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United States v. Flores

United States District Court, D. Maine

December 20, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
CHARLES FLORES, Defendant.

          ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS

          JON D. LEVY U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Defendant Charles Flores is charged with possessing with intent to distribute a controlled substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C.A. § 841(a)(1) (2016). Flores has moved to suppress all evidence obtained as a result of a pat-down search and a subsequent search of a hotel room by police officers on March 21, 2016. ECF No. 19. I grant the motion in part with respect to certain statements made by Flores, but otherwise deny the motion.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         On March 21, 2016, Thomas Pappas and Brian Bourgoin, task force officers with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, received a tip from a confidential informant, relayed by another DEA Agent, that the confidential informant's friend had information that a group of individuals from New York was selling fifty- and one hundred-dollar pieces of crack cocaine at a hotel in Brunswick, Maine. Pappas and Bourgoin, who were both dressed in plain clothes, drove to the hotel at approximately 4:00 p.m. that afternoon. They identified themselves as police officers to the front desk clerk, and obtained a guest registry. Pappas and Bourgoin discovered that one of the 37 occupied rooms in the hotel, Room 131, had been rented with cash. Pappas testified that paying for a room in cash is a possible indicator of criminal activity. Pappas walked through the hotel's hallway past Room 131, and noted that it was located near an eastern entrance leading to the exterior of the hotel.

         Pappas then walked around the perimeter of the hotel. When he met with Bourgoin in the parking lot in front of the hotel, Bourgoin informed him that a man had just parked in the lot, and walked around the eastern side of the building, near the eastern entrance. Pappas and Bourgoin then observed the same man return from the eastern side of the building, get in his car, and drive off. The officers followed the car for a short distance in an effort to obtain its registration information, but lost the car in traffic.

         Pappas and Bourgoin then returned to the hotel, and Pappas spoke with the hotel's manager about the hotel's video surveillance. During the conversation, the hotel manager volunteered that she thought she knew why the officers were at the hotel, and relayed her suspicions regarding possible drug activity in Room 131 based on the number of visitors to the room and the frequency of the occupants' coming and going. The manager told Pappas that the guests in Room 131 consisted of two African American men from New York, one of whom was obese, who had paid for the room in cash. There were also two women with them. The manager offered Room 132, an unoccupied room across the hall from Room 131, for the officers to use to conduct surveillance.

         Pappas and Bourgoin entered Room 132 at approximately 5:00 p.m. The room had a large window which overlooked the parking lot in front of the hotel. The peephole in the door afforded a view of the hallway and the door to Room 131. Shortly after the officers entered Room 132, Pappas observed a black sedan pull into a parking space directly outside the room's window. The car was occupied by two young men, who were sitting in the driver's and front passenger seats. An obese African-American man, later identified as Charles Flores, then walked up to the car from the direction of the hotel's eastern entrance, and joined the two men in the car. He sat in the right rear seat, behind the front passenger, and did not put on a seatbelt. Flores leaned toward the middle of the seat, and appeared to shift his weight and reach for something. Pappas then watched Flores engage in what looked like a hand-to-hand exchange with the man sitting in the front passenger seat. Pappas then saw Flores counting money. Flores then got out of the car and walked back toward the hotel's eastern entrance. The entire transaction lasted 20 to 30 seconds. The two young men then drove away.

         The officers watched the hallway outside their room through the peephole for approximately ten minutes, but did not see Flores return. Pappas left the room and walked out of the hotel through the eastern entrance. He saw Flores standing outside the door, smoking marijuana. As Pappas went back inside the hotel through the eastern entrance, he asked Flores if he needed the door to remain propped open. In response, Flores said he had a key and pulled the key from his pocket, to indicate that he could unlock the door himself. Pappas went back inside to meet with Bourgoin, and then the two officers went outside to speak with Flores.

         Pappas and Bourgoin approached Flores outside the eastern entrance, identified themselves as police officers, and placed Flores in handcuffs. They told Flores that he was not under arrest, but rather was being detained for a drug investigation. Flores identified himself to the officers and, in response to a question, stated that he was staying in Room 131. The officers performed a pat-down search, and Pappas noted that Flores was carrying two cell phones and a sum of money. At least one of the phones was emitting noises consistent with incoming calls or text messages. The officers then brought Flores into the hotel and walked to the door of Room 131.

         Pappas testified that he heard what he believed to be voices coming from inside Room 131. Pappas then used Flores' room key to open the door of Room 131 and entered the room. The room was empty and Pappas discovered that the noise he thought to be voices was actually coming from a television set at a high volume. Pappas also observed a pair of scissors, a baggie, some cash, and a mason jar that appeared, and was later confirmed, to contain marijuana. The officers then brought Flores inside Room 131, and Pappas began to read Flores his Miranda warnings. Pappas was interrupted, however, by a knock on the door. Looking through the peephole, Pappas saw a woman and small child standing outside the door. He opened the door, displayed his badge, and invited the woman into the room. The woman said that she was an acquaintance of Flores' and had been sent to check on him by someone who lived in New York.

         Pappas took the woman into Room 132 to interview her outside of Flores' presence. Pappas noticed that the woman's phone was receiving a number of phone calls and/or text messages. He asked the woman for permission to examine the phone, which she granted. When he showed her text messages containing a slang term for crack cocaine, the woman attempted to grab the phone out of his hands. At this point, the woman was secured in handcuffs and was brought into Room 131 to join Bourgoin and Flores.

         At this time, Pappas fully recited the Miranda warnings to Flores, and Flores invoked his right to remain silent. Pappas then informed Flores that he intended to apply for a search warrant for the hotel room unless Flores consented to a search. Flores did not give his consent to search. Additional agents were called to the scene, and the woman was again brought to and interviewed in Room 132, this time by a female agent. During the interview, the woman provided additional information, including that she had intended to purchase cocaine base from Flores, that he was part of a drug trafficking organization, and that he was known to hide drugs about his body.

         Pappas prepared an affidavit in support of a search warrant for Room 131, Flores' person, and any cell phones associated with Flores or Room 131. The search warrant was authorized by a judge at approximately 11:10 p.m. The resulting search of Room 131 yielded 105 baggies of heroin and $5, 700 in cash, in addition to packaging materials and a digital scale. Flores also had 8 baggies of crack cocaine, 18 baggies of heroin, and $1, 200 cash on his person.

         II. DISCUSSION

         Flores argues that all of the evidence secured by the police as a result of his detention and the entry and search of Room 131 should be suppressed. ECF No. 19 at 12. He asserts that the entry and search of the room, as well as the seizure of his person, were undertaken without either probable cause or a warrant, and that none of the recognized exceptions to the warrant requirement apply to the room entry. Id. at 1. The Government contends that Pappas and Bourgoin had probable cause to believe a crime had been committed at the time they initially detained Flores, ECF No. 49 at 8-12, that the entry into the room was justified by exigent circumstances, ECF No. 22 at 16-17, and that the “independent source” doctrine applies to save the evidence from suppression, id. at 18.

         A. Initial Detention

         Flores argues that he was unlawfully arrested without probable cause when he was detained by the officers, beginning when he encountered them outside the eastern entrance to the hotel. ECF No. 57 at 12. The Government claims that the detention was a lawful investigatory stop under Terry, rather than an arrest, but that the officers in any event had probable cause to make an arrest at the time Flores was first detained. ECF No. 49 at 8. For the reasons that follow, I conclude that Flores was subjected to an arrest.

         1. De Facto Arrest

         The First Circuit has held that “a de facto arrest occurs when a reasonable man in the suspect's position would have understood his situation, in the circumstances then obtaining, to be tantamount to being under arrest.” United States v. Jones, 700 F.3d 615, 624 (1st Cir. 2012) (internal quotation omitted). The court must objectively assess the totality of the circumstances to determine the reasonableness of the officers' actions in light of developing conditions. Id. at 625. Factors such as the use of handcuffs do not necessarily turn an investigatory stop into a de facto arrest, but are circumstances that should be considered in making that determination. See id.; see also United States v. Chaney, 647 F.3d 401, 409 (1st Cir. 2011).

         Here, the officers approached Flores and immediately placed him in handcuffs. They searched him and seized the key to his hotel room. They briefly questioned him and then brought him, still in handcuffs, inside the hotel to the door of his room. The Government argues that these measures were reasonable in light of Flores' size, the officers' reasonable suspicion that he had drugs concealed on his person that might easily be destroyed, the information that there were other members of ...


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