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United States v. Vannoy

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

February 22, 2018

United States of America, Plaintiff,
Tyrone Vannoy, Defendant.


          Sean F. Cox United States District Court Judge

         In July 2017, Detroit police officers discovered a handgun in Defendant's vehicle after stopping it because it had crossed over the center lane and had an invalid license plate. Defendant has filed a Motion to Dismiss the felon in possession charge against him, seeking to suppress all evidence taken from the traffic stop. For the reasons below, the Court concludes that both the initial stop, and subsequent inventory search of Defendant's vehicle, did not violate the Fourth Amendment. Thus, the Court shall deny Defendant's motion.


         On August 22, 2017, Defendant was indicted on one charge of felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) (Doc. # 11). He has filed a Motion to Dismiss, seeking to suppress all evidence obtained during the traffic stop, thereby resulting in dismissal of the charge. (Doc. # 23). The Court held an evidentiary hearing on his motion on February 16, 2018.

         At the hearing, the Government presented two witnesses: ATF Special Agent Jameria Caldwell and Detroit Police Officer Yossif Mana. The Government also introduced as exhibits Michigan Secretary of State records for Defendant's vehicle and video footage from the body camera of Detroit Police Officer Michael Bailey. Defendant called Officer Bailey as a witness and also testified on his own behalf. Defendant also introduced as exhibits video footage from the dash camera of the officers' squad car and two photographs of Defendant's vehicle. Per the parties' agreement, and for the purposes of the motion hearing only, the Court has also considered the information that is the subject of a sealed protective order filed by the Government (Doc. # 30).

         Having heard and observed the witnesses who testified at the evidentiary hearing, allowing for this Court to assess credibility, having considered the exhibits submitted by the parties, having considered the arguments presented by counsel, and having applied the governing legal principles, the Court makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.[1]


         At about 10:20 p.m. on July 21, 2017, Detroit Police Department Officers Yossif Mana and Michael Bailey were traveling eastbound on Harper Avenue towards Yorkshire Road when they observed a Ford Econoline van in front of them briefly swerve over the double-yellow lines in the center of the road. Approximately half of the van crossed into the other lane of traffic before returning to the correct side of the road. The swerve was apparently prompted by a vehicle in the parking lane swerving towards the van.

         After observing the van cross the center lines, Officer Mana ran the van's license plate in a law enforcement database and discovered that the Michigan Secretary of State had deemed the plate invalid. Secretary of State records indicate that the plate had been listed as invalid since April 2017 due to fraudulent application or insurance. The registered owner of the van was Keeana Renee Christian.

         Having run the plates, the officers illuminated the vehicle with their spotlights, upon which they observed the driver make a furtive gesture towards the rear floorboard area of the van. This, in their training and experience, looked consistent with an attempt to conceal a weapon or contraband. Upon observing this, Officer Bailey commented that the driver had “just stuffed it in the backseat.” The officers activated their emergency lights and initiated a traffic stop.[2] The officers approached the van and made contact with the driver, Defendant Tyrone Vannoy. Defendant, without any prompting, immediately told Officer Bailey that “she cut me off.” Officer Bailey then had Defendant leave the vehicle. He told Defendant that he saw him swerve, to which Defendant responded that “she swerved over into me.” While conducting a pat down search of Defendant, Officer Bailey also discovered some marijuana on his person. Defendant acknowledged this fact and also told Officer Bailey that there was no marijuana in the van.

         After the officers removed Defendant from the vehicle, Officer Bailey searched the van. The search was done under Detroit Police Department policy, which provides that an officer must conduct an inventory search of any vehicle they impound. The policy also provides that a vehicle may be impounded when, as here, the vehicle's license plate is invalid. During this search, Officer Bailey discovered a loaded handgun on the van's rear floorboard. The officers then arrested Defendant and impounded the van.

         Defendant contradicts this account, maintaining that he never crossed into the center lane (he does not, however, dispute that his license plate was invalid). But the Court does not find him to be a credible witness due to the multiple inconsistencies in his testimony. For instance, Defendant testified that a vehicle in the parking lane swerved over and almost hit him yet, despite this, he did not swerve or react and instead continued to go straight. But when Defendant was first approached by Officer Bailey, he almost immediately exclaimed that another vehicle had swerved into him. The Court finds this to be a persuasive indication that Defendant was well aware that he had crossed the center line. The Court also finds that Defendant's credibility was further diminished by his testimony that he did not have marijuana on his person but that some was in the van, which is precisely the opposite of what he told Officer Bailey.

         Instead, it is the police officers' testimony that the Court finds to be credible. The officers' description of Defendant's driving is corroborated by their statements and by Defendant's statements during the traffic stop. That the officers may not remember precisely how much time elapsed between the violation and the stop or the precise location that the violation occurred does not diminish their credibility.

         CONCLUSIONS ...

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