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United States v. Tillman

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

October 17, 2016



          Michael J. Reagan, United States District Court Chief Judge.

         A March 22, 2016 indictment charges Andrew Tillman with possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, and felon in possession of a firearm-the indictment says that Tillman was arrested with 50 grams of methamphetamine and a .45 caliber Kimber 1911 semiautomatic pistol on December 14, 2015. Tillman has pled not guilty, and is currently set for trial on October 31, 2016. In July 2016, Tillman moved to suppress the evidence found on Tillman's person and in the Tahoe that Tillman was allegedly driving on December 14th, as well as the statements Tillman made to police on that same date. A hearing was held on October 11, 2016, and the Court took Tillman's motions under advisement. For the reasons stated herein, the Court denies the motions to suppress.


         Tillman's motions to suppress focus on the events surrounding his arrest on December 14, 2015, so the United States naturally presented testimony at the suppression hearing from Detective Jeff Jensen, who stopped and arrested Tillman that night, and from Investigator Shane Brown, who ultimately took possession of the drugs and firearm found in Tillman's vehicle that night and interviewed Tillman the next day. Detective Jensen testified first, stating that he was on patrol in an unmarked vehicle on the night of December 14th with his partner, Detective Aaron Hackleman. Shortly before 10 PM that night, Jensen observed a grey Tahoe approaching the intersection of Lebanon Avenue and North Douglas, traveling westbound. As the Tahoe approached the intersection, Jensen saw the Tahoe almost strike the curb and then travel through the intersection. Jensen saw the license plate on the Tahoe (Illinois plate Y973158) and turned his cruiser around to follow it.[1] As he was turning, Jensen saw the grey Tahoe accelerate down Lebanon in excess of the speed limit and turn right onto Clay Street. Jensen then testified that he followed the Tahoe onto Clay and saw the Tahoe proceed to the intersection of Clay and Charles. According to Jensen, the Tahoe then turned right onto North Charles, without signaling and without abiding by the stop sign. Around that time, Jensen said that he turned on his cruiser's emergency lights and continued to follow the Tahoe with the intention of stopping it for traffic violations.

         As the Tahoe approached north Douglas while purportedly traveling on Charles, Jensen testified that he saw the Tahoe's taillights go out. The Tahoe then turned right onto Douglas, again without signaling or stopping at the stop sign. Jensen followed onto Douglas but lost sight of the Tahoe. There was an alley shortly up Douglas Street between Church Street and Lebanon Avenue, so Jensen turned right down that alley and found the Tahoe with the same license plate parked in a driveway a short way down the alley. Jensen saw a male in the process of exiting the Tahoe and got out of his vehicle to approach him. Jensen testified that he recognized the man as Tillman right after he got out of his unmarked cruiser-he knew Tillman from a past arrest in 2009, during which Tillman told Jensen that he was going to prison in the near future. As Jensen approached Tillman, he asked him why he was running from the police. Jensen then observed cannabis residue on Tillman's shirt and smelled cannabis on him. He asked Tillman if he had cannabis on his person, and Tillman said no. Jensen asked again, and Tillman admitted to having a “little bit” of marijuana on him. Jensen then searched Tillman and found two bags of cannabis in his jacket pocket.

         After Detective Jensen's search, Tillman was placed in custody, and Jensen requested that a canine officer be dispatched to the scene. Shortly around that time, Detective Hackleman also walked up to the Tahoe that Tillman was driving and looked on the floorboard, observing a firearm within the vehicle. Jensen walked up to the side of the car and saw the firearm inside as well. Jensen took a picture of the gun through the Tahoe's window; the photograph depicted the firearm sitting partly underneath the Tahoe's driver's seat. A canine unit arrived about fifteen minutes after Jensen called for it, and the canine ultimately alerted to the presence of narcotics in the grey Tahoe that Tillman was driving. Police then searched the grey Tahoe and seized several packages of cannabis, two bags of methamphetamine, a bag of cocaine, some other narcotics, and the handgun that police previously observed under the driver's seat. Jensen then contacted Investigator Shane Brown, who took possession of the items seized from Tillman and the Tahoe that he was driving. Tillman was then transported to the St. Clair County Jail and held on drug and firearm charges.

         As Jensen confirmed at the suppression hearing, his unmarked police cruiser was equipped with a dashcam on the night of Tillman's arrest, so most of the chase and all of the arrest were documented on video. The video is largely consistent with Jensen's initial testimony, but there are some differences. The tape begins with Jensen performing a u-turn at the corner of Lebanon and Douglas, and the grey Tahoe that he says he saw before the dashcam is turned on is no longer in immediate view, presumably having passed him. As Jensen completes the u-turn, he accelerates to around 30 miles per hour, and long before Jensen reaches the intersection of Lebanon and Clay the video shows a large suburban utility vehicle, light in color, turn onto Clay. The fact that the utility vehicle reached Clay so quickly after Jensen completed his u-turn suggests that it was traveling at a high rate of speed. Jensen reaches Clay in moments and turns right. The video doesn't seem to capture the utility vehicle when Jensen turns right onto Clay. Jensen then turns right at the next cross street-which looks to be Church Street and not Charles Street as Jensen testified-and at that moment Jensen turns on his emergency lights. A large, light-colored vehicle can be seen in the distance seemingly moving at a very fast rate of speed; it looks as if it failed to stop at the stop sign at the intersection of Douglas and Church and turned right onto Douglas without signaling. The video then shows Jensen accelerating quickly down Church. After that, Jensen turns right onto Douglas, and one of the officers in the vehicle- Jensen or Hackleman-can be heard saying “Where'd he go?” The other then says “He had to have gone down that alley.” The video shows an alley immediately to the right-between the corner of Church and Douglas and the upcoming intersection of Lebanon and Douglas-and Jensen turns onto it. A short ways down, the dashcam shows Jensen stop his car, back up, and turn into a driveway with a light Tahoe parked in it. A man is seen standing next to the Tahoe, and the vehicle's driver side door is open. As a slight inconsistency between Jensen's testimony and the dashcam audio, Jensen can be heard identifying the man as Tillman before Jensen exits his cruiser.

         As Jensen's cruiser gets all the way into the driveway, the video shows Tillman leaning into the driver's side of the vehicle. Jensen then exits his cruiser and shouts “Let me see your hands” at Tillman. Tillman leans out of the vehicle and approaches the officers, closing the Tahoe's driver's side door in the process. Jensen asks Tillman why he was driving in the manner that he did, and Tillman's response can't be made out. Jensen then asks Tillman to step closer to him, and Tillman does so. Jensen asks Tillman about how he's been, Tillman says he's fine and asks Jensen what he did wrong, and Jensen tells Tillman that he saw Tillman “ran that stop sign right there” and that it seemed as if Tillman was trying to evade police. Jensen then asked Tillman whether he had anything on him that Jensen needed to worry about, and Tillman said no. Jensen went on to ask Tillman if he had a “little weed” on him, and Tillman first says no, but when asked again, Tillman admits to having some marijuana in his pocket. The video shows Jensen searching Tillman, seizing the marijuana, and then placing him in custody. It also depicts Tillman yelling that he was driving his mother's Tahoe that night, and an officer (presumably Jensen) telling Tillman's mother that Tillman had attempted to elude police, that officers found marijuana on Tillman, and that officers were going to have a canine do an open air sniff around the Tahoe. The video doesn't depict the canine sniff-the cam video was switched towards the interior of the car to record Tillman in custody-but it was switched back at a later point, showing officers removing a large amount of drugs out of the Tahoe that Tillman was driving that night.

         After Tillman's arrest, Detective Jensen drafted a police report concerning the events of December 14, 2015. That report, too, was largely consistent with Jensen's testimony and the video recording, but there were a few differences. The report said that Jensen saw the grey Tahoe with license plate Y973158 at the intersection of Lebanon and Douglas; that Jensen saw the Tahoe swerve and nearly strike the curb; that Jensen turned his patrol vehicle around to follow; and that the Tahoe then accelerated quickly, exceeding the speed limit of 25 miles per hour. That's all consistent with Jensen's testimony and the start of the dashcam video-while the video doesn't show the grey Tahoe at the intersection of Lebanon and Douglas, it does start right at the time that Jensen turns around on Lebanon Avenue, and by the time Jensen accelerated to 30 miles per hour to follow the purported Tahoe, a large light-colored vehicle can be seen fairly far ahead of Jensen, already having cleared some distance. The report goes on to say that Jensen intended to stop the Tahoe when he turned his cruiser around, that the grey Tahoe turned right onto Benton Street, and that Jensen activated the emergency lights on his cruiser to initiate a traffic stop when the Tahoe turned onto Benton. That's partly inconsistent with the other evidence. Jensen admitted on direct examination that he didn't intend to stop the Tahoe until he turned his emergency lights on; that the Tahoe turned onto Clay Street rather than Benton Street (which was one cross street up from Benton on Lebanon); and that Jensen didn't turn his emergency lights on until after the Tahoe made a turn onto Clay Street and another turn after that. The report next states that the Tahoe turned right off of Clay and onto Church without signaling or stopping at the stop sign, accelerated down Church, and then turned right off of Church and onto Douglas, again without signaling or stopping. That's consistent with the dashcam video but a bit inconsistent with Jensen's testimony. The dashcam has Jensen pursuing right onto Church from Clay, contrary to Jensen's correction at the hearing that he followed the Tahoe right onto Charles from Clay. (Charles was one cross street up from Church on Clay.) The dashcam does show a large, light-colored vehicle in the distance on Church, and it looks as if that vehicle is moving at a high rate of speed down Church and that it failed to stop or signal at the intersection of Church and Douglas.

         Aside from the error regarding Church Street versus Charles Street, the rest of Jensen's report is fairly consistent with Jensen's testimony and the dashcam video. The report says that Jensen briefly lost sight of the Tahoe after arriving at the intersection of Douglas and Church, that he followed onto Douglas, that he turned right down an alley that was located immediately off of Douglas between Church and Lebanon Avenue, and that he found a grey Tahoe with the same license plate shortly up the alley, parked in a driveway. Jensen saw Tillman exiting the Tahoe and pulled into the driveway to talk to him, leading to the search of Tillman, the search of the Tahoe, and Tillman's arrest. (The report also indicates that Jensen recognized Tillman before he exited his unmarked cruiser, another small inconsistency between his testimony and the report.)

         That covered everything about Detective Jensen, so the United States proceeded to call Shane Brown, an investigator with the St. Clair County Sherriff's Department. Brown said that he was contacted by Jensen on December 14, 2015 and was advised by Jensen that officers had found a firearm and illegal narcotics in the car Tillman was driving. Brown took possession of those items from Jensen. The next day, Brown and an agent of the Drug Enforcement Agency interviewed Tillman at the St. Clair Jail. Upon entering an interview room at the jail with Tillman, Tillman made a number of unsolicited comments, including that he had done something wrong and that he wasn't trying to run from police. Brown then read Tillman his Miranda rights, and Tillman said he wasn't going to provide a statement until he was given a deal. Brown told Tillman he couldn't discuss a deal, and the interview ended. Given the evidence seized from Tillman, he was ultimately indicted on federal drug and gun charges.


         Tillman makes a number of arguments in favor of suppressing the evidence seized on December 14, 2015 or the statements he made to Detective Jensen that night, but he complains the loudest about whether officers even had cause to stop him at all, so the Court will start there. Officers could have stopped Tillman as he exited his vehicle if they had probable cause to believe that he committed even a minor traffic offense, United States v. Muriel, 418 F.3d 720, 725 (7th Cir. 2005), or they could have stopped him (in the vein of Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21-22 (1968)) if they had reasonable suspicion to believe that he had violated the traffic laws, United States v. Miranda-Sotolongo, 827 F.3d 663, 666 (7th Cir. 2016). Probable cause to stop would exist if the circumstances confronting the officer support the reasonable belief that the defendant committed a traffic offense, Muriel, 418 F.3d at 724, while reasonable suspicion would exist if the officer could identify some particularized and objective basis for thinking that the person to be stopped is or may be about to engage in unlawful activity, Miranda-Sotolongo, 827 F.3d at 666. The United States has the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that a traffic stop was backed up by probable cause or reasonable suspicion. United States v. Peters, 743 F.3d 1113, 1115 (7th Cir. 2014); United States v. Uribe, 709 F.3d 646, 650 (7th Cir. 2013).

         In light of Jensen's report, the dashcam recording, and Jensen's testimony, the Court is of the view that Jensen had probable cause to stop Tillman for committing traffic violations on the night of December 14th. All of the evidence, taken together, shows that Jensen saw a grey Tahoe with license plate Y973158 at the intersection of Lebanon and Douglas on the night in question, that the same Tahoe exceeded the speed limit while moving away from Jensen on Lebanon, that the Tahoe turned right onto Clay from Lebanon, that it turned right onto Church from Clay without signaling or stopping at the stop sign, that the Tahoe exceeded the speed limit while driving down Church Street away from Jensen, and that the Tahoe turned right off of Church Street and onto Douglas Avenue, again without signaling or stopping at the stop sign. The evidence also shows that Jensen followed the same Tahoe onto Douglas Avenue, that Jensen briefly lost sight of it, that Jensen took the first alley he reached on Douglas Avenue, between Church Street and Lebanon Avenue, and that Jensen quickly reacquired the Tahoe. That Tahoe had the same license plate as the grey Tahoe Jensen had just lost sight of, and Tillman was in the process of exiting that Tahoe at the time that Jensen pulled up. The fact that Jensen saw the license plate of the grey Tahoe when he started following it, that the vehicle with that plate was seen violating one of many traffic laws, and the fact that Tillman was exiting the vehicle with those plates when officers found it shortly after losing ...

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