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United States v. Ellsworth

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

July 25, 2018



          Michael D. Nelson, United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on the Motion to Suppress Evidence (Filing No. 17) filed by Defendant, Liane Ellsworth. Defendant filed a brief (Filing No. 18) in support of the motion and the government filed a brief (Filing No. 23) in opposition.

         The Court held an evidentiary hearing on the motion on June 27, 2018. Defendant was present with her attorney, Mary Gryva. The government was represented by Assistant United States Attorney, Patrick McGee. Douglas County Deputy Sheriff Eric Olson (“Deputy Olson”) testified on behalf of the government. A copy of Deputy Olson's cruiser audio-video recording of the traffic stop was offered by the government as Exhibit 1[1] and received by the Court without objection. (TR. 12:22-13:2). A transcript (TR.) of the hearing was prepared and filed on July 6, 2018. (Filing No. 29). The matter is now fully submitted to the Court. For the following reasons, the undersigned magistrate judge recommends that the motion be denied.


         On March 7, 2018, Deputy Olson[2] initiated a traffic stop of a Chrysler 300 vehicle for following another vehicle too closely while travelling eastbound on Interstate 80 in Omaha. (TR. 11:10-25).[3] Deputy Olson ran the Chrysler's plates and determined it was a rental vehicle. (TR. 15). When Deputy Olson approached the vehicle, he observed numerous food and drink containers, blankets and pillows, clothing items, and an air freshener hanging from the rear-view mirror. (TR. 14:16-20; 15:5-7).

         Deputy Olson made contact with the occupants of the vehicle from the passenger side. (Ex. 1, clip 3 at 27:29). Michael Snyder was the driver and Defendant was the passenger. (TR. 12:11-24; 16:21-24). Deputy Olson informed Snyder he needed to pass sooner and requested Snyder's driver's license, vehicle information, and rental agreement. (Ex. 1, clip 3 at 27:28-40; TR. 15:20-16:24). Snyder provided Deputy Olson with a Washington operator's license but did not produce the rental agreement. (TR. 15:20-16:8). Snyder stated that he could not rent a vehicle in Indiana because he was not a resident of Indiana or a surrounding state, so his brother had rented the vehicle for him. (TR. 16:23-17:5; 18:1-9). Deputy Olson asked Snyder to come back to Deputy Olson's cruiser and left Defendant in the Chrysler. (Ex. 1, clip 3 at 28:10-13; TR. 18).

         Deputy Olson began to ask Snyder about his travel itinerary.[4] Snyder told Deputy Olson that he and Defendant, who is his girlfriend, were travelling from California where they had been for about a week and went to a Six Flags amusement park. Snyder stated that he is medically retired and lives in Washington, and that he was considering moving back to Indiana where Defendant lives because he was going through a divorce. Deputy Olson asked Defendant how he got to Indiana and he said he “traveled” (then clarified he flew). Snyder denied having ever been arrested. (Ex. 1, clip 3 at 28:51-30:00).

         Deputy Olson returned to the Chrysler to talk to Defendant. Defendant told Deputy Olson that she and Snyder were coming from California where they had been for a “couple days, ” having left on Thursday or Friday for “two nights, three days, ” and had stayed with her uncle. When asked where Snyder lives, Defendant stated that Snyder is from Washington but had been “staying” in South Bend, Indiana with his brother. (Id. at 30:19-31:58; 32:21-30). When Deputy Olson asked Defendant how Snyder got to Indiana, Defendant said that Snyder has a car. (Id. at 31:59-32:20).

         Deputy Olson returned to his cruiser and asked Snyder more questions about their trip. Snyder stated they stayed in California for three or four days, having left on Thursday (March 1) or Friday (March 2), and stayed with Defendant's uncle. (Id. at 32:48-33:19, 34:19-27). When Deputy Olson asked Snyder why they did not stay in California longer, Snyder said they only had the rental car for one week. (Id. at 34:29-42). Snyder denied having anything illegal in the vehicle, including narcotics, and stated they were traveling with only one duffel bag. Snyder also stated he and the Defendant had only been dating for about a week and a half to two weeks. (Id. at 34:48-35:31). At this point, Deputy Olson contacted the El Paso Intelligence Center, or “EPIC” to begin the record check of the Defendant and Snyder. (Id. at 35:56; TR. 21).

         While the record check was being completed, a back-up officer, Deputy Woodward, arrived at the scene and began speaking with Defendant. (Ex. 1, clip 3 at 42:09; TR. 25). Deputy Olson received the results of the criminal history, noted it was “all good, ” and began asking Snyder about the details of the rental vehicle dates. Snyder stated they had the rental vehicle from the 1stthrough the 7th, took two days to drive to California, and that they rented a hotel room for three days, although earlier both Snyder and Defendant stated they had stayed with Defendant's uncle. (Ex. 1, clip 3 at 42:40-43:31).

         Deputy Olson returned to the Chrysler to speak to Defendant. Defendant again stated that they stayed with her uncle in California, but then changed her account when Deputy Olson told her that Snyder said they stayed at a hotel. (Id. at 43:47-50-44:00). Defendant confirmed that they shared one duffle bag, denied having anything illegal, and consented to a search of her property if Snyder agreed to a search of the Chrysler. (Ex. 1, clip 3 at 44:04-30; TR. 25:17-27:6). Deputy Olson returned to his cruiser and consulted with his back-up officer, Deputy Woodward, who commented on Defendant's nervousness. (Ex. 1, clip 3 at 44:42-50; TR. 27:7-12).

         Deputy Olson returned to his cruiser, told Snyder that he would be given a verbal warning, and explained the two car-length rule. (Ex. 1, clip 3 at 45:02-40; TR. 27:13-19). Deputy Olson then asked Snyder if he would answer some other questions, and Snyder replied “yeah, sure.” (Ex. 1, clip 3 at 45:46-50). Deputy Olson asked Snyder about the discrepancy in stories regarding where they stayed in California, and Snyder explained that they visited Defendant's uncle and that Defendant must have been confused. (Id. at 45:50-46:03). Snyder denied having anything illegal in the vehicle, including cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, or marijuana. (Id. at 46:03-12). Deputy Olson testified that Snyder paused before denying having methamphetamine.[5] (TR. 28:2- 7). Deputy Olson requested Snyder's consent to search the Chrysler, which Snyder denied. (Ex. 1, clip 3 at 46:16-20). Deputy Olson stated that he was going to walk his narcotics dog around the vehicle, and Snyder stated, “ok.” (Id. at 46:20-23). Deputy Woodward returned to the Chrysler where Defendant volunteered that officers “could search [her] purse if [they] want.” (Id. at 47:11-15).

         After Defendant was placed in Deputy Woodward's cruiser, Deputy Olson deployed his canine, which alerted and indicated to the odor of narcotics emanating from within the Chrysler. (TR. 29:14-25). Deputy Olson conducted a search of the Chrysler starting with the trunk and the duffle bag. Officers observed an M&M box adjacent to the duffle bag that appeared to have been opened and resealed with new glue. Officers searched the M&M box and found three large zip-lock baggies containing approximately three pounds of methamphetamine.[6] (TR. 29-30).

         Defendant has filed the instant motion to suppress all evidence obtained from the traffic stop of the Chrysler, arguing that the initial stop was unsupported by probable cause and that her subsequent detention was ...

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