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United States v. Hill

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

June 28, 2013

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
WAYNE HILL, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

SHARON JOHNSON COLEMAN, District Judge.

Defendant Wayne Hill ("Hill") is charged with robbing a bank in violation of 18 U.S.C. ยง 2113 (a) and (d). Hill admits that on November 26, 2011 he entered the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Indiana in order to launder money. Hill was approached and briefly questioned by Horseshoe Casino security personnel including Eugene Kasper ("Kasper") and Monaye Perry ("Perry"), as well as by Hammond Police Lieutenant Patrick McKechnie ("Lt. McKechnie"). Hill was subsequently led to an interview room where he was further questioned and his bag searched. Hill moves to suppress statements following, what he claims was, an arrest without probable cause and a warrantless seizure by Hammond police officers. Additionally, Hill moves to exclude evidence of the items retrieved from his bag as products of an illegal search. For the following reasons, this Court finds Lt. McKechnie had reasonable suspicion to first subject Hill to a Terry stop and later had probable cause to arrest him after questioning. Therefore, Hill's motions are denied.

Background

On November 26, 2011, Hill entered the Horseshoe Casino with a backpack and Santa hat containing thousands of dollars of red-dyed money. Hill admits that he went to the casino to launder money. Hill sat at a slot machine and exchanged red-dyed bills for cash vouchers which he could then redeem for clean bills at the casino's cash out machines. Perry, a casino security officer, responded to a call over the security radio concerning suspicious activity where Hill was seated at the slot machines. Upon arrival near the slot machines, Perry observed a fellow security officer, Danny Faulkner ("Faulkner"), along with a slot attendant speaking with Hill. Hill had informed casino personnel that one of his bills was stuck in the slot machine.

While the slot attendant attempted to retrieve the bill and opened the machine, Faulkner informed Perry that the slot attendant had observed Hill feeding large amounts of red-dyed bills into slot machines in exchange for vouchers without playing. The security officers stood within five feet of Hill, the slot attendant, and the slot machine. Perry spoke briefly with Hill and testified that he seemed hesitant, nervous, and short with his answers. After speaking with Hill, Perry contacted her shift manager Kasper by radio and informed him that a supervisor or shift manager was needed near the slot machines. Perry left Hill at the slot machines and testified further that she met up with Kasper and Lt. 0McKechnie to inform them of the situation. During this same time Hill had left the slot machines and made his way to the "cash out area" of the casino.

Lt. McKechnie and Kasper approached Hill as he stood in line at the cash out area. Other casino security personnel, including Perry, also came to the cash out area, but remained a few feet away from Hill, Lt. McKechnie, and Kasper. Lt. McKechnie questioned Hill about why his money was stained and where the money had come from. Hill did not answer the first question and told Lt. McKechnie that he found the money while changing a tire near a lake.

Although Hill admitted at the suppression hearing that he brought red-dyed bills to the casino to exchange them, the testimonies of the witnesses differ as to how those bills were first observed by police authority. Lt. McKechnie testified that he observed red-dyed bills in Hill's hands as he walked up to him. Lt. McKechnie testified that based on his experience he knew that bank employees, when possible, would place dye packs into bags from bank robberies to identify the currency as stolen. Lt. McKechnie testified further that after approaching Hill, Kasper, a casino security supervisor, took the bills from Hill's hands to analyze. In direct contradiction, Hill testified that he had no cash in his hands when approached by Lt. McKechnie and Kasper. Hill testified that he had placed the majority of the red-dyed cash inside a Santa hat and then secured the hat within the bag sealed shut by a drawstring and a flap so that no one could see the large amounts of money. Hill testified further that Lt. McKechnie bumped into his bag causing it to fall on the floor and that it was at that time Kasper seized and illegally searched his bag in order to obtain the red-dyed bills.

Over the Government's objection, defense counsel admitted an incident report written by Kasper documenting his interactions with Hill.[1] Kasper's report states that four stacks of fifty dollar bills fell out of Hill's bag. Video surveillance submitted at the hearing clearly demonstrates that Kasper held a stack of bills secured by a bank band in his hands and inspected the bills in front of Hill, Lt. McKechnie, Perry, and several other security personnel in the cash out area. A one minute gap in the video footage prevents video corroboration of how Kasper got the money in his hands to examine. The video footage also shows that when Hill was led away by McKechnie for further questioning, the bag and Santa hat containing the bulk of the money remained in Hill's possession. The video footage demonstrates that Hill was escorted by several casino security personnel and Lt. McKechnie from the cash out area to an interview room. In the interview room Hill was questioned further and his bag was searched.

Hill moves to suppress statements made at the cash out area and in the interview room arguing that: 1) the officers lacked probable cause to arrest him since he did not have any red-dyed bills in his hands and 2) his bag was illegally searched and seized. This Court notes that because the Government stated in its closing that it will not introduce any of Hill's statements made in the interview room of the casino, the only statements at issue in this motion are Hill's statements made at the cash out area prior to being led to the interview room. Hill also moves to dismiss all evidence retrieved from his bag, which according to Hill's testimony of what happened at the cash out area would constitute a second search of his bag in the interview room.

Legal Standard

Not all personal interactions between police officers and citizens constitute impermissible seizures in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 19 n.16 (1968). Police officers may detain individuals without probable cause for certain investigatory purposes. An investigatory stop is a brief, non-intrusive detention and an officer need only have specific and articulable facts sufficient to give rise to a reasonable suspicion that a person has committed or is committing a crime. United States v. McCarthur, 6 F.3d 1270, 1275 (7th Cir. 1993). Whether an officer had a reasonable suspicion is based upon the totality of the circumstances and common-sensical judgments and inferences about human behavior. Jewett v. Anders, 521 F.3d 818, 823-25 (7th Cir. 2008).

An arrest, however, requires probable cause. Probable cause requires that an arresting officer "possess knowledge from reasonably trustworthy information that would lead a prudent person to believe that a suspect has committed a crime." United States v. McCauley, 659 F.3d 645, 649 (7th Cir. 2011) (internal quotations omitted). A person is considered to be under arrest, when under the relevant circumstances a reasonable person would not have believed he was free to leave. Adams v. Szczerbinski, 329 Fed.Appx. 19, 24 (7th Cir. 2009). "A reasonable person might not believe he was free to leave when faced with the threatening presence of several officers, the display of a weapon by an officer, some physical touching of the person of the citizen, or the use of language or tone of voice indicating that compliance with the officer's request might be compelled." Deluna v. City of Rockford, 447 F.3d 1008, 1014 (7th Cir. 2006) (internal citations omitted).

Discussion

The parties disagree about whether the encounter between Lt. McKechnie and Hill on the casino floor was consensual, an investigatory stop, or an arrest. The resolution of a motion to suppress is a fact-intensive inquiry in which the district court must make credibility determinations based on its opportunity to hear the testimony and observe the demeanor of the witnesses at the suppression hearing. United States v. Kempf, 400 F.3d 501, 503 (7th Cir. 2005). This Court focuses on three particular moments during Hill's casino visit: 1) the initial interaction between Hill, Faulkner, Perry, and the slot attendant; 2) the encounter at the cash out area between Hill, Lt. McKechnie, and casino security personnel; and 3) the moment Hill was led from the cash out area to the interview room for further questioning. Hill states that he was under arrest from the moment Lt. McKechnie approached and began questioning him at ...


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