United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
Judge David R. Grand
OPINION REGARDING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS
EVIDENCE FROM THE JANUARY 21, 2015 SEARCH 
E. LEVY, United States District Judge
January 21, 2015, three Michigan State Police Troopers went
to an address on Abbott in River Rouge, Michigan, to arrest
defendant Kenneth Wooten. The address was a two-story house
containing a downstairs and upstairs apartment, the latter of
which the Troopers learned was defendant's residence.
When they arrived, two Troopers remained in the front of the
house, and the third went around to the back of the house.
The lead Trooper knocked on the exterior front door, and a
woman inside the upstairs apartment told him she would be
right down. She did not come down.
Trooper stationed at the rear of the house saw a shadow
through the blinds of the upstairs apartment, which looked
like at least one person moving around and doing something
with their hands at waist level. The Trooper who knocked on
the front door kept knocking and ringing the bell. Eventually
the tenant in the downstairs apartment, an unidentified
woman, answered the door. That Trooper showed her a picture
of Wooten, and she identified the picture as “Ken,
” the man who lived upstairs.
Troopers in front then entered the house, went upstairs, and
knocked on the door of the upstairs apartment. When they
arrived, Wooten's girlfriend answered the door, which she
did by opening it a few inches and leaving the security chain
in place. Following a request by the Troopers to search the
house to look for Wooten, his girlfriend consented to the
search for the limited purpose of looking for Wooten inside
the house. While outside the upstairs apartment and while
searching the house, the Troopers smelled marijuana and found
evidence of what they believed to be drug-dealing activity.
The lead Trooper sought permission from Wooten's
girlfriend to conduct a full search of the property, and was
denied. The Troopers then contacted the Downriver Area
Narcotics Agency (“DRANO”) with the information
they discovered, and DRANO obtained a search warrant for the
residence. The search warrant was executed later that night,
and DRANO found marijuana, materials used in drug
trafficking, two handguns, and mail addressed to Wooten at
the Abbott address.
February 14, 2017, Wooten filed a motion to suppress the
evidence obtained from the searches. (Dkt. 34.) The Court
held oral argument on the motion on May 9, 2017, and an
evidentiary hearing on July 6, 2017.
was indicted on January 21, 2016. (Dkt. 11.) The indictment
contains four counts: one count of felon in possession of a
firearm, arising from events on January 21, 2015, and counts
of possession with intent to distribute a controlled
substance, possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug
trafficking crime, and felon in possession of a firearm, each
arising from events on January 8, 2016. On February 14, 2017,
defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence found in
the two searches of his home on January 21, 2015. (Dkt. 34.)
Court held a hearing on the motion on May 9, 2017. Following
the hearing, the Court determined that an evidentiary hearing
should be held to resolve the factual disputes between the
parties regarding whether the Troopers executing the arrest
warrant had permission or justification to enter the common
area of the home in which defendant lived. That hearing was
held on July 6, 2017. The factual background below is drawn
from that hearing.
January 21, 2015, three Troopers assembled to execute an
arrest warrant for Kenneth Wooten: Benjamin Sonstrom, Bradley
Conner, and John Tibaudo. Wooten had come to Sonstrom's
attention because, at some point in 2014, he conducted a
traffic stop involving Wooten. (Hearing Tr. at 6-7.) Sonstrom
could not recall the exact date of the stop at the hearing.
(Id. at 45.) During that stop, Sonstrom found what
he believed to be heroin on Wooten's person, and arrested
Wooten. (Id. at 7.) Wooten was fingerprinted and
released pending laboratory analysis of the substance found
in his car. (Id.) Sonstrom made a warrant request of
the Wayne County prosecutor's office for Wooten's
arrest. (Id.) Sonstrom testified that the time
between an initial arrest and a warrant issuing from the
prosecutor's office could be “at a very minimum . .
. a couple of months . . . “up to a couple of a
years.” (Id. at 8.)
point, the prosecutor's office issued the arrest warrant,
and on January 21, 2015, Sonstrom assembled Conner and
Tibaudo to execute the warrant with him. (Id. at 9,
71.) The Troopers went to the Abbott Street address Wooten
provided during the traffic stop that led to the arrest
warrant, at around 9 P.M. (Id. at 46, 48.) Sonstrom
obtained the address, and provided it to the other Troopers,
who had no other independent knowledge about Wooten or where
he lived. (Id. at 102, 105.) No other surveillance
was done to establish that the Abbott Street address was
Wooten's, or what his regular schedule was. (Id.
at 48.) Each of them drove separately to the Abbott Street
address in River Rouge. (Id. at 11.) The address was
identified as Wooten's residence based on the
drivers' license he provided at the 2014 traffic stop.
(Id. at 12.) When the Troopers arrived, Sonstrom
directed Tibaudo to go to the rear of the residence, and for
Conner to provide backup at the front of the residence.
(Id. at 13.)
Abbott Street address was a single-family home divided into
two apartments, with one apartment on the lower floor and one
on the upper floor. (Id. at 14-15.) Sonstrom could
not remember whether he knocked on the door or rang a
doorbell, but he did one or the other when each Trooper was
in position. (Id. at 15.) After Sonstrom did so, a
woman looked out of a window in the second-floor apartment
and said she would be down to open the door. (Id. at
16.) She did not come down, and the Troopers waited for
several minutes. (Id. at 17.)
stationed in the rear of the house, saw through closed,
backlit curtains in a window a single figure in the upstairs
apartment moving around. (Id. at 76.) This made him
believe there were two people in the house. (Id. at
78.) Tibaudo told Conner “that there's someone up
in this top right bedroom or whatever it is, top right
room.” (Id.) Sonstrom also recalls being
informed by Tibaudo of the presence and movement of the
person in the window. (Id. at 17-18.) It indicated
to him that “[s]omebody's up there and
somebody's not coming down. It gives us the impression
that somebody might be trying to hide.” (Id.
continued to knock on the front door, and testified that he
did not know whether the door was locked or unlocked.
(Id.) Conner also testified that he did not know if
the door was locked, and did not “think it was ever
checked.” (Id. at 110.) After a few minutes, a
woman opened the front door, who appeared to be the resident
of the first-floor apartment. (Id. at 20.) Sonstrom
showed her a picture of Wooten, and she identified Wooten as
the man who lived in the upstairs apartment. (Id.)
Sonstrom does not remember the conversation he had with the
woman regarding entry into the house, but noticed a common
area leading to the woman's apartment and a stairwell up
to the second-floor apartment. (Id. at 21.) After
talking to the woman, he and Conner entered the building and
went up the stairs to the second-floor apartment.
(Id. at 23, 109.) Neither Sonstrom nor Conner stated
that they asked for permission to enter the house. When they
began to go up, they alerted ...