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United States v. Garcia-Zavala

United States District Court, D. Maine

February 28, 2018



          George Z. Singal United States District Judge.

         Before the Court are two motions filed by Defendant Mario Garcia-Zavala: (1) Motion to Suppress (ECF No. 29) and (2) Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 31). The Court held an evidentiary hearing on both Motions on December 20, 2017. Thereafter, the Court received post-hearing briefing from counsel (ECF Nos. 43, 44 & 45). As explained herein, the Court now DENIES both Motions.


         The following facts are drawn from the preponderance of the evidence based upon the Court's review of the exhibits and testimony presented at the hearing on Defendant's Motions.

         The Traffic Stop

         On the afternoon of Saturday, September 9, 2017, Maine State Trooper Robert Burke III was on patrol in Portland, Maine. While parked perpendicular to Washington Avenue, he observed a white passenger van traveling down the roadway and proceeding to merge onto I-295. From his vantage point, he could see the front seat passenger, who appeared to not be wearing a seat belt, which would be a violation of 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2018(3-A).[1] Burke made a decision to conduct a traffic stop. After activating his blue lights, he pulled the van over on the highway in the area of Tukey's Bridge. At approximately 12:20 PM, Trooper Burke approached the van and asked to see a license, registration, and proof of insurance. Trooper Burke then moved to the passenger side of the van and asked, “You have your seat belt on?” As captured on the videotape (Gov't Ex. 1)[2] and transcript (Gov't Ex. 1T), someone in the vehicle answered, “yeah.” Burke asked a couple of other questions and, based on the minimal responses, asked if anyone in the van spoke English. He then returned to the driver's side of the van repeating his request to see the driver's identification. Before returning to his vehicle, Trooper Burke remarked at least two additional times that multiple people in the van did not appear to be wearing seat belts and did not appear to speak English.

         Upon returning to his vehicle with only a vehicle registration for the van, Trooper Burke placed a call to Elliot Arsenault, a Deportation Officer for Enforcement Removal Operations with Immigration and Custom Enforcement (“ICE”).[3] Arsenault answered this call at approximately 12:22 PM. Burke told Arsenault he had stopped a van for a seat belt violation and now had “a van load of fucking I don't even know what . . . of about 13 that nobody speaks English. Nobody has IDs.” (Gov't Ex. 1T at 2.) Burke indicated he thought Arsenault should “come out.” (Id.) At that point, based on his training and twenty-seven years of law enforcement experience, Burke believed that the traffic stop would “lead to people from out of this country” and, as a result, he would need ICE assistance in identifying the van occupants, who Burke then intended to summons for seat belt violations. (12/20/17 Tr. (ECF No. 42), PageID # 184.) Arsenault asked Burke if he could get any IDs or consulate cards. Burke then left Arsenault on hold while he returned to the van. At that point, the driver of the van produced identification. Burke returned to his vehicle and reported to Arsenault that he now had a “Mexico Consular ID card.” (Gov't Ex. 1T at 3.) In response, Arsenault indicated he would call Burke back once he had booted his computer up.[4]

         While waiting for the return call, Trooper Burke called the van registration into the Gray Regional Communication Center and requested back-up. He then went back to the van and obtained identifications from some passengers, including the Defendant, who produced a Honduran Consulate card with the name, “Mario Ernesto Garcia Zavala.” (Gov't Ex. 2.) At that time, Burke told the van occupants, “You gotta stay here. Don't leave.” (Gov't Ex. 1T at 4.) He then returned to his vehicle and photographed the identification cards provided and sent those photographs to Arsenault at approximately 12:25 PM. Burke also attempted to determine whether any of the van passengers had a valid driver's license that would allow them to drive the van from the scene since it appeared the current driver was unlicensed.

         Trooper Jason Cooley arrived on the scene to provide Trooper Burke's requested back-up at approximately 12:32 PM, twelve minutes after the traffic stop was initiated. Upon Cooley's arrival, Trooper Burke described the van's occupants as an “ICE motherload” and “sketchy as hell.” (Gov't Ex. 1T at 5.) Both Cooley and Burke inspected the IDs that had been presented.[5]At this point, both troopers were unsure of whether ICE officers would respond to the scene and Trooper Burke indicated that the ICE was “just getting started.” (Gov't Ex. 1T at 7.) At approximately 12:40 PM, the Troopers returned to the van in an attempt to gather further information and identify the two passengers that had not produced any identification. Five minutes later, Trooper Burke called dispatch to run driver's license checks based on the identifying information gathered. He also asked dispatch to begin the process of calling a tow truck to the scene if dispatch confirmed that the driver did not have a valid driver's license.

         By 12:41 PM, Deportation Officer Arsenault had determined that Garcia-Zavala was suspected of reentry after removal. He communicated that information to his colleague, ICE Officer John Lenotte, who was in Maine and potentially able to go to the scene. Upon receiving confirmation that Lenotte, along with ICE Officer Patrick Mullen, were responding to the scene of the stop, he communicated the reentry information to Burke via text. He then called Burke and told him that it would take another 20-30 minutes to get ICE officers to the scene. Trooper Burke indicated he could hold the van occupants “as long as you want.” (Gov't Ex. 1T at 11.) Burke also explained that it was his intention to arrest the driver of the van for driving without a license and have the van towed, since it did not appear that any occupant of the van was a licensed driver.

         By 12:57 PM, Trooper Burke explained to the occupants of the van that he planned to write each occupant a ticket for failing to wear a seat belt and that this process of issuing tickets would take half an hour. After telling the van occupants that they would have to wait for these tickets, Burke returned to his cruiser and told Cooley, “They bought that. Hook, line and sinker.” (Gov't Ex. 1T at 15.) Trooper Burke returned to the van with the first ticket approximately five minutes later.[6] At approximately the same time, two local attorneys, Elizabeth Stout and Elisabeth Stickney, began observing the traffic stop from the Tukey's Bridge walkway and attempting to communicate with the occupants of the van for the purpose of informing the van occupants about their legal rights.[7] At approximately 1:19 PM, the tow truck arrived and Trooper Burke indicated to the tow truck driver that they would await the arrival of ICE before towing the vehicle. Approximately ten minutes later, Trooper Burke texted Officer Arsenault for an estimated arrival time and, in response, was told five to ten minutes. Ten minutes later, in response to inquiries from Attorney Stickney, Trooper Burke represented that the scene was “an ongoing investigation.” (Gov't Ex. 1T at 33.) In the colloquy that followed between Burke and Stickney, Burke gave conflicting representations about the status of the van occupants.[8]

         At 1:39 PM, Officer Patrick Mullen, the local ICE supervisor, arrived on the scene. Lenotte arrived a few minutes later, having traveled to the scene with his blue lights and siren activated. By the time both ICE officers arrived at the scene, they had received information from Arsenault that Garcia-Zavala was subject to detention for illegal reentry. Lenotte approached Garcia-Zavala in the van. Although no Miranda warning was administered, Lenotte asked Garcia-Zavala for his name and date of birth; in response, Garcia-Zavala provided answers matching the information on the Honduran consulate card that had already been provided to Trooper Burke in connection with the traffic stop.[9]

         Trooper Burke ultimately arrested the driver of the van for operating without a license. However, he ultimately did not issue citations to the van passengers for seat belt violations. (12/20/17 Tr., PageID # 154.)

         Garcia-Zavala's Arrest & Subsequent Custody

         At approximately 1:56 PM, the dashboard video shows the ICE officers taking Garcia-Zavala into custody. Lenotte followed their standard process of placing Garcia-Zavala in administrative custody and transporting him to the ICE office in South Portland for booking.[10]Fingerprints and additional record checks conducted at the office confirmed Garcia-Zavala's prior 2014 removal. After the booking was complete, Garcia-Zavala was transported to Cumberland County Jail, where ICE paid to house him.

         On the following Monday, September 11, 2017, Lenotte transported Garcia-Zavala from the jail back to the ICE office. At that time, Lenotte administered a Miranda warning with the assistance of a telephonic interpreter. Garcia-Zavala invoked his right toransmitted the necessary paperwork to the remain silent and was returned to the Cumberland County Jail. Lenotte continued his investigation of Garcia-Zavala by obtaining his alien file, which Lenotte did not receive until Friday, September 15, 2017. By the following Monday, September 18, 2017, Lenotte had U.S. Attorney's Office with a recommendation for criminal prosecution and the U.S. Attorney's Office accepted that recommendation. As a result, a criminal complaint was prepared and presented to the Magistrate Judge on September 19, 2017. On that same day, a criminal arrest warrant was issued for Garcia-Zavala, who remained in custody at the Cumberland County Jail. Garcia-Zavala made his initial appearance before the Court on September 22, 2017 (ECF No. 8) and, on that same day, was transferred to the custody of the U.S. Marshal. Although the entity holding Garcia-Zavala changed, he remained housed in a local jail.

         All told, Garcia-Zavala was in custody for thirteen days before making his ...

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