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United States v. Sykes

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

June 5, 2017





         The matter before the court is Defendant Airrington L. Sykes's Objections (docket no. 26) to United States Chief Magistrate Judge C.J. Williams's Report and Recommendation (docket no. 19), which recommends that the court deny Defendant's “Motion to Suppress” (“Motion”) (docket no. 11).


         On March 2, 2017, a grand jury returned a one-count Indictment (docket no. 2) charging Defendant with possession of a firearm by a felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 992(g)(1) and 924(a)(2). The Indictment also contained a forfeiture allegation. On April 3, 2017, Defendant filed the Motion. On April 10, 2017, the government filed a Resistance (docket no. 14). On April 17, 2017, Judge Williams held a hearing (“Hearing”) on the Motion. See April 17, 2017 Minute Entry (docket no. 15). Defendant appeared in court with his attorney, Christopher Nathan. Assistant United States Attorney Anthony Morfitt represented the government. On April 21, 2017, Judge Williams issued the Report and Recommendation, which recommends that the court deny the Motion. On May 5, 2017, Defendant filed the Objections. The Report and Recommendation regarding the Motion and the Objections are fully submitted and ready for decision.[1]


         When a party files a timely objection to a magistrate judge's report and recommendation, a “judge of the court shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); see also Fed. R. Crim. P. 59(b)(3) (“The district judge must consider de novo any objection to the magistrate judge's recommendation.”); United States v. Lothridge, 324 F.3d 599, 600 (8th Cir. 2003) (noting that a district judge must “undertake[] a de novo review of the disputed portions of a magistrate judge's report and recommendations”). “A judge of the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); see also Fed. R. Crim. P. 59(b)(3) (“The district judge may accept, reject, or modify the recommendation, receive further evidence, or resubmit the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.”). It is reversible error for a district court to fail to engage in a de novo review of a magistrate judge's report when such review is required. Lothridge, 324 F.3d at 600. Accordingly, the court reviews the disputed portions of the Report and Recommendation de novo.


         On December 4, 2016, at approximately 11:50 p.m., Waterloo Police Officer Ryan Muhlenbruch was dispatched to Clean Laundry, a laundromat, in Waterloo. Exhibit 1 (docket no. 14-2) at 1. Officer Muhlenbruch was in uniform, but drove an unmarked police car. When Officer Muhlenbruch arrived at the laundromat parking lot, he made contact with Angie Lindsey. See id. Lindsey stated, that while doing her laundry, “she had [placed] clothes inside of a laundry basket after taking them from the dryer and when she took the clothes out of the basket, she located [a loaded] silver handgun magazine.” Id. Lindsey told Officer Muhlenbruch that “there were only two other people inside the [laundromat] when she was there and, ” although she did not know if they had anything to do with the magazine, “they had been hanging around the basket [in which] she located the magazine.” Id.; see also Exhibit A.[3] Lindsey identified two “young[] black males wearing mostly dark clothing, ” one of whom was Defendant, as the individuals who were in the laundromat. Exhibit 1 at 1.

         Officer Muhlenbruch requested assistance and Officer Luke Lamere arrived shortly thereafter in a marked police vehicle. The officers approached the laundromat entrance on foot, crossing in front of two large plate-glass windows. Defendant was standing in an aisle approximately twenty feet from the front windows. Once the officers entered the laundromat, they approached the two men Lindsey had identified. Officer Muhlenbruch testified that he did not see a bulge in Defendant's clothing indicating that Defendant was armed. As the officers approached, Defendant turned and walked briskly[4] toward the back of the laundromat. Officer Muhlenbruch followed Defendant, who passed by an exit in the rear of the laundromat and entered a bathroom. Officer Muhlenbruch reached the bathroom door just as Defendant entered it. Officer Muhlenbruch opened the bathroom door and asked[5] Defendant to come out of the bathroom. Defendant complied as Officer Muhlenbruch grabbed hold of Defendant's sleeve to guide Defendant out of the bathroom. Officer Muhlenbruch subsequently directed Defendant against the wall. As Officer Muhlenbruch did so, Defendant said “I have my homies [sic]” and pointed toward his waist. Hearing Transcript at 4. Officer Muhlenbruch then conducted a pat-down search of Defendant and ultimately recovered a handgun from Defendant's pants pocket.

         V. ANALYSIS

         Pursuant to the Fourth Amendment, warrantless searches are per se unreasonable, “subject only to a few specifically established and well delineated exceptions.” Minnesota v. Dickerson, 508 U.S. 366, 372 (1993). “A police officer ‘may, consistent with the Fourth Amendment, conduct a brief, investigatory stop when the officer has a reasonable, articulable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot.'” United States of America v. Fields, 832 F.3d 831, 834 (8th Cir. 2016) (quoting Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119, 123 (2000)). Officers may conduct a pat-down search for weapons if they have reasonable suspicion that the person is armed. See Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 27 (1968). “The officer need not be absolutely certain that the individual is armed; the issue is whether a reasonably prudent [person] in the circumstances would be warranted in the belief that his [or her] safety or that of others was in danger.” Id. “The existence of reasonable, articulable suspicion is determined by the totality of the circumstances, taking into account an officer's deductions and rational inferences resulting from relevant training and experience.” Fields, 822 F.3d at 834 (quoting United States v. Horton, 611 F.3d 936, 940 (8th Cir. 2010)); see also United States v. Hollins, 685 F.3d 703, 706 (8th Cir. 2012) (“‘The determination of whether probable cause, ' or reasonable suspicion, ‘existed is not to be made with the vision of hindsight, but instead by looking to what the officer reasonably knew at the time.'” (quoting United States v. Sanders, 196 F.3d 910, 913 (8th Cir. 1999))). “Although an officer's reliance on a mere hunch is insufficient to justify a stop, the likelihood of criminal activity need not rise to the level required for probable cause, and it falls considerably short of satisfying a preponderance of the evidence standard.” United States v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 274 (2002) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). “A determination that reasonable suspicion exists . . . need not rule out the possibility of innocent conduct.” Id. at 277; accord United States v. Stewart, 631 F.3d 453, 457 (8th Cir. 2011).

         In this case, Officer Muhlenbruch arrived at the laundromat at approximately 11:50 p.m. in response to a call from a patron who reported finding a handgun magazine inside the laundry basket she was using. When the officers arrived at the laundromat, they made contact with the patron. She identified the only two other people who had been inside the laundromat when she found the magazine. Although she did not know whether they had anything to do with the magazine, she did report that they had been hanging around the basket in which she located the magazine. When the officers entered the laundromat, Defendant turned and walked briskly toward the bathroom at the back of the laundromat. See Hearing Transcript at 4, 12; see also United States v. Roelandt, 827 F.3d 746, 749 (8th Cir. 2016) (“[Defendant's] acts, although largely ‘consistent with innocent behavior, ' when taken together with all of the facts and circumstances known to the officers, ‘[gave] rise to reasonable suspicion.'” (second alteration in original) (quoting United States v. Stewart, 631 F.3d 453, 457 (8th Cir. 2011)). Based on the information the officer received from the patron and Defendant's act of immediately walking away as the uniformed officers approached, the officers had reasonable suspicion to believe that the Defendant may have been armed. See United States v. Quinn, 812 F.3d 694, 697-98 (8th Cir. 2016) (“Factors that may reasonably lead an experienced officer to investigate include time of day or night, location of the suspect parties, and the parties' behavior when they become aware of the officer's presence.”) (quoting United States v. Dawdy, 46 F.3d 1427, 1429 (8th Cir. 1995)); United States v. Davison, 808 F.3d 325, 329-30 (8th Cir. 2015) (finding reasonable suspicion where defendant “appeared to be walking in a circle near [a] stolen truck in a high-crime neighborhood” and took “actions suggesting [he was] trying to avoid police contact”).

         Defendant does not appear to dispute that the officers “had reason to believe that the Defendant may be armed.” Brief in Support of Objections at 2. Rather, Defendant argues that Judge Williams erred in finding that the Terry stop was proper because firearm possession is not per se unlawful in Iowa, where persons are permitted to carry concealed firearms. Id. at 1-2. Because it is increasingly common for a person to possess a permit to lawfully carry weapons, Defendant argues that the officers did not have reasonable suspicion Defendant was committing a crime. Id. at 2. Defendant ...

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