United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division
MAX O. COGBURN, Jr., District Judge.
THIS MATTER is before the court on Defendant's Motion to Suppress (#11). The court held a hearing on the motion on July 8, 2015. Having considered the motion, the pleadings, and the credible testimony offered at the hearing, the court enters the following findings, conclusion, and Order.
FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS
I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
In considering the facts underlying the claims for Defendant's motion, the court notes at the outset that it heard sequestered testimony from two witnesses at the hearing: 1) Sergeant Chadd Murray, Rutherford County Sheriff's Office ("RCSO"); and 2) Detective Jamie Dunn, RCSO. The court finds each of their testimony to be credible. The relevant facts that gave rise to Defendant's motion are as follows.
On October 28, 2014, Sergeant Murray, Detective Dunn, and Detective James Mode, RSCO, were conducting surveillance at a Spindale, NC house that a tipster had indicated was a source of drug activity. Based on Sergeant Murray's testimony during the hearing, they arrived near the home at approximately 3:45 P.M. in a white unmarked Ford F-150 Crew Cab that was equipped with blue lights and a radio for communication. The detectives observed a white Crown Victoria parked in front of the residence, and parked approximately 50 yards away to maintain surveillance. From their vantage point they observed a black male in the passenger seat of the Crown Victoria.
Shortly after arriving, the detectives witnessed the aforementioned black male enter the suspect house. He stayed for approximately one minute before leaving with another black male, later identified as the defendant. The individual who had first been observed in the passenger seat this time entered the Crown Victoria as the driver while the defendant sat in the passenger seat. The Crown Victoria left the scene, and passed by the officers. Sergeant Murray, driving his unmarked truck, left the surveillance position and began following the Crown Victoria. The detectives called in the license tag number displayed on the Crown Victoria. Communications returned information that both the registration on the car and the car's inspection were expired.
The detectives did not immediately initiate a traffic stop because of the high level of traffic in the area. Instead, they continued to follow the Crown Victoria until it entered Rock Road. Sergeant Murray then attempted to initiate a traffic stop by activating the blue lights on his unmarked truck. The Crown Victoria pulled over in a gravel pull-off for a few seconds after turning left onto Water Works Road, but then accelerated, turning onto Old U.S. Highway 221.
Sergeant Murray and the other two detectives in his truck, Dunn and Mode, pursued the Crown Victoria as it reached speeds of 75-80 miles per hour. During the pursuit all three detectives saw the defendant, sitting in the Crown Victoria's passenger seat, extend his arm out of the passenger window and throw a dark-colored object. They noted the address of the house closest to where the object fell and continued the pursuit, which ended at the intersection of the Old U.S. Highway 221 and new Highway 221. The Crown Victoria was blocked by a vehicle at that intersection and forced to stop, with the detectives never having lost visual contact during the entirety of the encounter.
The driver, William Lee Cash, was arrested on violations related to the chase, including speeding to elude arrest, driving while license revoked, and other charges. The defendant was removed from the passenger seat and detained for up to fifteen minutes while Detective Dunn was driven back to the spot where they had seen the object thrown, which was no more than three-quarters of a mile from the stop. After looking through the brush and growth for approximately one minute Detective Dunn found a Crown Royal bag that contained a Kahr.40 caliber semi-automatic pistol, suspected crack cocaine, and suspected marijuana. The pistol was loaded with one bullet in the chamber and five in the magazine.
Defendant was arrested on state charges related to these items. On the way to the jail, the credible evidence presented indicated that he spontaneously uttered to Detective Dunn that Defendant had thrown the bag, everything in it was his, and he did not want the driver charged with it as well.
II. MOTION TO SUPPRESS (DEFENDANT'S STATEMENTS)
A. Defendant's Contentions
Defendant moves the court to suppress the evidence in this case, arguing that Defendant's constitutional rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendment have been violated. First, Defendant contends that the police stop where the incriminating evidence was found cannot stand, as it violated his protection against unwarranted search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Defendant points out that neither he nor the driver were observed committing any criminal acts. Both came out of a house that the police believed may have been the locus of drug activity, though the sergeant relaying the tip was uncertain of the exact house. There is no indication in the discovery that the house or its inhabitants were involved in drug activity. No one identified either Mr. Cash or Mr. Lattimore as buyers or sellers of drugs. There was no reason to make any contact with the occupants of the Crown Victoria, ...