United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Eastern Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
JON STUART SCOLES, Chief Magistrate Judge.
On the 19th day of August, 2014, this matter came on for hearing on the Motion to Suppress (docket number 21) filed by the Defendant on August 8, 2014. The Government was represented by Special Assistant United States Attorney Lisa C. Williams. Defendant Adam Michael Cade-Gilson appeared in person and was represented by his attorney, Max S. Wolson.
II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On July 23, 2014, Defendant Adam Michael Cade-Gilson was charged by Indictment with possession of firearms and ammunition by a felon. Defendant appeared on July 30, and entered a plea of not guilty. Trial was scheduled before Chief Judge Linda R. Reade on September 29, 2014.
On August 8, 2014, Defendant timely filed the instant motion to suppress. The Government filed its resistance on August 18. Defendant filed a post-hearing reply on August 20.
III. ISSUE PRESENTED
Defendant, a convicted felon, was charged after two handguns and ammunition were found in his vehicle during a traffic stop on May 2, 2014. Defendant argues that the stop lacked probable cause or reasonable suspicion and, therefore, the evidence must be suppressed.
IV. RELEVANT FACTS
In February 2014, Officer Nicholas Berry of the Waterloo Police Department, who is currently assigned to the Tri-County Drug Enforcement Task Force, received information that Samuel Hirsch was involved in the distribution of methamphetamine from his home. Officers started conducting surveillance, including "drive-bys" at the Hirsch residence. During the next few weeks, Berry developed a "secondary source" that was used to conduct a "controlled payment" to Hirsch.
On February 24, 2014, investigators used the secondary source to contact Hirsch and order a quantity of methamphetamine. Officers observed Hirsch leave his residence, enter a vehicle, and then leave the area, together with a second vehicle. Officer Berry and other investigators followed Hirsch to the meeting place and seized a quantity of methamphetamine from Hirsch. The driver of the second vehicle was identified as Jennifer Zavala. A search warrant was obtained for Hirsch's house, resulting in the seizure of between two and three ounces of methamphetamine, over $11, 000 in cash, and other evidence of drug distribution, including drug ledgers, packaging, and scales.
Jennifer Zavala, the driver of the second vehicle, was questioned repeatedly during the days following February 24. Zavala had been staying for a period of time at the Hirsch residence. Zavala admitted that she had a source who was obtaining large quantities of methamphetamine, which she would then give or sell to Hirsch. According to Zavala, who has "ties" to the Fort Dodge area, she stopped providing Hirsch with methamphetamine following February 24.
Investigators learned from "a couple of other sources" that Hirsch was continuing to distribute methamphetamine from his residence after February 24, although in smaller quantities. As part of his investigation, Officer Berry attempted to find out information regarding Hirsch's family, acquaintances, and other contacts. On May 2, 2014, Berry observed a silver Cadillac Escalade parked at Hirsch's residence, which he had not seen before. By calling in the license plate, investigators learned that the registered owner was Joshua Pendleton. The address on the registration was Carroll, Iowa, but Berry was told by dispatch that the address on Pendleton's driver's license was Fort Dodge. According to Berry, Carroll and Fort Dodge are "in close proximity."
Officers conducted surveillance on the residence and observed people leaving the residence and "mingling" around and in the Escalade. Jennifer Zavala was not observed at the scene, and, because of the Fort Dodge connection, Officer Berry believed that the driver of the vehicle may be Hirsch's new drug source. Officers briefly left the area, but when Berry returned a short time later, the vehicle was gone. Berry then found the vehicle at a nearby convenience store. The driver of the vehicle, who was later identified as Defendant, was gassing the vehicle, while a female passenger appeared to be emptying trash.
When the Escalade left the convenience store, Officer Berry followed. He pulled up directly behind the vehicle when it stopped at a stop light. At that time, Berry "observed that the license plate sat lower and partially blocked some of the letters for the county and then also almost three quarters of the actual registration sticker." Berry acknowledged that he was able to read the county name, but testified that he was unable to read the registration sticker. Berry, who was in plain clothes and driving an unmarked vehicle, then called another law enforcement agency to conduct a vehicle stop.
Tama County Deputy Sheriff Casey Schmidt testified that shortly after 6:00 p.m. on May 2, 2014, he was contacted by Officer Berry. Berry advised Schmidt that he was following a vehicle southbound on Highway 63 that was going to be entering Tama County, and that he would like the vehicle stopped. Berry told Schmidt that "some sort of instrument or device was hanging from the rearview mirror of the vehicle and that the plate was also obscured." Schmidt located the vehicle at approximately 6:30 p.m. and initiated a traffic stop. Prior to pulling the vehicle over, Schmidt did not observe any speeding or erratic driving. Schmidt noticed, however, that half of the county name on the license plate was not visible, and he could not read the registration sticker. Schmidt observed something hanging from the rearview mirror, but "could not make out exactly what it was due to the tinted window in the rear window."
Both parties introduced photographs depicting the rear license plate area and rearview mirror area on the vehicle Defendant was driving. Government's Exhibit 1 and Defendant's Exhibit D-4 show that the bottom portion of the word "Carroll, " representing the county of registration, is blocked by a "step" which appears to be built in to the Escalade's bumper. While neither party offered precise measurements, the Court estimates that approximately the bottom one-third of the letters is obscured. The bumper-step also obscures approximately one-half of the registration sticker which is found in the lower lefthand corner of the license plate. ...