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United States v. St. John

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

December 20, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiffs,
v.
CHRISTOPHER T. ST. JOHN, and RICHARD J. NASLUND, Defendants.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION

          Susan M. Bazis United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the Court on the Motion to Suppress filed by Defendant Christopher St. John (“St. John”) (Filing No. 25) and the Motion to Suppress filed by Defendant Richard Naslund (“Naslund”) (Filing No. 27). A joint evidentiary hearing was held regarding the motions on October 23, 2019. A transcript of the proceedings has been filed and this matter is now ripe for disposition.

         For the reasons explained below, the motions will be denied.

         FACTS

         On May 30, 2019, at approximately 5:00 p.m., Nebraska State Patrol Trooper Michael Lassen (“Trooper Lassen”) observed a truck stopped in the middle of the roadway near the intersection of Highway 11 and West Cedar Road, just outside Wood River, Nebraska. (TR. 71; TR. 95.) Trooper Lassen stopped his cruiser and found St. John sitting inside the stopped truck. (TR. 71.) This encounter was recorded by the camera on Trooper Lassen's cruiser. (TR. 72; Ex. 3.)

         Trooper Lassen made contact with St. John and asked him what was going on. (Ex. 3.) St. John indicated his brake shaft went out and that he could not move the truck. (Ex. 3.) St. John indicated his “brother” left on foot to get help.[1] (Ex. 3.) Trooper Lassen asked St. John his name and asked for his license. (Ex. 3.) Trooper Lassen asked St. John if he had any weapons. (Ex. 3.) St. John indicated he had a knife in his pocket. (Ex. 3.) Trooper Lassen then asked St. John where his brother had gone. (TR. 73-74; Ex. 3.) St. John responded by pointing off in a direction. (TR. 73-74; Ex. 3.)

         Trooper Lassen asked St. John if he could pat him down for weapons. (Ex. 3.) St. John responded he could and put his hands in the air. (TR. 76-77; Ex. 3.) After the pat down, Trooper Lassen told St. John he was going to run his license to make sure he did not have any warrants. (Ex. 3.) Trooper Lassen left St. John standing at the back of his truck, not handcuffed, while he ran his license. (Ex. 3.)

         After checking St. John's license, Trooper Lassen approached St. John and returned it. (Ex. 3.) St. John tried to start the truck again but was unsuccessful. St. John then asked Trooper Lassen if he could help push the truck. (Ex.) Trooper Lassen agreed to do so. (Ex. 3.) St. John indicated he was on medication for his shoulder. (Ex. 3.) St. John stated he was taking hydrocodone. (Ex. 3.) Trooper Lassen asked St. John if the hydrocodone was the prescription bottle in the center console of the truck. (Ex. 3.) St. John indicated it was another medication for his shoulder, which he did not like taking. (Ex. 3.) At this point, Trooper Lassen attempted to push the truck, but it did not move. (Ex. 3.)

         St. John gave Trooper Lassen permission to search the truck. (Ex. 3.) Trooper Lassen asked St. John to stand off to the side of the truck as he searched it. (Ex. 3.) During the search, Trooper Lassen located a substance he thought to be methamphetamine. (TR. 76.) After finding the substance, Trooper Lassen placed St. John in handcuffs and told him he was being detained. (TR. 76-77; Ex. 3.) Trooper Lassen testified that, at that point, St. John was being detained so he could retrieve the substance from the truck and conduct a field-test on the substance. (TR. 77.) Once St. John was in handcuffs, Trooper Lassen indicated to St. John the substance looked like methamphetamine. (Ex. 3.)

         St. John then made a comment to Trooper Lassen about his brother. (Ex. 3.) Trooper Lassen indicated to St. John that they were going to try to find his brother. (Ex. 3.) St. John continued to volunteer information about his brother walking away. (Ex. 3.) Trooper Lassen took St. John to the back of his truck and began asking him questions about his brother. (TR. 77-78.) Trooper Lassen testified that he asked these questions because St. John indicated he was going to jail for his brother and Trooper Lassen wanted to identify the brother to determine whether the substance in the truck belonged to him. (TR. 77-78.)

         At this point, Trooper Lassen was going to put St. John in his cruiser, but St. John asked not to be placed in the cruiser. (Ex. 3.) Trooper Lassen allowed St. John to sit on the back bumper of his truck. (Ex. 3.) Trooper Lassen went to retrieve the bag from the truck and brought it back for St. John to see. (Ex. 3.) St. John indicated he had never seen the bag before. (Ex. 3.) Trooper Lassen again asked about St. John's brother and where he went. (Ex. 3.)

         Trooper Lassen then conducted a field-test on the substance and the test was positive for methamphetamine. (TR. 79.) Trooper Lassen testified that St. John was under arrest at this point and told St. John he was under arrest. (TR. 79; Ex. 3.) Trooper Lassen informed St. John he did not want to waste another officer's time looking for someone who did not exist. (Ex. 3.) St. John again indicated his brother did exist but had left on foot. (Ex. 3.)

         Following St. John's arrest, Trooper Lassen continued to search the truck and located a cell phone. (TR. 80.) St. John told Trooper Lassen that he did not want him to go through the contacts on his phone and that he wanted it shut-off. (TR. 80.) St. John wanted to watch the phone being turned-off and indicated to Trooper Lassen that he had the right to do so. (Ex. 3.) Trooper Lassen powered-off the phone in front of St. John. (Ex. 3.)

         Trooper Lassen called Nebraska State Patrol Trooper Michael Knuth (“Trooper Knuth”) for assistance at approximately 5:30 p.m. (TR. 95.) When Trooper Knuth arrived on scene, Trooper Lassen told him that he had found methamphetamine in the truck. (TR. 95.) Trooper Lassen asked Trooper Knuth to locate the individual who St John referred to as his brother. (TR. 96-96.) Trooper Knuth drove towards Wood River to look for St. John's brother and then called Trooper Lassen for more information. (TR. 96-97; Ex. 3.) Trooper Lassen asked St. John what his brother was wearing. (TR. 81; Ex. 3.) St. John provided a description of the brother to Trooper Lassen who relayed the description to Trooper Knuth. (TR. 81; TR. 95-96; Ex. 3.) Trooper Lassen testified that the purpose of this question to St. John was to locate the brother. (TR. 81.) St. John asked Trooper Lassen if there was something he could do to help himself so he would not go to jail. (TR. 83.) Trooper Lassen testified that he told St. John there was not. (TR. 84.)

         While St. John was in the cruiser, Trooper Lassen asked him about a weed pipe found in the truck during the search. (TR. 82.) Trooper Lassen testified he asked this question to see if St. John would claim the pipe belonged to his brother. (TR. 82.) Trooper Lassen did not read St. John his Miranda rights at any point during their encounter. (TR. 78.)

         Trooper Knuth located an individual matching the description given by Trooper Lassen inside a Subway shop. (TR. 96-97.) This individual was later identified as Naslund. (TR. 97.) When Naslund exited the Subway shop, Trooper Knuth asked him to stop and provide his information. (TR. 99.) Trooper Knuth testified that he got the impression Naslund did not want to speak to him because Naslund kept pacing back and forth and did not want to answer questions. (TR. 99; Ex. 4.) Naslund told Trooper Knuth that he did not have any identification. (TR. 99.) Naslund then told Trooper Knuth that he wanted to go back into the Subway to get a napkin. (TR. 100; Ex. 4.) Trooper Knuth testified that, at that point, he told Naslund that he was being detained and that he was going to be searched for weapons. (TR. 100; Ex. 4.) Trooper Knuth stated that as he put his notepad on his cruiser, Naslund fled on foot. (TR. 100; Ex. 4.) Trooper Knuth instructed Naslund to stop and get on the ground, but Naslund did not comply. (TR. 101.) Trooper Knuth caught-up to Naslund and tackled him on Highway 30. (TR. 101.) Naslund was able to get up and run away, but Trooper Knuth caught-up to him along a fence line. (TR. 101.) Naslund surrendered when Trooper Knuth threatened to tase him. (TR. 101.) Naslund was then handcuffed and Trooper Knuth found methamphetamine in his pocket. (TR. 108.)

         Naslund sustained some abrasions on his hands and wrists when Trooper Knuth tackled him. (TR. 102.) He also had a limp. (TR. 103.) When he was apprehended, Naslund told Trooper Knuth that he could not breathe. (TR. 102.) Trooper Knuth testified that Naslund was alert and did not appear to be under the influence of a controlled substance at the time he was apprehended. (TR. 102; TR. 107.) Trooper Knuth ...


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