Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Scott County, John D. Telleen, Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mullins, J.
The State appeals from a district court decision suppressing evidence of a marijuana growing operation discovered while police were investigating the whereabouts of a reportedly intoxicated and suicidal juvenile runaway. REVERSED AND REMANDED.
Heard by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Tabor and Mullins, JJ.
The State appeals from a district court decision suppressing evidence of a marijuana growing operation seized during a warrantless search of a residence while police were investigating the whereabouts of a reportedly intoxicated and suicidal juvenile runaway. The State argues the search was legitimate under law enforcement's community caretaking function, and probable cause coupled with exigent circumstances justified the search. For the reasons contained herein, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.
In the fleeting hours of October 29, 2010, police officers caught a juvenile male drinking alcohol in a park with a friend. At the time, both the juvenile and the friend were seventeen years old. Officers cited the juvenile for possession of alcohol under the legal age and released him to parental custody.
Early the next morning, the juvenile's parents called police to report an altercation at their home in LeClaire, Iowa. According to his mother, the juvenile became physically and verbally out of control. The juvenile threatened to kill himself with a knife and his mother believed he may follow through with the suicidal threats. The juvenile's parents were "confident that he was under the influence of alcohol and because of his history they thought it was very possible that [he] was [under the influence of] other substances as well, controlled substances." The juvenile fled home on foot. Despite near-freezing temperatures, the juvenile's mother thought he ran from home wearing only a pair of jeans, with no shirt and possibly no shoes.
Initial attempts to locate the juvenile were unsuccessful. A local police officer picked the mother up in a squad car to assist in the search. The officer listed the boy as a juvenile runaway, and contacted neighboring law enforcement agencies for assistance. Meanwhile, the juvenile's father utilized a GPS tracking feature on the juvenile's cell phone to track his location. The GPS indicated the juvenile was within a thirty yard radius of the Pleasant Valley High School parking lot in Bettendorf-approximately eight miles from his home in LeClaire. A Bettendorf police officer used a canine unit to search the Pleasant Valley parking lot and football field. The officer found no trace of the juvenile near the parking lot or the football field.
Upon her arrival to the parking lot, the juvenile's mother realized that her son's friend lived across the street from the juvenile's last known GPS location. The mother indicated to police that the juvenile's friend's last name was York. Police responded to the residence. There were two cars in the driveway. Using license plate numbers, police officers were able to confirm at least one of the cars was registered to a person with the last name York. Police then searched the outside of the home and were unable to find the juvenile. Police noticed a television turned on in an upstairs room and decided to contact the residents.
As police approached the home's double doors, they could hear the television playing from a second-floor room. Officers rang the doorbell. Although officers could hear the doorbell ring within the home, no one responded. Officers rang the doorbell several more times. Again, no one responded. Officers then decided to knock on the door. As soon as the officer's hand made contact with the door, it swung open freely. At that point, officers discovered a door handle had been broken off the door and was lying on the ground outside. An officer later testified the condition of the door appeared to be the result of "a forced entry or burglary situation." Officers requested dispatch call the residence. Officers heard the phone ring, but no one answered.
Officers later explained that given the cars in the driveway and television playing upstairs, they were confident someone was inside the home. With each attempt to contact the residents, officers became more and more concerned "about the welfare of the residents in the home." As one officer explained, "We were concerned that they may be injured or being held against their will inside the residence."
After receiving no response from repeated attempts to contact the residents, officers decided to enter the home to check on the residents' welfare and attempt to locate the juvenile. One officer secured the back entrance to the home, while two officers waited at the front door. Officers then yelled through the front door, "Police department, is anybody there, identify yourself!" Officers repeated, "Police department, is anybody here, is everybody okay" several times. No one responded to the announcements. An officer later explained, "The longer that we continued to announce ourselves and make our presence known without any response our concern for their safety becomes more and more heightened." At that point, officers entered the residence.
A sweep of the main floor revealed that the door leading into the garage was ajar. Officers entered the garage, continually announcing their presence and commanding anyone present to come out. Officers then noticed a pair of feet sticking out behind a small wall in the garage. The subject did not respond to initial commands to come out. After officers informed the subject that they knew he was there and drew their guns, the subject came out from behind the wall. The officers placed the subject in handcuffs and continued to sweep the residence.*fn1
In the basement, officers found Keith York, the defendant and the juvenile's friend's father, sleeping on a couch. Police officers noticed a marijuana pipe and several marijuana "roaches" near the couch. In a bedroom upstairs, officers found Judy York, the defendant's elderly mother, asleep with the television on at a loud ...