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United States v. Edwards

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

October 28, 2019

United States of America, Plaintiff,
v.
Terin Edwards, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS

          SEAN F. COX, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         Defendant Terin Edwards has moved to suppress evidence obtained after the car in which he was a passenger was stopped and searched by police officers. Edwards argues that the officers violated the Fourth Amendment by searching the car and detaining him after the purpose of the stop had been completed. Because of these alleged Constitutional violations, Edwards seeks to suppress the gun that was found under his seat and statements that he made while detained. For the reasons below, the Court will deny Edwards's motion.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On July 16, 2019, a grand jury indicted Edwards on one count of felon-in-possession of a firearm. (ECF No. 12). On August 28, 2019, Edwards filed this motion to suppress all evidence obtained from a traffic stop that occurred on May 31, 2019. (ECF No. 18). Edwards argues that his continued detention, the manner in which he was detained, and the search of the car violated the Fourth Amendment. The Government responded, (ECF No. 21) and Edwards filed a reply. (ECF No. 24). The Court held an evidentiary hearing on October 11, 2019.

         At the hearing, the Government called two witnesses: Sergeant Eric Hix and Deputy Paul Flaviani, both of the Oakland County Sheriff's Department. It also introduced five exhibits: (1) the Department's case report for the May 31, 2019 stop, (2) a copy of the Department's impound policy, (3) the impound slip for the car in which Edwards was a passenger, (4) dash-cam video from Hix's patrol car, and (5) video from the rear passenger seat of Flaviani's patrol car. Edwards did not call any witnesses or introduce any exhibits.

         Now, having heard and observed the witnesses who testified at the evidentiary hearing, allowing for the Court to assess credibility, having considered the exhibits submitted by the parties, [1]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.[2]

         FINDINGS OF FACT

         On May 31, 2019, Sergeant Eric Hix was patrolling an area of Pontiac, Michigan in a fully marked patrol car. As he turned left onto Emerson Avenue, he passed a blue Chevrolet Impala that was stopped at a red light. Hix recognized the Impala's driver, Jacquan Fletcher, and the passenger, Defendant Terin Edwards.

         Hix knew both Fletcher and Edwards. Hix had previously stopped Fletcher in that same Impala and recovered a handgun from under the passenger seat. In a separate incident, Fletcher had led Hix on a car chase that resulted in a crash and Fletcher's arrest after he continued the chase on foot. And Fletcher's name had come to Hix's attention again in the days leading up to May 31, 2019, when another officer informed Hix that Fletcher was somehow connected to an ongoing investigation. The officer had informed Hix that Fletcher was wanted on an outstanding warrant and that his driver's license was suspended.

         Edwards had a similarly unpleasant history with Hix. Edwards's name had come up in several of Hix's investigations, and Hix was present when Edwards was arrested on a parole violation related to possessing a firearm. During the execution of that arrest, officers found a gun in Edwards's house.

         Armed with the knowledge that Fletcher had an outstanding arrest warrant and was driving without a license, Hix turned his car around and began following the Impala. At this point, Hix had decided to stop the car and arrest Fletcher but, because of the men's criminal history, Hix did not want to make the stop and arrest on his own. He radioed for back-up and continued to follow the Impala.

         Hix's plan to wait for backup was cut short when Fletcher turned into the parking lot of an apartment complex. Hix, uncomfortable with the idea of the men leaving the Impala, turned on his overhead lights. Immediately after the lights went on, Hix saw Edwards “dip” his shoulder, as if he was concealing or retrieving something from under his seat. This movement gave Hix a heightened level of concern for his safety.

         Fletcher parked the Impala in the apartment complex's driveway. Hix left his patrol car and, as he approached Fletcher on the driver's side of the car, looked at Edwards diagonally through the rear window. He saw that Edwards's hands were empty. Hix informed Fletcher about why he had stopped the car, and Fletcher admitted that he had a suspended license and outstanding warrants. Hix ordered Fletcher to step out of the car and placed him under arrest.

         As Hix was arresting Fletcher, Edwards began grabbing at the door handle and asking whether he could or should leave the car. Hix told him to stay in the car and to keep his hands in sight. Despite these instructions, Edwards “bladed” away from Hix and Hix lost sight of his hands. Hix put his hand on his gun and ordered Edwards to stop moving.

         At this point, other Oakland County Sheriff's deputies, including Deputy Flaviani, arrived on the scene. As Hix led Fletcher to his patrol car, he informed his fellow officers that he suspected that Edwards had hidden something under his seat. Deputies Wilson and Flaviani approached Edwards, ordered him to step out of the vehicle, and immediately handcuffed him. At the evidentiary hearing, Hix explained that Edwards was handcuffed for officer safety.

         As Wilson led Edwards to a patrol car, Flaviani ducked his head into the car through the open passenger door. He immediately saw a handgun under the front passenger seat. At this point, Edwards was either being put in the backseat of a patrol car or had been already placed in the backseat of a patrol car. When the gun was found, roughly two minutes and fifteen seconds had elapsed from the initiation of the traffic stop, and roughly thirty five seconds had elapsed since Edwards had been handcuffed. The deputies placed Edwards under arrest for carrying a concealed weapon and for being a felon in possession of a firearm.

         Hix determined that the Impala needed to be towed and impounded because it had been used in a crime, there was no available driver, and the car was blocking access to the apartment complex. The deputies searched all areas of the car to inventory its contents. During this search, a white SUV attempted to drive out of the apartment complex, but the ...


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