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People v. Tillman

January 14, 2005


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable James B. Linn, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Gallagher

Defendant Ronald Tillman, and co-defendants Jason Stampley, Vennitt Carlvin, and Manning Goldman, were charged with various drug offenses.*fn1 Specifically, defendant was charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. Defendant filed a motion to quash his arrest and suppress evidence arguing that the police illegally entered his home and that the evidence they recovered was the fruit of the illegal arrest. The trial court granted defendant's motion and denied the State's motion to reconsider. On appeal, the State contends that the trial court erred in suppressing the evidence recovered from defendant. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.

[9]     At the suppression hearing, co-defendant Manning Goldman testified that on October 6, 2002, between 6 and 6:30 p.m., he was at defendant's apartment in the Robert Taylor Homes housing project located at 4037 South Federal Street. Defendant lived in apartment 1409. Goldman stated that he went there to play games and smoke marijuana with defendant and co-defendants Jason Stampley and Vennitt Carlvin. Goldman had been in the apartment for about 10 or 15 minutes, when, after exiting the bathroom, he saw that the police were in the apartment. The police searched him and found cannabis hidden in the crotch of his pants.

Defendant testified that at the time of the incident, he and his aunt lived at 4037 South Federal Street in apartment number 1409. Defendant stated that he was smoking marijuana when he heard a knock at his door. Defendant opened the door and the police, who were in street clothes and had their weapons drawn, entered the apartment, pushed defendant against the wall, and asked him who held the lease to the apartment. Defendant told the police that he was the leaseholder.

Defendant retrieved his lease from his bedroom, which was in the back of the apartment, and the police began searching the entire apartment. When defendant returned from his bedroom to the living room, the officers told him to sit on the couch, where he remained while they searched his apartment. The police kicked a hole in the front living room wall and recovered narcotics from defendant's bedroom. Defendant did not give the police permission to enter his apartment, never signed a consent-to-search form, and never saw a search warrant.

Officer Edwin Uteras testified that on October 6, 2002, he was working with Officers Lee, Snelling, Seinitz, and Schoeff. Officer Lee had informed him that an anonymous citizen reported that "drug dealers run in apartment 1409" of 4037 South Federal Street. Prior to October 6, 2003, Officer Uteras had made approximately 50 narcotics arrests at 4037 South Federal Street. At about 6:15 p.m., Officer Uteras arrived at the building with Officers Schoeff and Seinitz. Upon his arrival, he saw that Officer Lee had detained Tywan Jordan, who was working "security," at the stairwell of the building. Officer Lee told him that it was safe to proceed up the stairway. As Officers Uteras, Schoeff, and Seinitz went up the stairway, Officer Uteras saw Goldman and Stampley look in his direction and heard them say "slickers," i.e., police. Goldman threw down a clear plastic bag containing cannabis, and Stampley threw cocaine onto the ground of the third floor. Goldman and Stampley fled up the stairs and the officers recovered the dropped items.

The officers then chased Goldman and Stampley up the stairs to the fourteenth floor. Officer Uteras did not see Goldman or Stampley enter apartment 1409, but by the time he reached the apartment, Officers Seinitz and Lee had entered the apartment and the door was open. Goldman was in the front living room on his knees and Stampley was next to him.

Officer Joe Seinitz, who had been assigned to the public housing tactical unit for six years at the time of this incident, corroborated Officer Uteras' testimony. Officer Seinitz also testified that Officers Uteras and Schoeff recovered the items dropped by Stampley and Goldman and then followed him as he chased Stampley and Goldman up the stairway. Officer Seinitz saw Stampley and Goldman run into apartment 1409, and he followed them inside because he was pursuing two offenders he believed committed a felony.

Upon entering the apartment, Stampley and Goldman stopped in the living room and were detained by other officers. Officer Seinitz saw defendant, who quickly walked from the living room to the back bedroom, and he followed him. Officer Seinitz followed defendant into his room because defendant had something in his hand and because of his movements. He also followed defendant into his bedroom because, based on his experience as a public housing officer, he was concerned for his safety and believed a felony was in progress.

After entering the bedroom, Officer Seinitz observed defendant place the item that was in his hand into a hole in the wall. Officer Seinitz then placed defendant in custody and kicked the wall about a foot below the hole. He recovered a bag containing 625 packets of suspected cocaine and a 9-millimeter handgun.

After hearing the evidence, the trial court took the motion under advisement. The court stated that the officers were in hot pursuit of Stampley and Goldman, and therefore had a right to be in defendant's apartment. However, regarding defendant, the court stated:

"Mr. Tillman is in a little bit of a different posture. He actually lives there. He's got absolute standing there.

[With] Mr. Tillman *** I think we have to start looking at it through fresh eyes and see does something happen while the police are in the apartment lawfully that would give them probable cause to start making seizures. * * *

*** [W]hat I heard about Mr. Tillman is ambiguous, somewhat ambiguous, because the officer is being candid. He says, I don't know what he had in his hand. I don't know what he's doing exactly.

*** I consider this to be on the close side."

The State filed a written response to defendant's motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence, arguing, in part, that: the officers' warrantless entry into defendant's apartment was lawful based on probable cause and exigent circumstances, the hot pursuit of a fleeing felon; and, while inside the apartment searching for the fleeing felons, the police saw defendant in plain view in possession of what they thought was narcotics. After conducting another hearing on the motion, the court again took the matter under advisement.

The court then granted defendant's motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence, stating, in part:

"[T]here were police on patrol in a housing project. They had some information that there may be some suspicious activity that would warrant a police ...

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