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United States v. Sykes

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Eastern Division

April 21, 2017



          C.J. Williams Chief United States Magistrate Judge.


         This case is before me pursuant to defendant's motion to suppress evidence allegedly seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. (Doc. 11). The grand jury charged defendant in a one-count indictment with possession of a firearm as a felon. (Doc. 2). The charge arose from an incident on December 4, 2016, when Waterloo police officers encountered defendant while responding to a report at a laundromat where a woman found a loaded handgun magazine in a laundry basket. As a result of conducting a pat down search of defendant, officers discovered a handgun in his pants. In his motion to suppress, defendant argues that the officer lacked a reasonable articulable basis to conduct the pat-down search. Defendant argues, therefore, that the Court should suppress evidence of the firearm discovered as a result of the allegedly unlawful detention and search, and any incriminating statements defendant made after the firearm was seized.

         The Honorable Linda R. Reade, United States District Court Judge, referred this motion to me for a report and recommendation. On Monday, April 17, 2017, I held an evidentiary hearing on defendant's motion at which Waterloo Police Officers Ryan Muhlenbruch and Luke Lamere testified, and the Court admitted into evidence a videotape from Officer Muhlenbruch's body camera (Exhibit A), and the officers' reports (Exhibit 1). At the conclusion of the hearing, I invited the parties to submit additional legal authority regarding two of the sub-issues identified below. Each party submitted additional authorities and arguments in emails they sent me.

         For the reasons that follow, I respectfully recommend that the Court deny defendant's motion to suppress.


         On December 4, 2016, at approximately 11:50 p.m., Waterloo Police Officer Ryan Muhlenbruch was dispatched to a laundromat in Waterloo, Iowa. Officer Muhlenbruch drove an unmarked police car. There, he met with a patron, Angie Lindsey, in the parking lot in front of the laundromat, approximately 100 feet away from the front door. The front of the laundromat has large plate-glass windows on either side of double doors. The double doors are glass doors.

         Lindsey told Officer Muhlenbruch that she found a loaded .40 caliber handgun magazine in a laundry basket she was using while inside the laundromat. Lindsey gave the magazine to Officer Muhlenbruch. Lindsey stated that she had taken some of her clothes out of one of the dryers in the laundromat and placed them in a laundry basket. There was no handgun magazine in the laundry basket at that time. When Lindsey later took her clothes back out of the basket, she found the loaded handgun magazine in the basket. Lindsey told Officer Muhlenbruch that there were only two other males in the laundromat at the time, and that she had seen them near the laundry basket at one point. Lindsey emphasized that she did not know if those males had anything to do with the magazine, but that they were the only other people present at the time. Finally, Lindsey told Officer Muhlenbruch those same two men were still in the laundromat, having just walked back into the laundromat from their car.

         By the time Officer Muhlenbruch arrived, there were several more people in the laundromat. Officer Muhlenbruch had Lindsey look into the laundromat from the parking lot and describe which of the people inside the laundromat were the men she saw present when she found the handgun magazine. Lindsey described the two men as black males wearing black clothes. By this time, there was another person wearing tan standing with those two men. Lindsey stated the person in tan was not present at the time she found the handgun magazine. The entirety of this conversation is captured on Officer Muhlenbruch's body camera and I only summarize it here. (Exhibit A).

         Officer Muhlenbruch requested assistance and Officer Lamere responded to the laundromat. Officer Lamere drove a marked police vehicle. He pulled up in front of the laundromat as Officer Muhlenbruch approached the laundromat on foot from the parking lot. The officers approached from the left side of the laundromat, crossing in front of two large plate-glass windows on the left side of the glass entrance door. Defendant was standing in an aisle inside the laundromat on the left side, approximately twenty feet from the front windows. It appears from the video that defendant was facing the windows at the time.

         Officers Muhlenbruch and Lamere, both in uniform, then entered the laundromat. They approached the two men identified by Lindsey, who were standing in an aisle on the left side of the laundromat. Defendant was still facing the front of the laundromat when the officers entered. As the officers approached, defendant turned and walked briskly toward the back of the laundromat. Officer Muhlenbruch testified that he did not make eye contact with defendant before defendant turned, but Officer Lamere said he did make eye contact with defendant before defendant turned and walked away.[1]

         Officer Muhlenbruch quickly followed defendant, taking a different route between the washing machines. Officer Muhlenbruch could see defendant's head, but could not see the rest of his body until they both emerged from rows of machines in an aisle on the right side of the laundromat. Defendant had passed an exit in the rear of the laundromat and entered a bathroom. Officer Muhlenbruch reached the bathroom just as defendant had entered it and closed the door. Officer Muhlenbruch opened the door and asked defendant to come out of the bathroom, indicating he just needed a minute of defendant's time. Defendant complied. Officer Muhlenbruch grabbed hold of the sleeve of defendant's sweatshirt and guided defendant out of the bathroom. Officer Muhlenbruch testified that he did not see a bulge in defendant's clothing indicative that defendant was armed at any time during his encounter with defendant.

         Officer Muhlenbruch asked for defendant's identification, but defendant indicated that he did not have any identification. Officer Muhlenbruch then announced that he was going to pat down defendant for weapons. Officer Muhlenbruch still had a hold of defendant's sleeve and he directed defendant in a manner to face the wall. In response and as defendant was turning toward the wall, defendant said something like “I got my homey's” and pointed toward his waist. Officer Muhlenbruch interpreted this to mean that defendant was armed.

         Officer Muhlenbruch then conducted a pat-down search of defendant and recovered a Smith & Wesson .40 caliber handgun from defendant's left front pants pocket. The firearm contained a loaded magazine. Officer Muhlenbruch advised defendant of his rights. Defendant waived his rights, stated he was a felon, and admitted he had the handgun because his friend, Michael Liggons, the other male in the laundromat, had given him the gun to hold while they were in the laundromat.

         Officer Lamere spoke with Liggons. Liggons told Officer Lamere that the firearm was his and that he had a permit to carry a concealed weapon, which he showed to Officer Lamere. Liggons explained that he had given the gun to defendant to hold because Liggons was not wearing a belt and therefore could not carry the gun. Liggons admitted knowing defendant was a felon.

         Officer Muhlenbruch described the area immediately behind the laundromat as a low income housing area. He testified that it was neither a low crime or a high crime area. He indicated that he had been on multiple calls to the low income area for fights, other disturbances, and at least one “shots fired” call within the last two years. He also indicated that he had been called to the parking lot of the complex where the laundromat was ...

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