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United States v. Lawrence

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Southeastern Division

July 5, 2017




         This matter was referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b).

         I. Background

         The Defendant, Dalvin D. Lawrence, is charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. (Doc. 2.) Lawrence filed a Motion to Suppress (Doc. 20) evidence and statements claiming that he was unlawfully detained when officers seized evidence from him. He alleges that it was unlawful for officers to order him to sit down and then lie on the ground when he was present during the arrest of another man. Lawrence claims that he was detained by the officers “in the absence of a warrant, probable cause, reasonable suspicion, or other justification in violation of his rights under the Fourth Amendment…” Id. at 1. He requests suppression of the physical evidence seized from his person. Lawrence also requests that any statements he made be suppressed “as fruit of the unlawful search and seizure.” Id. The Government filed a response in opposition to the Defendant's claims. (Doc. 22.)

         An evidentiary hearing was held on May 10, 2017. Two officers from the Sikeston Department of Public Safety testified. The Government submitted two exhibits, including: a video-recording of part of the interaction between the officers and the men, and a photograph of the gun seized from Lawrence.

         In consideration of the evidence and information submitted by the parties, the undersigned recommends that the following findings of fact and conclusions of law be adopted and that the Defendant's Motion to Suppress Evidence be denied.

         II. Proposed Findings of Fact

         On February 1, 2017, Captain Andy Cooper of the Sikeston Department of Public Safety was on routine patrol when he observed Mario West driving a truck with two male passengers. There was furniture in the truck bed along with one of the men. Familiar with West, Captain Cooper checked to see if he had any “wants or warrants.” Captain Cooper learned that West did not have a current driver's license and was wanted on two outstanding felony warrants.

         Shortly thereafter, Captain Cooper saw West's truck parked at a residence on Adam Street. The truck was backed into the driveway and parked just outside of the carport. Cooper called for backup and two officers quickly responded to the scene, Officers Simmerman and Josh Golightly. West and two other men, Lawrence and BJ Robinson, were near the carport of the residence.

         As Captain Cooper approached West and began talking about the outstanding warrants, West became nervous. When Captain Cooper directed West to put his hands behind his back, West pushed away from Cooper and Officer Simmerman. The officers struggled with West and had to secure him with force.

         Officer Golightly arrived around the time the struggle was underway. He observed that Lawrence and Robinson appeared to be moving closer to West and the officers. Officer Golightly was uncertain about their intentions and directed the men to sit down. The men followed Golightly's instruction and they sat on the edge of the carport. Shortly thereafter, Officer Golightly observed Robinson take something out of his pocket and put it in his mouth. Golightly instructed Robinson and Lawrence to lie down. Both men lay down. Officer Golightly asked Robinson to spit out whatever was in his mouth. Robinson spit out an item. Upon inspection, the officers believed the item contained marijuana or K2 (synthetic marijuana).

         While Officer Golightly was interacting with Robinson, Captain Cooper approached Lawrence. Cooper was concerned about Lawrence because he observed that Lawrence kept putting his hands in his pockets. Cooper explained that if bystanders are in close proximity to an arrest and they keep putting their hands in their pockets, he always instructs the person to take their hands out.

         Officer Golightly was wearing a body camera[1] while on duty that day. He turned it on shortly after instructing Robinson to spit out what was in his mouth. Around that time, the following exchange can be heard:

Cooper: Shut up! God d, ya. Take your f hands out of your pocket.
Golightly: [To Robinson:] Roll over.
Lawrence: Well, I'm gonna be one hundred with you.
Cooper: No you won't.
Lawrence: There's a pistol in my pocket ...

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