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United States v. Garrett

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

December 16, 2019

United States of America
Detonya Garrett



         Detonya Garrett is charged with four counts of narcotics and firearms crimes. Before me is his motion to suppress evidence the government obtained as a result of law enforcement's September 11, 2017, search of a Park Forest, Illinois, apartment and the seizure and subsequent search of a safe discovered in an enclosed space under the staircase of that apartment. The government opposes the motion on the grounds that Garrett was a trespasser with no legitimate expectation of privacy in the Park Forest apartment, and that Park Forest police officers entered the apartment with the property owner's permission. After an evidentiary hearing, I allowed the parties to file additional written submissions. Having considered the arguments and evidence of record, I deny the motion for the reasons that follow.


         On September 5, 2017, Leonard Hill, a real estate broker with Carrington Real Estate Services (“Carrington”), called the Park Forest police department to report that someone appeared to be occupying a bank-owned property located at 467 Victory Drive, which Carrington had listed for sale on the bank's behalf, and which was supposed to be vacant.[1] Mr. Hill called police after discovering that the locks on the property had been changed; that his key no longer worked; and that the lockbox and Carrington's marketing literature had been removed from the property.

         Hill posted a pre-printed notice captioned “Options as an Occupant, ” to which he added the handwritten words, “you are trespassing, ” on the front door of the property. Tr. of 11/01/2019 Hr'g. at 9. Hill affixed his business card to the notice and requested the occupant to call him by 5:00 p.m. that day. Hill did not hear from the occupant that day.

         Based on the bank's instruction to “work out some reasonable means” to gain entry to the property, id. at 16, Hill returned to the property with a police escort the following day. Commander Baugh, one of the officers who accompanied Hill, examined the exterior of the residence and discovered that electric and water services were functioning. Id. at 27. Hill and the officers knocked on the door and rang the doorbell, but no one answered. Id. at 12. Hill asked police officers not to force entry at that time, as he believed the occupant was possibly the victim of a scam, id. at 17. Hill posted a second “Options as an Occupant” notice on the door, again requesting that the occupant call him that day. Hill also asked the police to perform “residence checks” over the next several days to try and make contact with the occupant, but officers were unable to make contact with anyone at the property. Id. at 41.

         Two or three days later, Garrett called Hill and asked him to stop posting notices on his door, explaining that he answered an ad on Craigslist to rent the property and was not trespassing. Id. at 13, 77. Hill explained that the property was for sale, not for rent. Id. at 13. Meanwhile, Commander Baugh directed Officer Malachowski to contact the Park Forest water department to determine who, if anyone, had obtained authorization for water services. Id. at 28. The water department informed the officers on two separate occasions that the water service had not been activated legally, so “any water that was on at that residence had been illegally obtained.” Id. at 28, 29.

         On September 11, 2017, Park Forest police officers responded to a call from Nicholas Wolotowsky, a maintenance worker who had been hired by the property owner to shut off the water service and “winterize” the Victory Drive property.[2] Id. at 29-31. Wolotowsky reported hearing voices inside the property as he was drilling the front door lock to gain access to the residence. Id. at 31. Police accompanied Wolotowsky inside the house and found it unoccupied, with a television on in an upstairs bedroom, a baggy containing a small quantity of a green leafy substance they suspected (and later confirmed) was marijuana on the TV stand, and other personal effects. Id. at 32-33.

         Also in the bedroom, the officers found a document purporting to be a lease for 467 Victory Drive, which identified “Thomas Weatherspoon” as the landlord and “Detony Garrett” as the tenant. Together with the lease was a receipt for payment of $3, 250 by Detony Garrett to Thomas Weatherspoon with the notation “Deposit for 467 Victory Drive Park Forest.” The officers also found utility documents addressed to Detonya Garrett at the Victory Drive address. Id. at 43-43, 52-53; Mot., Exh. 1 at 12, DN 25-1.

         As officers searched the property, Wolotowsky continued his work, which required him to access the water shutoff valve located in an area behind an access door secured by screws underneath the front staircase. There, Wolotowsky found a safe and alerted the officers to its presence. Commander Baugh seized the safe and took it to the Park Forest police station while Sergeant Sweitzer and Officer Elyyan remained at the property. Garrett later arrived at the property, where he told Sweitzer that he had rented the property from an individual he contacted through Craigslist. See Mot., Exh. 1 at 4; H'rg Tr. at 79. Sweitzer advised Garrett to contact the Park Forest Police Department regarding the fraudulent lease of the property. Mot., Exh. 1 at 4.

         Garrett testified at the hearing about how he came to reside at 467 Victory Drive. He again stated that he learned of the listing through Craigslist, and that after calling the contact identified in the ad, he made arrangements with “Woody” to visit the property. H'rg Tr. at 69-71. Woody showed Garrett the property and told him the rent would be $1250 per month, with Garrett responsible for utilities. Id. at 71. Garrett returned to the property two days later, where he met Woody and “Tommy, ” signed a lease he did not read, received a receipt for a cash payment, and obtained keys to the property. Id. at 72-75. Garrett moved into the property on or around September 1, 2017.

         Garrett testified that after receiving Hill's second trespassing notice, he tried contacting Woody then called Hill because he “knew something was going on fishy.” Id. at 84, 85. Garrett told Hill that he was not trespassing, but he does not claim to have taken any further action to investigate the legitimacy of his claim to the property prior to September 11, when he arrived to find Park Forest police officers there to evict him. Garrett testified that he then called Carrington Bank a few days later and told the person he spoke to that he was “in a fraud situation” and had made arrangements with Hill to remove his belongings from the property. Id. at 77, 78.

         Meanwhile, Baugh continued his investigation by calling Carrington Real Estate Services, which confirmed that the Victory Drive property was owned by the bank. Commander Baugh also called the Park Forest Building Department and discovered that no occupancy permit had been granted for 467 Victory Drive. Hr'g. Tr. at 37-38.

         On October 2, 2017, Alex Bregin of the Investigations Division was assigned to investigate possible criminal activity involving 467 Victory Drive. Bregin spoke with Commander Baugh, reviewed his police reports, and reviewed the residential lease obtained from the property. Baugh observed several irregularities in the document, including that it lacked an address or any contact information for the named landlord, Thomas Weatherspoon; that it lacked a current address for the prospective tenant; and that although the it contained provisions stating, “The landlord agrees to supply the following utilities to the tenant, ” and “The tenant agrees to obtain and pay for the following utilities, ” both fields were blank. Mot., Exh. 1 at 14; Hr'g Tr. at 53-54. In addition, Bregin observed that where the lease called for alternative disclosures by the landlord regarding the possible presence of lead-based paint, both alternatives were marked “N/A.” Mot., Exh. 1 at 15[3]; Hr'g Tr. at 55-56. Finally, Bregin noted that where the lease provided spaces for the tenant to acknowledge the receipt of certain information and the waiver of certain rights, each of the spaces following the instruction, “Tenant to initial all applicable” contained the typewritten initials “DG.” As Bregin observed, these initials ...

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