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United States v. Clark

United States District Court, D. Maine

July 19, 2016



          John H. Rich III United States Magistrate Judge.

         Joseph Eugene Clark, indicted on one count of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), see Indictment (ECF No. 3), moves to suppress evidence obtained by Saco, Maine, police during a July 20, 2015, traffic stop, see Motion To Suppress: Investigatory Stop; Statements; and Evidence Seized in Violation of Defendant’s Fou[r]th Amendment Rights (“Motion”) (ECF No. 23) at 1. He asserts that officers unlawfully detained and search him and elicited a statement from him in violation of his rights pursuant to Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). See Id. at 4-9.[1]

         An evidentiary hearing was held before me on June 7, 2016, and continued to July 1, 2016, during which the defendant appeared with counsel. The government presented three witnesses and offered eight exhibits, seven of which were admitted without objection and one of which was admitted over objection. The defendant presented one witness and offered one exhibit, which was admitted without objection. After both sides rested, counsel for each argued orally.

         I now recommend that the following findings of fact be adopted and that the Motion be granted in part, with respect to the defendant’s statement, and otherwise denied.

         I. Proposed Findings of Fact

         Christopher McGoon, a patrol officer with the Saco Police Department, was headed north in his cruiser on Main Street in Saco at approximately 10:13 p.m. on July 20, 2015, when he observed a vehicle in the southbound lane swerve around a stopped car, run a red light, and continue south.

         McGoon immediately turned his cruiser around, stopped the vehicle, and approached the driver, whom he asked for her vehicle registration, proof of insurance, and driver’s license.[2] The driver, Megan Maietta, explained that she had only a damaged copy of her vehicle registration and did not have proof of insurance, but she provided her driver’s license. McGoon also asked the sole passenger, the defendant, if he had any identification.

         When he makes traffic stops, McGoon typically asks adult passengers in the vehicle for their identification to determine if there is an issue about which he should be concerned, for example, whether the individual is subject to a warrant or a protection from abuse order or has been flagged in the police database as a gang member or violent toward law enforcement personnel. Typically, if the passenger declines to provide identifying information, that is the end of the matter. McGoon understands that, absent suspicion that a passenger committed a crime, declining to provide identification is not a basis for further investigation or detention.

         The defendant stated that he had no Maine identification or driver’s license but had a Georgia identification that he had lost. McGoon asked how long he had lived in Maine; the defendant said five years. McGoon asked his name, and he identified himself as Joseph Leo Clark. McGoon asked for his date of birth, and he stated that it was August 6, 1986. As of this time, McGoon had observed nothing raising suspicion of any crime apart from the traffic infraction for which he stopped Maietta.

         McGoon turned his attention back to Maietta, but the defendant interrupted their conversation to offer to provide his Social Security number if McGoon needed it. McGoon stated that he would take it, and the defendant recited the number. Although the defendant gave the first three digits as “257, ” McGoon thought he said “256.” The defendant also stated that he was 26 years old. McGoon observed that the defendant was speaking softly and looking straight ahead rather than turning to look at him. McGoon had considerable difficulty hearing him, particularly when there was passing traffic, and had to ask him several times to speak up. McGoon thought it was unusual that, although the defendant indicated he had been living in Maine for five years, he had never obtained a Maine identification.

         McGoon returned to his cruiser to attempt to verify the driver’s and passenger’s identities. Approximately three and a half minutes had elapsed since the stop. McGoon quickly verified Maietta’s information on his onboard computer. Had Maietta been the sole occupant of the vehicle, and had McGoon decided to issue her a summons, it would have taken a total of about 15 to 20 minutes to complete the traffic stop. Had he decided simply to issue a warning, the stop would have ended even more quickly.

         McGoon asked a dispatcher to verify the defendant’s identity based on the name and date of birth provided, but the dispatcher was unable to find a match. McGoon then attempted his own search on his onboard computer, likewise finding no match. Although McGoon had been employed as a police officer for only about a year, it was unusual in his experience that someone who claimed to have had a state identification could not be found through an online search of the “cross-agency” database. This raised suspicion that the defendant might not want his identity known for various reasons; for example, because he was subject to an arrest warrant, a protection from abuse order, conditions of release, or other restrictions.

         McGoon returned to the Maietta vehicle to make sure he had the defendant’s information correct. Approximately six and a half minutes had elapsed since the stop. He informed the defendant that the information he provided did not come back on file, told him he could have heard him incorrectly, and asked him to state his name and date of birth again.

         At about that time, Saco Police Department patrol officer Adam Linden joined McGoon, parking his cruiser behind McGoon’s and walking up to the passenger side of the Maietta vehicle. Linden had been patrolling nearby when he heard over the radio that McGoon had been unable to verify the identity of a passenger at a traffic stop, and he took it upon himself to drive to the scene to assist. He carried a flashlight that he shone into the rear and front passenger compartments of the Maietta vehicle, observing nothing suspicious.

         The defendant told McGoon his date of birth was August 25, 1986. Surprised by the discrepancy with the earlier birthdate provided, McGoon queried, “August 25?” The defendant became agitated, began looking directly at McGoon, and stated in a louder voice, “August 5 of ’86, ” counting to five on his fingers. McGoon advised the defendant against lying about his identity and returned to his cruiser with Linden. Approximately eight minutes had elapsed since the stop.

         While Linden stood outside McGoon’s cruiser, keeping an eye on the Maietta vehicle, McGoon asked the dispatcher to search using the August 5, 1986, date of birth and did the same himself on his onboard computer. Neither the dispatcher nor McGoon found a match. McGoon and the dispatcher then searched using the August 25, 1986, date. Neither was able to verify the defendant’s identity, but that search retrieved a partial match in the form of a “red flag hit” that an individual with a birthdate of August 25, 1986, had a felony record.

         Shortly afterward, McGoon received a radio transmission from Saco police officer Robyn Stankevitz advising that she had retrieved information that a Joseph Clark from Scarborough with a birthdate of August 25, 1983, had three active warrants for his arrest. The dispatcher quickly confirmed Stankevitz’s information to McGoon. McGoon asked the dispatcher for a description of the individual wanted on the warrants. It generally fit the defendant, a black male.

         McGoon again exited his cruiser and walked to the stopped vehicle. Approximately 18 minutes had elapsed since the stop. He asked the defendant to repeat his name and date of birth. The defendant identified himself as Joseph Leo Clark with a date of birth of August 5, 1986. McGoon asked him to repeat his Social Security number. The defendant did so, but this time McGoon correctly heard the first three numbers as “257.” McGoon mistakenly believed that this was discrepant from the first three digits that the defendant originally provided, which he had misheard as “256.”[3]

         McGoon told the defendant, “You’re lying to me. You gave me a different Social Security number. You’re being detained until we can figure this out.” At that point, approximately 19 minutes after the traffic stop, he ordered the defendant out of the Maietta vehicle and placed him in handcuffs. He did not frisk him and did not look for or notice anything on his person indicating that he might be concealing a weapon. Officer safety was not on his mind at that moment. This was an oversight and contrary to McGoon’s and Linden’s training that such a frisk should be conducted once a suspect has been placed in handcuffs. Handcuffing a suspect reduces, but does not eliminate, officer safety concerns. A handcuffed suspect can still reach for a weapon in his or her waistband or pockets, charge an officer, or sometimes even escape from handcuffs.

         McGoon requested that the defendant sit on the curb, and he did so. Linden guarded the defendant while McGoon returned to his cruiser to run further searches to confirm the defendant’s identity. About 20 minutes had elapsed since the stop. Linden noticed that McGoon had failed to conduct a frisk; however, he said nothing because he was an even less experienced officer than McGoon, and McGoon had made the traffic stop. Linden observed nothing about the defendant’s clothing or conduct that caused him any officer safety concerns.

         Within seconds after McGoon returned to his cruiser, Stankevitz radioed him that the Scarborough Police Department had issued a warning that a Joseph Eugene Clark reportedly carried a firearm, together with a booking photograph of Clark. McGoon immediately accessed that information on his onboard computer. See Gov’t Exh. 5. However, the black and white booking photograph was dark, and he was having difficulty discerning whether the individual depicted therein was the defendant. He requested that Stankevitz come to the scene of the stop and continued his computer search to verify the defendant’s identity.

         Within two minutes, and about 22 and a half minutes after the traffic stop, Stankevitz arrived at the scene with Nathan Paradis, a newly hired officer in training who was under her supervision.[4] Paradis testified that he had heard the firearm warning pertaining to Joseph Eugene Clark, and this elevated his officer safety concerns. However, because the defendant was in handcuffs, Paradis assumed that he had been frisked for weapons.

         Stankevitz informed McGoon that she was certain that the defendant was the individual depicted in the Scarborough booking photograph, pointing out that the last four digits of the Social Security number he had provided matched those of the Scarborough subject but were in a different order.

         Stankevitz approached the defendant and began questioning him, stating that he was lying and that police knew he was Joseph Eugene Clark. The defendant denied this, reiterating that his name was Joseph Leo Clark. She asked if he had anything on him with his name, which he denied. Meanwhile, McGoon exited his cruiser, approached the driver and questioned whether she knew who her passenger was. She stated that she knew him only through a friend of a friend.

         McGoon returned to his cruiser and conducted further searches, retrieving a more visible, brighter color photograph posted by the Brunswick Police Department of a black male with an August 25, 1983, date of birth. See Gov’t Exh. 6. He called Stankevitz over and showed her the photograph. She commented, “That’s him.” She advised that McGoon take the defendant to the Saco police station to be fingerprinted to confirm his identity but suggested that he run that plan past the sergeant on duty. McGoon, too, believed that the defendant was the suspect wanted on the warrants, although there was some doubt in his mind because of the defendant’s ongoing denial that he was Joseph Eugene Clark.

         At that point, approximately 29 minutes after the traffic stop, McGoon phoned the Saco police sergeant on duty, Daniel Beaulieu, and began to summarize the results of his investigation. Beaulieu asked whether the defendant had been patted down or searched, and McGoon said that he had not been. McGoon asked Stankevitz, who was standing near him, “Will you have him pat him down or see if he has an ID?” McGoon then continued speaking to Beaulieu.

         Approximately 31 minutes after the traffic stop, Stankevitz approached the defendant, whom Paradis was guarding, and told him, “Stand up, we’re going to search you.” Paradis realized that his assumption that the defendant had already been patted down was incorrect. Paradis asked the defendant whether he had “anything in his pockets or anything like that.” The defendant said he had keys in his right front pocket, and Paradis reached into the pocket and retrieved them. Paradis also reached into the defendant’s left front pocket.[5] Paradis patted down the defendant’s legs, while Stankevitz removed and replaced his hat. She commented, “Your hair’s shorter than it used to be.” Stankevitz reminded Paradis to check the front pocket of the defendant’s t-shirt. Paradis then told the defendant that he was going to check his waistband. He did so, running his hands along the outside, and felt a large, firm object, between the size of a golf ball and a baseball, at the front of the waistband that he thought might be a small weapon, such as a Swiss Army knife or a small handgun. He unfolded the waistband and found two sandwich baggies, one containing a hard white substance and the other a hard brown substance, which he suspected were drugs.

         Paradis handed the baggies to Stankevitz, who asked, “Is this coke or heroin or both?” That question presumably was directed to the defendant, from whom there is no audible response. Stankevitz then told Paradis to make sure that he checked the back of the defendant’s waistband. At that point, approximately seven seconds after Stankevitz had asked whether the drugs were heroin, cocaine, or both, the defendant stated, “You got good information, don’t you?” Stankevitz replied, “I got good information? What do you mean by that? I have no idea what you’re talking about.” There is no audible response from the defendant.

         Approximately 33 minutes after the traffic stop, the defendant was declared “1046, ” or under arrest, and placed into a cruiser.

         Following the defendant’s arrest, Maietta consented to a search of her vehicle, which the police carried out, and McGoon issued her a summons for running a red light and failure to produce evidence of insurance. The traffic stop then ended, approximately one hour and five minutes after it had begun. McGoon transported the defendant to the Saco police station, where he was booked. Per Saco Police Department protocol, a suspect must be pat-searched before being placed in a police cruiser. Upon exiting the cruiser at the police station sally port, the suspect is searched again more thoroughly. These protocols are the same regardless of whether a suspect is detained for further investigation or arrested.

         Paradis testified at hearing that, in conducting the pat-down, his focus was on whether the defendant had any weapons on his person. On cross-examination, he denied that he was searching him for identification, drugs, or contraband. In a report prepared shortly after the incident, Paradis wrote that he conducted a pat-down of the defendant’s body “for any dangerous weapons and/or contraband.” Dft’s Exh. 1. Paradis testified that what he meant was that, if he came across contraband while conducting a frisk for dangerous weapons, he could seize it.

         The defendant has a Maine identification with an August 25, 1983, birth date. Had he provided this information when asked, the dispatcher would have quickly verified his identity.

         The substances seized from the defendant’s waistband were ...

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