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United States v. Smith

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

September 6, 2019

LEAMON SMITH, Defendant.



         In June 2018, two Chicago Police Department officers discovered a concealed firearm on Leamon Smith during a routine traffic stop. R. 41, Def.'s Post-Hearing Br. at 1.[1] Smith now moves to suppress evidence of the firearm and the statements that he made during the traffic stop because (1) the officers' pat-downs were unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment; (2) Smith was arrested without probable cause; and (3) the traffic stop transformed into a custodial interrogation but the officers failed to give Smith any Miranda warnings. Id. at 2. The Court held a suppression hearing in March 2019, after which the parties filed supplemental briefing. For the reasons discussed below, Smith's motion to suppress is denied as to the firearm but granted as to some of the statements he made during the encounter.

         I. Background

         On June 18, 2018, around 9:00 p.m., Smith and Dalon Naylor were driving in a blue Lexus near the intersection of Chicago Avenue and St. Lawrence Avenue in Chicago. R. 22, Mot. Suppress at 1; R. 31, Gov't's Resp. at 2. Smith was sitting in the front passenger seat. Mot. Suppress at 1. The two men were pulled over by Chicago Police Officers Steven Holden and Dimar Vasquez for running a red light. Def.'s Post-Hearing Br. at 3. Holden and Vasquez were in an unmarked tactical unit vehicle and both turned on their body cameras as soon as they initiated the traffic stop. Id. See also R. 40, Supp. Hearing Tr. at 7:10-20; 65:18-23. Once outside, Holden approached the passenger side of the Lexus while Vasquez walked over to the driver's side. Id. at 9:20-24.

         At the suppression hearing, Holden testified that he “smelled the odor of fresh cannabis” as he approached the car, but that he could not tell if the smell was coming from the driver or the passenger. Supp. Hearing Tr. at 10:5-13. Holden did not mention the smell of cannabis during his interaction with Smith, nor did he make a note of it in his police report. Id. at 36:1-37:3. Holden also testified that Smith “appeared to be extremely nervous” and “was breathing heavy.” Id. at 11:7-8. In the video from Holden's body camera, he tells Smith that he was “shaking like a leaf, ” Holden Video at 1:08-1:12, and later testified that Smith's hands were trembling when Smith handed Holden an identification card, Supp. Hearing Tr. at 11:10-15. Holden explained that this was noteworthy because traffic stops typically only implicate the driver, not the passenger. Id. at 11:20-12:1.

         Holden next asked Smith to get out of the car and directed Smith towards the back of the car. Supp. Hearing Tr. at 12:16-13:1. At the suppression hearing, Holden testified that he noticed Smith was walking with a slight limp, “like a side to side” type of walk. Id. at 13:4-10. In the video, Holden does not immediately comment on Smith's walk or gait. Holden Video at 2:09-2:15. But he later testified that Smith's odd way of walking made Holden think that Smith was hiding something in his waistband or crotch area. Supp. Hearing Tr. at 13:13-16. Once Smith reached the back of the car, he leaned his pelvis against the trunk of the car, prompting Holden to twice ask him to take half a step away from the car. Id. at 14:5-8; Holden Video at 2:25.

         Holden then performed a pat-down search of Smith. Supp. Hearing Tr. at 15:9-11. He focused on what he called “hot spots, ” including Smith's waistband, his front pockets, and his lower leg. Id. at 15:12-15; Holden Video at 2:30-2:45. He did not search Smith's groin area. Id. Holden did not find any contraband during this search. Supp. Hearing Tr. at 16:5-6. Nonetheless, he placed Smith in handcuffs and told him he was just being detained. Holden Video at 2:55-3:00. Holden then told Smith that “if it's a little loud, we can work with it, ” which, according to Holden, meant that if Smith was hiding some “loud”-a street term for cannabis-he should concede that now because possession of marijuana is just a ticket-type offense that could have been dealt with easily and quickly. Supp. Hearing Tr. at 17:2-7. Smith responded that he did not have any. Id. at 17:15-17. Holden continued to question Smith about what he was hiding, but Smith insisted that he had “really nothing.” Holden Video at 3:15- 3:35. Eventually, Holden asked Smith, “we're going to do this the hard way bro?” Id. at 3:35-3:45. Holden insisted at the suppression hearing that he was not threatening Smith when he said this. Supp. Hearing Tr. at 18:2-11.

         Smith then said to Holden, “it ain't on me, ” which Holden took as evidence that Smith was in possession of something he was trying to conceal. Holden Video at 3:47-3:53; Supp. Hearing Tr. at 18:20-24. Holden reminded Smith that “honesty goes a long way” with him and again asked Smith what he was hiding. Holden Video at 3:53-4:00. At that point, Smith began to bargain with Holden, asking if Holden was willing to “help him out” and explaining that he “could do anything to make something happen.” Id. at 4:02-4:22. Holden understood this to be a proposition for a quid pro quo type of exchange, meaning if Smith handed over whatever it was that he was hiding, Smith then could help Holden in some way, like giving up a narcotic seller, to avoid a charge for whatever Smith was hiding. Supp. Hearing Tr. at 19:3-18.

         Holden next walked back to his police car in order to conduct a name check in the law-enforcement database on both Smith and Naylor. Supp. Hearing Tr. at 20:4-14. He also asked Smith and Naylor to walk from the back of the Lexus to the front of the police car so the he could have a direct view of them from inside his car. Id. at 19:22-20:3. Holden later testified that Smith “had that side to side walk, as if he was holding something in his crotch area and he was trying to walk around it, or hold it in place.” Id. at 21:11-13. Holden's body camera did not pick up a direct view of Smith's walk from one car to the other, but it can be seen for a second on the recording from Officer Vasquez's body camera. Vasquez Video at 4:13-4:19. Holden testified at the suppression hearing that Vasquez's body-camera video showed Smith walking “almost [with] a waddle to the side, and then straight forward.” Supp. Hearing Tr. at 21:22-23.

         After Holden finished running his name check on Smith and Naylor, Holden approached Smith again and continued to question Smith about what he was hiding. Holden Video at 6:15-6:27. Smith was still standing at the front of the police car, where he was (once again) pressing his pelvis against the hood of the car. Id. at 6:19-6:25. According to Holden, this suggested that Smith was “trying to hold something in place in his crotch area.” Supp. Hearing Tr. at 22:11-12. Holden next asked Smith to walk from the front of the police car back to the Lexus and again asked Smith what he was hiding. Holden Video at 6:27-6:40. Once Smith reached the Lexus, he again pressed his pelvis up against the trunk in a stance similar to the one he took against the police car. Id. Holden testified that he did not direct Smith into this position. Supp. Hearing Tr. at 23:6-9. Holden commented on Smith's stance-leaning his pelvis against the Lexus-which prompted Smith to take a step away from the Lexus. Holden Video at 6:35-6:42. Just a second later, though, Smith returned to the same stance, pressing his body against the back of the car. Id. at 6:43.

         Holden then offered to uncuff one of Smith's hands so that Smith could retrieve whatever it was he was hiding. Holden Video at 6:46-6:52. Holden explained that he believed Smith was hiding either narcotics or a weapon, but that he offered to let him grab the object himself because he thought he was building a rapport with Smith. Supp. Hearing Tr. at 24:8-25. Smith responded that he did not have anything on him. Holden Video at 6:52-6:54. The two men continued to engage in a back and forth until Holden eventually again said, “I don't wanna do it the hard way, or the long way.” Id. at 7:10-7:14. Holden testified again that he did not mean this statement to be a threat. Supp. Hearing Tr. at 25:15-23. Smith also told Holden that he needed his help because other individuals were “beating up” his friends on the corner of 54th and Indiana in Chicago. Holden Video at 7:30-8:10. Holden responded that he did not believe the alleged violence was the reason Smith was acting nervous. Id. at 8:12-8:25; see also Supp. Hearing Tr. at 26:5-27:7. Throughout this exchange, Smith kept his pelvis pressed against the trunk of the Lexus. Holden Video at 6:44-8:45.

         Around six-and-a-half minutes after the first pat-down, Holden conducted a second pat-down of Smith. Holden Video at 8:50-9:45. He later described his search as focusing on Smith's legs and said that he “jiggled the pants leg to almost assist [the concealed object] to fall down the leg … still going back up the leg to make sure nothing was stuck, stopping at the seam of the pants, and doing the same thing on the other leg.” Supp. Hearing Tr. at 28:1-5. Holden did not touch Smith's groin area during this search and again Holden recovered nothing. Id. at 28:9-15. Holden then directed Smith to walk back over to the front of the police car. Holden Video at 9:45-9:52. Holden later testified that Smith hesitated before doing so, which raised Holden's suspicions because it seemed to him like Smith did not want to move. Supp. Hearing Tr. at 28:19-29:6. When Smith walked from the Lexus to the police car, Holden noticed that he walked with an “exaggerated limp… as if he was almost injured.” Id. at 29:7-12. Indeed, Holden asked Smith if he was injured, and Smith responded that he had been in a car accident and injured his right leg. Id. at 29:15-30:-7.

         Holden then conducted a third and final pat-down. Holden Video at 10:02-10:10. He focused on Smith's right side because Smith seemed to be favoring that side and Smith had claimed to have had injured that leg. Supp. Hearing Tr. at 30:14-17. Holden described pulling Smith's pants toward him and feeling up into Smith's crotch area, where he felt a hard metal object. Id. at 30:18-23. After questioning Smith about the hard metal object, he eventually recovered a handgun from inside Smith's underwear. Holden Video at 10:10-11:40. Holden testified that he did not reach into Smith's underwear earlier because he “didn't have enough evidence at the time, and I couldn't violate his rights with just going in his pants, so I had to connect the dots to make sure I had enough to go by at the time.” Supp. Hearing Tr. at 33:22-25. The entire traffic stop lasted around 11 minutes. Id. at 33:7-10. Smith has been charged with possession of a firearm by a felon under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Mot. Suppress at 5.

         II. ...

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