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United States v. Alvarado

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

June 6, 2017

United States of America, Plaintiff,
Mario Arreola Alvarado, Defendant.

          R. Steven Whalen Magistrate Judge


          Arthur J. Tarnow Senior United States District Judge

         On February 7, 2017, Defendant Mario Arreola-Alvarado filed a Motion to Suppress Evidence [22] seized from the October 31, 2016 search of his home at 836 Melrose Street in Pontiac, Michigan. The Government responded on March 3, 2017 [23] and the Court heard testimony and observed evidence at the hearing on April 14, 2017.

         At approximately 11:30 PM on October 31, 2016, DEA agents went to Defendant's home at 836 Melrose Street. The Government claims that Defendant and Monica consented to a search of their home. The Government contends that after the unsuccessful walk-through search of the house, Defendant and Monica consented to a search of the detached garage. It was there that the agents found approximately seven kilograms of heroin and one kilogram of cocaine inside a workbench.

         For the reasons explained below, Defendant's Motion to Suppress Evidence [22] is GRANTED. Neither the evidence seized from the Melrose Street residence, nor the statements made to the Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”) agents, can be used at trial against Mario Arreola-Alvarado.

         Statement of Facts

         Mr. Arreola-Alvarado is charged with one count of Possession with Intent to Distribute, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841. This charge stems from the events of Halloween night beginning at 11:30 PM, when DEA agents went to Defendant's home after arresting Marco Andrade and Alex Leyva, two other individuals thought to be working with Defendant for the same drug trafficking organization. Both parties agree that 1) between seven and nine agents went to Defendant's home, 2) the agents did not have a search warrant or arrest warrant, 3) the agents carried weapons, and a number of them wore military-style raid gear, when they approached Defendant's house, and 4) it took at least 20 minutes for Defendant and/or Monica to consent to a search of the garage after no drugs were found in the house. It is also undisputed that the DEA had been investigating Andrade, Leyva, and the Melrose Street residence for approximately six months. The DEA's information linked Andrade and Leyva to a drug trafficking organization that moves large quantities of cocaine and heroin from Mexico into the U.S. They also knew from prior surveillance that certain individuals under investigation were associated with 836 Melrose.

         At approximately 6:30 PM on October 31, DEA agents observed a meeting between Andrade and Levya. The agents subsequently conducted two vehicle stops and recovered more than one kilo of heroin from Andrade. According to Special Agent Michael Brouillard, Andrade and Levya provided information that led the agents to Defendant's home. Although neither Leyva nor Andrade could alert anyone within the organization at that point, Agent Brouillard did not feel he could wait to act on the tip and decided at some time between 9 and 10 PM to go to 836 Melrose.

         The agents arrived at Defendant's home - which was described as small and less than 1000 square feet in size - in unmarked police vehicles at approximately 11:30 PM. At that time, the agents had their suspicions about the residence but were unsure of who lived there. The flashing lights on the top of a marked Michigan State Police K-9 police vehicle, which was also present at the scene, remained on throughout the course of the encounter.

         All of the agents at Defendant's home that night were armed and several wore raid gear and helmets. Special Agent Jim O'Neil said that his gun was pointed at the windows of the house prior to entry. Brouillard confirmed that someone looking out of the window would have seen the agents pointing their guns at the home. Some of the agents shined flashlights into the house.

         The parties dispute the facts surrounding the agents' initial entry into Defendant's residence, whether consent to search the house and garage were separately given, and if so, whether that consent was voluntary. The Court will examine the testimony of the Defendant's witness, Monica Alvarado, and the testimony of the Government witnesses, Agents Brouillard, Scott Czopek, and Jim O'Neil.

         A. The Testimony of Monica Alvarado

         Defendant woke up his wife, Monica, after hearing banging on the front door of his home. When Monica walked to the living room and looked out of the window, she saw “a line-up of men pointing guns at me, ” and felt “shocked and scared and confused.” (Tr. at 177:1-4). The agents demanded that Defendant open the door and threatened to knock it down. Although Monica protested, Defendant obeyed because he was concerned that the agents would scare his children.

         Agent O'Neil and another agent walked inside as soon as Defendant opened the front door. They had their guns drawn out and aimed towards Monica and Defendant as they entered, and they immediately began asking, “what's your legal status, what's your legal status?” Id. at 179:18-20. They said that they needed to do a welfare check, and proceeded to walk through the house. Monica did not remember whether they asked permission to do this. The other agents “rushed in and they were all pointing high magnitude rifles at us.” Id. at 182:2-5. Monica “put [her] hands up because [she] got scared and it was very confused.” Id. at 182:5-6. She did not remember exactly how many agents were present, but testified that “[i]t looked like a small army had walked into the house.” Id. at 182:11-12.

         Monica first ordered the agents to leave after they concluded their walkthrough of the house. They refused and demanded to be allowed to search the garage. Monica asked them to produce a search warrant. The agents then gave to Monica a document indicating that she consented to the search. Monica refused to sign it and said, “I want everybody in this room to know . . . the reason why I'm not signing this . . . piece of paper [is] because I have been threatened. I have been bullied and I was harassed.” Id. at 189:18-21.

         After Monica told Agent O'Neil that he needed a warrant to search the garage, he said, “we're going to do things the hard way . . . we're going to call immigration on you and they're going to take you away . . . we're also going to take your children away. And we will obtain that search warrant and . . . we're going to destroy your house from the ground up.” Id. at 190: 4-14. O'Neil did not believe Monica after she informed him that she was a U.S. citizen, so she gave him her driver's license and Concealed Pistol License (“CPL”). Still, she felt uneasy; “[h]ere I am in my home with all ...

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