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United States v. Ruffin

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division

April 16, 2018



          LOUISE W.FLANAGAN United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the court on defendant's motion to suppress certain evidence allegedly obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. (DE 51). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), United States Magistrate Judge Robert T. Numbers, II, issued memorandum and recommendation ("M&R"), wherein it is recommended that the court deny defendant's motion. (DE 69). Defendant timely filed objections to the M&R. (DE 76). The government responded on February 27, 2018. (DE 77). For the reasons that follow, the court adopts the recommendation of the magistrate judge as its own, and denies defendant's motion.


         On December 21, 2016, the grand jury returned a one count indictment, charging defendant with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine and 28 grams or more of cocaine base ("crack"), on or about November 24, 2016. On July 21, 2017, defendant filed the instant motion to suppress evidence seized in the course of his arrest on November 24, 2016, which incident began when officers Brandon Ochoa ("Ochoa") and Jesse Emory ("Emory"), along with Emory's dog Jaxx, responded to a 911 call reporting the break-in of a vehicle located in Wilson, North Carolina.

         Evidentiary hearings were held before the magistrate judge on September 26, 2017, and October 2, 2017, at which hearing the court received testimony from Ochoa and Emory, the officers who found, detained, and arrested defendant in the vicinity of the break-in.

         In objections to the M&R, defendant maintains that officers did not have reasonable suspicion to detain him nor probable cause to arrest him in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights and, more specifically, that the magistrate judge incorrectly found 1) reasonable for officers to handcuff defendant during a consensual encounter and 2) defendant's arrest lawful because he was trespassing.


         The court incorporates herein statement of facts in section I of the M&R, as relevant to the instant motion, where such statement accurately reflects the evidence of record:

On November 24, 2016, at l: 02 a.m, Officer Brandon Ochoa responded to a 911call reporting a vehicle break-in in Wilson, North Carolina. See Tr. of Sept. 26, 2017 Suppression Hr'g Vol. 1 at4:16-22; 5:10-16, 20-23, D.E. After arriving, Ochoa learned from the victim that her cell phone was missing and several items from inside her vehicle were now in the grass on the side of her apartment. Id. at 6:2-6.
Shortly thereafter, Officer Jesse Emory also arrived at the scene with his dog Jaxx.[1] Id. at 6:7-10; 60:24-61:1. Emory and Jaxx are certified to perform a number of law enforcement functions, including tracking suspects or missing items. Id. at 60:1-61:12. Emory placed Jaxx in a tracking harness and allowed the dog to begin searching. Id. at 65:11-18. As this was going on, other officers set up a perimeter around the area. Id. at 6:18-23; 51:7-13. Jaxx led Ochoa and Emory behind the victim's apartment, through the woods, and into the open backyard in an adjacent residential neighborhood. Id. at 7:8-12, 24-8:1-3; 25:1-4. There, at around 1:42 a.m., Ochoa saw a person who he later learned to be Bondurant Ruffin stooped down under a porch. Id. at 8:9-12; 51:23-52:1. Ruffin put his hands into the pockets of his hooded sweatshirt as he stood up. Id., at 8:11-12; 10:4-5.

         Ochoa, who was about twenty feet away, noticed some items located "directly in front of [Ruffin]" underneath the porch.[2] Id. at 8:12-14; 9:11-13; 10:13-19. Emory, who was standing several feet to the left of Ochoa, also saw a white bag under the porch. Id., at 68:22-24; 83:2-l 1; 84:25-85:3. Both officers believed that it contained the stolen cell phone from the vehicle breakin. Id. at 30:13-21; 68:20-24; 70:4-9. They shined their flashlights on Ruffin and approached him. Id. at l0:5-6, 13-17, 22. Emory told Ruffin to remove his hands from his pockets and Ruffin complied. Id. at 10:22-24; 69:10-12. The interaction with Ruffin excited Emory's dog which began barking. Id. at 71:6-10; 84:11-15. Although Jaxx did not alert on Ruffin, Id. at 82:7-9, he was the only person the officers encountered during their search. Id. at 52:16-18.

         While Emory controlled Jaxx, Ochoa questioned Ruffin. Id. at 10:22-25; 73:7-15. Throughout the encounter, Ruffin appeared nervous and evasive. Id. at 74:18. He avoided eye contact with the officers, continually looked towards the woods, and kept moving away from the items under the porch. Id. at 12:2-10; 31:3-4; 73:15; 74:18. Ochoa asked Ruffin why he was at that residence, and requested his name multiple times. Id. at 10:24-25. Ruffin failed to provide his name at first, instead saying repeatedly" that his child was using the bathroom in the woods. Id. at 10:25-11:4. No child was ever located in the woods. Id. at 11:19-21.

         Ruffin placed his hands back into his pocket two more times, and both times Ochoa told him to remove them. Id. at 11:4-6. Ochoa then asked Ruffin if he could check him for weapons, and Ruffin7agreed. Id. at 11:6-8. Officer Ochoa found no weapons. Id. at 11:8-9. "" After Ochoa checked Ruffin for weapons, Ruffin began taking steps away from the officers and continued looking into the woods behind him and to his left. Id. at 12:13-16. Worried that Ruffin was planning to flee and still believing him to be the vehicle break-in suspect, Emory urged Ochoa to "grab [Ruffin] before he takes off ...."Id. at 73:17-24.

         Ochoa then told Ruffin that he was not free to leave and that he was being detained. Id. at 13:5-6. He grabbed Ruffin's arm to put him in handcuffs, but Ruffin lightened his arm and began pulling away and dragging Ochoa along with him. Id. at 13:5-9; 14:8-9, 14-16. In the five minute struggle that followed-during which Emory called other officers to respond-Ochoa continually ordered Ruffin to stop resisting, to no avail. Id. at 14:23-15:6; 38:8-14. He ended up restraining Ruffin against a nearby air conditioning unit and, eventually, pinned Ruffin to the ground. Id. at 14:24-15:8. A nearby officer helped handcuff Ruffin. Id. at 15:13-16. The o7ficers then ...

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