ripe for decision.
September 11, 2013, Defendant Ringger was employed by and
working as a pharmacist at North Anthony Pharmacy in Fort
Wayne, when law enforcement officers executed a search
warrant at the pharmacy and other offices located at the
premises. Ringger maintains that, because he was seized in
violation of his Fourth Amendment rights, the statements he
made to law enforcement officers that day must be suppressed.
Summary of Relevant Testimony
testified on the first hearing day. According to his version
of the events of September 11, 2013, soon after he opened the
pharmacy, normally around 9:00, he saw an armed state
policeman at the door who handed him a warrant authorizing
the search of the pharmacy. A short time later, about
fourteen more armed officers and agents entered the pharmacy.
One of the officers told him to sit down in a chair in the
pharmacy waiting area. He had two cell phones with him that
were taken away. He was not allowed to answer the pharmacy
phone, which was unplugged at some point during the search.
He was not allowed to serve customers. He was not told he was
free to leave. The first officer to enter the pharmacy stayed
at the entrance to the pharmacy all day. Ringger claims the
officer did not allow him to leave the pharmacy. The officers
and agents remained at the pharmacy until about 5:00 pm.
Twice during the search Ringger asked to use the restroom.
Both times one of the officials escorted him there and
required him to leave the door open. He claims he was not
allowed to call Defendant Brent Losier, who owns the
pharmacy, his lawyer, or anyone else. He said that at some
point during the afternoon, about four and a half hours after
the search began, he was led to a room in the back of the
building where he was questioned. He was not told he did not
have to answer the officers' questions. When the
questioning ended, he was told to sit in the waiting area
again. He didn't feel free to leave while the search was
going on because the agents were all armed.
cross-examination, Ringger stated that he was the only
pharmacist scheduled to work on September 11, so that he was
the person who would close the pharmacy that day. No one ever
drew a weapon on him or anyone else during the course of the
search. He never asked to leave the pharmacy, to contact a
lawyer, or make a phone call. At the end of the day, he
closed the pharmacy.
Sweatland, who, on the date of the search, was an Indiana
Medicaid Fraud Control Unit investigator, also testified.
Before the execution of the search warrant on September 11,
2013, she attended a briefing at which the search time
members were informed that no one at the pharmacy would be
arrested. She was present during the execution of the search
warrant, which she stated began around 10:00 am. She was
unarmed. She asserted that it was not an Indiana state
trooper but a DEA employee named Guy Baker who led the search
and handed the search warrant to Ringger. Baker was not
wearing a uniform that day. After Ringger was given the
search warrant, the team went through the building and asked
all occupants to go to the lobby, where there were chairs.
This was done for officer safety and to insure that no
evidence was destroyed. According to Sweatland, the standard
practice when entering a business to execute a search warrant
when no arrest is planned is to advise those found on the
premises that they could leave but would not be permitted to
come back in, a practice that would have been followed in
this case. Sweatland testified that only minutes passed
between the time all the employees were gathered in the lobby
and when Ringger was asked to be interviewed. She and Steve
Moran conducted the interview with Ringger, who spoke with
them voluntarily after being told he was not required to do
so. According to the memorandum of the interview, which was
prepared by Moran, the interview began at 10:15 am, which
comports with Sweatland's memory. She testified that
Ringger did not wait four hours to be interviewed. The
interview lasted an hour or so.
Moran, a special agent with the FDA, testified on the second
hearing day. His recollection was that the search began
around 9:00 am and the Ringger interview about half an hour
later, but Government Exhibit 4, the return of the search
warrant, shows that the search began at 10:00 am. He asked
Ringger if he wanted to be interviewed and Ringger agreed.
Moran could not remember whether he specifically told Ringger
that he didn't have to submit to the interview. The
interview was conducted in a conversational tone. Ringger
never asked to terminate the interview or to speak to an
attorney. Moran agreed with Sweatland that the interview
lasted about an hour.
argues that he was illegally seized during the execution of
the search warrant at the pharmacy where he worked, in
violation of the Fourth Amendment and that, as a consequence,
the statements he made to Sweatland and Moran must be
brief, Ringger makes much of the facts that during the
conduct of the search, he was directed to sit in the lobby,
was escorted at all times, even to the restroom, and did not
have access to his cell phones, while a law enforcement
officer, who denied entry to anyone but other law enforcement
officers, was posted at the door of the pharmacy. The Court
finds that, even if these circumstances amounted to a
seizure, it was not illegal.
Supreme Court precedent, a law enforcement officer has
categorical authority to detain occupants of premises being
searched pursuant to a warrant for the duration of the
search. Muehler v. Mena, 544 U.S. 93, 98 (2005).
“In executing a search warrant officers may take
reasonable action to secure the premises and to ensure their
own safety and the efficacy of the search.” Los
Angeles Cty. v. Rettele, 550 U.S. 609, 614 (2007).
Requiring Ringger to sit in the lobby and otherwise
controlling his movements while he remained in the pharmacy
during the search were reasonable measures to promote those
goals. Moreover, the Court finds Sweatland's testimony
that Ringger would have been told at the start of the search
that he could leave the pharmacy but would not be allowed to
re-enter to be more credible than his testimony that he was
never told he could leave.
Court next considers whether the interview Sweatland and
Moran conducted with Ringger the day of the search was an
illegal seizure. Questioning by law enforcement amounts to a
seizure if, “taking into account all of the
circumstances surrounding the encounter, the police conduct
would have communicated to a reasonable person that he was
not at liberty to ignore the police presence and go about his
business.” Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429,
434 (1991). Conduct indicating a seizure includes “the
threatening presence of several officers, display of their
weapons, physical touching of the private citizen, use of
forceful language or tone of voice . . . and the location in
which the encounter takes ...