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United States v. Steffens

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

July 23, 2019



          Kelly K.E. Mahoney, Judge

         Currently pending are several motions to suppress filed by Defendants, as well as a motion to sever their joint trial filed by Defendant Jeremy William Lillich. See Docs. 27, 42, 50, 56. Defendants challenge their initial encounter with law enforcement, arguing that officers lacked probable cause or reasonable suspicion (the Government responds that the encounter was consensual). Defendant Lillich also argues that after officers discovered the existence of a federal warrant for Steffens, arrested him, and found drugs on his person, officers unreasonably detained Lillich as they waited for the arrival of a drug dog. Lillich further argues that he should not have been questioned without Miranda warnings at that time. In addition, Defendant Patrick Layne Steffens challenges the affidavit in support of the warrant to search his cell phone, arguing that an insufficient nexus exists between his cell phone and any evidence of drug trafficking and that law enforcement intentionally or recklessly included false statements in the affidavit in violation of Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154 (1978).

         I held an evidentiary and Franks hearing on the motions to suppress on June 20, 2019, at which the following witnesses testified:

• Dan Neldeberg, owner of the car wash in Sloan, Iowa, where law enforcement's initial encounter with Defendants occurred;
• Sergeant Michael Lenz of the Woodbury County Sheriff's Office;
• Deputy Mike Simoni of the Woodbury County Sheriff's Office;
• Sergeant Nathan Sands of the Woodbury County Sheriff's Office;
• Drug Enforcement Administration Task Force Officer John Howard.

         I also admitted the following exhibits into evidence:

• Government Exhibit 1 (video from Sergeant Lenz's body camera);
• Government Exhibits 2a and 2b (surveillance videos of the car wash bays);
• Government Exhibit 3 (video from Sergeant Sands's body camera);
• Government Exhibit 4 (video from Deputy Simoni's body camera);
• Government Exhibit 5 (K-9 certification records) (Doc. 73);
• Government Exhibit 6 (Woodbury County Sheriff's Office report regarding the attempted burglary of the Sloan car wash on January 1, 2019) (Doc. 74);
• Defendant Steffens's Exhibit A (search warrant application and affidavit) (Doc. 50-2);
• Defendant Steffens's Exhibit B (search warrant) (Doc. 50-3);
• Defendant Steffens's Exhibit C (video from Sergeant Lenz's body camera, surveillance videos from the car wash, and videos from Sergeant Lenz's and Deputy Simoni's police vehicles) (some of these videos are duplicative of the video exhibits submitted by the Government).

         I recommend granting in part and denying in part Lillich's motion to suppress related to his detention (Doc. 27), denying Lillich's motion to suppress related to Miranda (Doc. 56), denying Steffens's motion to suppress (Doc. 50), and denying Lillich's motion to sever (Doc. 42).

         I. BACKGROUND [1]

         In the early morning hours of February 3, 2019, Sergeant Lenz and a reserve deputy with the Woodbury County Sheriff's Office were on patrol in the small town of Sloan, Iowa, due to break-ins the night before at a church and a school. They noticed a vehicle in a car wash bay (around 3:00 a.m.) and decided to observe from a short distance away. Sergeant Lenz was concerned about a possible burglary, given the break-ins the night before, the late hour, and recent car wash burglaries in the surrounding area. With regard to the latter, Sergeant Lenz testified that he receives notifications that contain information about what occurred in Woodbury County on the previous shift, as well as a summary of crimes in surrounding counties. Through these notifications and word-of-mouth from other officers, he knew about car wash burglaries in Lawton, Correctionville, and Sergeant Bluff (towns in Woodbury County); as well as car wash burglaries in Monona County, Iowa; and Cherokee County, Iowa. Sergeant Lenz could not give any specifics about these burglaries-including any information about the suspects, how long ago the burglaries occurred, and the time of day they occurred-other than that the Lawton burglary involved a cash machine outside a bay being ripped from the wall and that the Sergeant Bluff burglary involved cash machines being broken into. Sergeant Lenz also knew about an attempted burglary of the money lockbox at the Sloan car wash about a month prior, which occurred on January 1, 2019, at around 7:00 p.m. See Doc. 74.

         The Sloan car wash has two manual car wash bays that are open and lit twenty-four hours. Both bays have two doors, so that a person can drive in, stop and wash their car, and then drive out. The owner of the car wash testified that the bay doors are kept closed in the winter months so the bays stay heated. The south bay (entrance) doors are manual, opened and closed by rope pulleys. The north bay (exit) doors are automatic- they open by pressing a button and automatically close when the car drives over a sensor.

         On the night in question, as the officers drove by the car wash, they could see a vehicle and a person's feet in a car wash bay that had the door closed, next to an empty bay that had the door open (an automatic exit door).[2] Sergeant Lenz turned around, drove back past the carwash, and parked about half a city block away from the car wash with the lights off. From that location, Sergeant Lenz testified that they could see all the way into the back of the open car wash bay. He testified that he observed a person walk from the closed bay through a doorway to the back of the open bay, and then back into the closed bay, and that he believed the person might have been acting as a lookout (or coming to investigate based on the sound of Sergeant Lenz's car driving by). Surveillance video from the car wash shows that Steffens walked just outside the doorway in between the occupied and unoccupied car wash bays, stopped briefly (about one second) in the back of the unoccupied car wash bay with his body angled toward the open bay door, and then returned to the occupied bay. See Govt. Ex. 2A, 3:03:15-24[3] (video from the unoccupied bay-Steffens is visible in the bottom right corner); Govt. Ex. 2B 3:03:15-24 (video from the occupied bay). This is the only instance of Steffens leaving the occupied bay or otherwise looking out of it. Although it could be said that Steffens “looked out” of the car wash bay from the back of the bay, the surveillance footage shows he did not turn his head or otherwise “look around” in any way.

         After seeing Steffens, the officers decided to investigate further. Sergeant Lenz and the reserve deputy entered the bay occupied by Defendants by walking through the open garage bay door of the empty bay and walking the length of the empty bay to the open door between the two bays (the door Steffens had just appeared in). They announced their presence as law enforcement as they did so (and Sergeant Lenz carried a flashlight). They wore their sheriff's deputy uniforms with their weapons holstered and visible on their person.

         In the car wash bay, they discovered Lillich and Steffens drying a car with the hood popped. They did not see any evidence indicating that Lillich and Steffens planned to burglarize the car wash. Sergeant Lenz asked Lillich and Steffens what they were doing at the car wash at 3:00 a.m., and Lillich responded that they had just been at the WinnaVegas Casino and that he often washes his car after going to the casino. Sergeant Lenz testified that in the past, he has been dispatched to the WinnaVegas Casino for drug trafficking activity and that the Woodbury County Sheriff's Office encounters drugs connected to the WinnaVegas Casino on an almost daily basis.

         Sergeant Lenz explained to Lillich and Steffens that he was checking in based on the recent burglaries. He asked them for their identification, explaining that he needed their names for the report he would write about the contact. Steffens handed Sergeant Lenz a driver's license, and Lillich gave him an identification card, explaining that he was barred from driving and that Steffens had been driving the car. Sergeant Lenz recognized Lillich's name as a person involved with drugs. Sergeant Lenz radioed Lillich's and Steffens's information to dispatch, and while waiting for the results, he talked with Lillich and Steffens about their future plans for the night (they stated they were headed back to Sioux City).

         After being on the scene for about four minutes, Sergeant Lenz went back to his car to scan the identification cards, while the reserve deputy stayed in the bay with Steffens and Lillich. The surveillance video from the car wash depicts Lillich seemingly asking the reserve deputy for permission to continue cleaning his car (which was granted-the reserve deputy gestures as if saying, “go ahead”). See Govt. Ex. 2B, 3:08:22. Shortly after Sergeant Lenz left the bay (about thirty seconds), another sheriff's deputy (Deputy Simoni) arrived and stood in the doorway between the two bays. While Sergeant Lenz was gone, Lillich and Steffens dried the car, and at various times, shut the hood and opened the driver's side and passenger side doors to access items in the car.

         Sergeant Lenz returned after about three minutes and gave Lillich and Steffens their identification cards back. All three officers started to leave, going into the unoccupied car wash bay and walking across it toward the open bay door. Sergeant Lenz testified their encounter with the Defendants had ended and the deputies were leaving the scene. But before they made it to their cars, they received a notification from dispatch that there was a “hit” on Steffens for a United States Marshals hold and the existence of a federal arrest warrant related to “dangerous drugs.” Because of the possible warrant for Steffens, the officers returned to the car wash bay occupied by Steffens and Lillich (about thirty seconds after they had left it). The officers did not immediately arrest Steffens on the warrant, as the existence of the warrant was not verified until about thirty minutes later.

         Instead, the officers questioned Lillich about his car.[4] Lillich told the officers that he had purchased the car from Jimmy Merchant-who both Sergeant Lenz and Deputy Simoni knew to be “a thief” and involved in drugs. Deputy Simoni asked whether Lillich knew for sure the vehicle was not stolen, saying he “wouldn't trust Jimmy for nothing.” An officer asked Lillich how much he had paid for the vehicle, and Lillich told him. During this questioning, Lillich held a car floor mat that he had been wiping down, and he asked Sergeant Lenz whether he could put the car mat back ...

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