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United States v. Mayfield

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

December 12, 2019



          Michael D. Nelson United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the Court on the Motion to Suppress and Request for Evidentiary Hearing and Oral Argument (Filing No. 18) filed by Defendant, Mylon Mayfield. Defendant filed a brief in support of the motion (Filing No. 19) and the government filed a brief in opposition (Filing No. 21).

         The Court held an evidentiary hearing on the motion on October 23, 2019. Defendant was present with his attorney, Michael Hansen. The government was represented by Assistant United States Attorney, Matt Lierman. Omaha Police Department officers Jared Grayson and Jason Friedrichsen testified on behalf of the government. The Court received into evidence Exhibits 1 through 6 offered by the government and took judicial notice of Neb. Rev. Stat. § 28-901 (obstructing government operations) and Omaha Municipal Code § 20-251 (requiring registration of firearms). A transcript (TR.) of the hearing was prepared and filed on November 12, 2019. (Filing No. 28). This matter is now fully submitted to the Court. For the following reasons, the undersigned magistrate judge recommends that Defendant's motion be denied.


         On July 15, 2019, at 10:41 p.m., Officer Grayson and Officer Jason Barnes received a call from dispatch for shots fired near the Spencer Housing Projects in the area of 28th Street and Spencer Street in Omaha, Nebraska. A 911-caller stated a shirtless black male wearing black pants had shot at a female and it was unknown if anyone was injured, which information was communicated to officers by dispatch. Officer Grayson testified that he was familiar with the Spencer Housing Projects and had patrolled the area in the past; he testified it is a high-crime area known for assaults, shootings, stabbings, drug trafficking, and recovery of firearms. (TR. 16-17). Officers Grayson and Barnes were on patrol in their marked cruiser on 30th Street and Spencer Street a couple blocks away from the Spencer Housing Projects when they received the call and arrived at the scene within one minute. (TR. 10-11, 14-16; Ex. 3 - Dispatch Logs; Ex. 4 - Dispatch Audio).

         The officers' cruiser was equipped with an audio video recording system that recorded the scene as they arrived at 28th Street and Spencer Street. (TR. 11; Ex. 6 - Mobile Video Recording (“MVR”)). The area was a residential street lit by streetlights and appeared largely empty except for a white SUV with a male in the driver's seat and two shirtless black males that had just exited the SUV. Officers exited their cruiser, stated they were responding to a call for shots fired call, and asked if the shirtless individuals had heard shots. Officer Grayson's body camera recorded the audio-visual of this interaction. (Ex. 6 - Body Worn Camera (“BWC”) 2242 hrs; TR 11, 17-21). Defendant (the shirtless individual wearing jeans who had exited the passenger side of the SUV) initially denied hearing anything. The other shirtless individual (who had exited the driver's side of the SUV and was wearing black pants) indicated he had heard shots and started pointing north; Defendant quickly changed his original answer and also began pointing north. (Ex. 6 -BWC 2242 hrs, at 42:15-21). Officer Grayson testified that, at this point, he believed Defendant may be armed and dangerous and began approaching Defendant to conduct a pat-down. Officer Barnes approached the other individual to conduct a pat-down. (TR. 21-27).

         After seeing Officer Barnes approach the other individual for a pat-down, Defendant quickly turned around and began walking away from Officer Grayson. Defendant pulled on the SUV's door handle and continued to walk towards the back of the SUV. (Ex. 6 - BWC 2242 hrs, at 42:22-30). Officer Grayson testified he became concerned that Defendant was trying to walk out of view where he could pull a weapon. (TR. 27-28). Officer Grayson stated, “Everyone's gonna get patted down” and continued to approach Defendant, who replied that officers “didn't have the right” and kept attempting to avoid being pat-down. Officer Grayson testified, and the body camera video reflects, that Defendant appeared to be protecting his left side by angling it against the SUV. Officer Grayson ordered Defendant to show his hands and again told Defendant he was going to be patted down. Defendant complied with Officer Grayson's command to place his hands on the SUV but continued to verbally protest the officers' actions. Officer Grayson was able to pat-down Defendant's right side. Officer Barnes, having finished his pat-down of the other individual, came to assist Officer Grayson. Defendant continued to protect the left side of his body and appeared to reach toward his left pocket. Officer Grayson testified he believed Defendant may be reaching for a weapon, so Officer Grayson drew his firearm while Officer Barnes handcuffed Defendant. (TR. 29-32; Ex. 6 - BWC 2242 hrs, at 42:31-43:00). Officer Grayson asked Defendant, “What is on you, do you have something on you right now?” (Ex. 6 - BWC 2242 hrs, at 43:05-12).

         At this point, a woman approached the officers and began yelling at and arguing with them, (TR. 34-35; Ex. 6 -BWC 2242 hrs, at 43:13-45:40), and soon thereafter other residents and citizens began approaching the officers. Officers called dispatch for backup, and after additional officers began arriving to control the scene, Officer Grayson was able to pat down Defendant's left side. Officer Grayson felt a hard object in Defendant's left pocket that Officer Grayson testified was “immediately apparent” to be a firearm. (Ex. 6 - BWC 2242 hrs at 45:41-52; TR. 39-40). Defendant then become compliant, stepped away from the SUV, and took a knee. Officer Grayson searched Defendant's left pocket and recovered a loaded firearm, (Ex. 6 - BWC 2242 hrs at 46:50-47:05), which Officer Grayson later found was not registered and reported stolen. Officer Grayson arrested Defendant for obstruction. (TR. 40-41). The body camera video reflects that the entire interaction from officers' first contact with Defendant through the recovery of the firearm was approximately five minutes. About ten hours after Defendant was arrested, Detective Friedrichsen interviewed Defendant after he was advised of his Miranda rights, and Defendant made incriminating statements. (TR. 59-65).

         Defendant filed the instant motion to suppress all evidence and statements obtained as a result of his stop and search of his person on July 16, 2019. Defendant argues that the initial encounter with officers was not consensual, officers did not have reasonable suspicion supporting his initial stop and pat-down, and that his detention exceeded the permissible scope of a Terry stop and became an unlawful arrest without probable cause. Therefore, Defendant contends the seizure of the firearm from his person and his subsequent statements made after his arrest were fruit of the Fourth Amendment violations. (Filing No. 19; TR. 3, 66-70).[1] The government contends that reasonable suspicion existed justifying a Terry pat-down for weapons and that the steps taken by officers were reasonably necessary to achieve the purpose of the stop. (Filing No. 21 at p. 9; TR. 71, 73-74).


         Defendant contends that his encounter with officers was not consensual and there was no reasonable, articulable suspicion to justify a Terry stop and pat-down. Defendant further asserts his detention exceeded the permissible scope of a Terry stop and became a de facto arrest without probable cause. (TR. 3, 67-68).

         An officer may stop an individual if the officer has reasonable and articulable suspicion that “criminal activity may be afoot.” Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 30 (1968). In order to justify a stop, a law enforcement officer must be able to “point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant that intrusion.” Terry, 392 U.S. at 21. Whether reasonable suspicion exists is based on “the totality of the circumstances, in light of the officer's experience.” United States v. Stigler, 574 F.3d 1008, 1010 (8th Cir. 2009). “Factors that may reasonably lead an experienced officer to investigate include time of day or night, location of the suspect parties, and the parties' behavior when they become aware of the officer's presence” as well as “a person's temporal and geographic proximity to a crime scene, combined with a matching description of the suspect.” United States v. Quinn, 812 F.3d 694, 697-98 (8th Cir. 2016)(quoting United States v. Dawdy, 46 F.3d 1427, 1429 (8th Cir. 1995); citing United States v. Juvenile TK, 134 F.3d 899, 903-04 (8th Cir. 1998)). “After a suspect is lawfully stopped, an officer may conduct a pat-down search for weapons if that officer has a reasonable, articulable suspicion that the suspect is armed and dangerous.” United States v. Houston, 920 F.3d 1168, 1172 (8th Cir. 2019)(citing United States v. Trogdon, 789 F.3d 907, 910 (8th Cir. 2015)).

         The undersigned magistrate judge finds that, when considering the totality of the circumstances, law enforcement officers had reasonable suspicion justifying both Defendant's stop and his pat-down. In this case, officers encountered Defendant while responding to a “shots fired” call in a high crime area known for assaults, shootings, stabbings, drug trafficking, and recovery of firearms. Officers arrived at the location provided by dispatch within a minute after receiving dispatch's call. Dispatch informed officers the suspect was a shirtless black male wearing black pants, and only three individuals were readily apparent at the location when officers arrived, including two shirtless black males that generally matched the suspect's description. Although Defendant argues he did not match the suspect's description because he was wearing jeans rather than black pants, given that it was nearly 11:00 p.m. and the residential street was dark and illuminated only by streetlights, officers reasonably could believe any incongruity in pants color was attributable to the poor lighting. Furthermore, given Defendant's proximity to the scene and that officers saw Defendant exit the same SUV as the individual wearing black pants, the latter of which was patted-down by Officer Barnes and released, it would also be reasonable for law enforcement to believe that Defendant possessed a firearm. See Quinn, 812 F.3d at 699 (“[G]eneric suspect descriptions and crime-scene proximity can warrant reasonable suspicion where there are few or no other potential suspects in the area who match the description” and may be based on “time of day or night, location of the suspect parties, and the parties' behavior when they become aware of the officer's presence.”). Officer Grayson's suspicions of criminal activity and that Defendant may be armed were further heightened when Defendant initially denied hearing shots but then immediately changed his position to direct officers away from the area. Defendant also quickly turned to walk away from Officer Grayson when Defendant saw Officer Barnes pat-down the other shirtless individual. Officer Grayson testified that it appeared Defendant was attempting to walk out of Officer Grayson's line of sight behind the SUV, and also appeared to be protecting the left side of his body against the SUV, both of which concerned Officer Grayson meant Defendant was attempting to conceal or draw a weapon. See, e.g., United States v. Dortch, 868 F.3d 674, 680 (8th Cir. 2017)(finding defendant's response “to the sight of an approaching police officer by actively moving in such a way-pressing the front of his body against the minivan-as to further conceal what, if anything, he had in his coat” contributed to reasonable suspicion). Under these circumstances, the undersigned concludes that Defendant's stop was supported by reasonable suspicion that criminal activity may be afoot, and that his pat-down was supported by reasonable suspicion that he was armed and dangerous.

         Defendant further argues that, even assuming reasonable suspicion existed for a Terry stop and frisk, the stop turned into a de facto arrest without probable cause when Officer Grayson ...

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