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United States v. Nevatt

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

March 8, 2018




         This matter is currently before the Court on defendant Michael Ryan Nevatt’s Motion to Suppress Evidence and Statements. For the reasons set forth below, it is recommended that this motion be denied.


         On March 30, 2016, a Criminal Complaint was filed against defendant Michael Ryan Nevatt. On April 21, 2016, the Grand Jury returned a one-count Indictment against defendants Nevatt, Kenneth Bryant Lake, Kara Rene Baze, Scott Bryan Sands, Jerry Lee Brown and Travis Lee Bethel. On November 17, 2016, the Grand Jury returned a seven-count Superseding Indictment against defendants Michael Nevatt, Lake, Baze, Sands, Brown, Bethel, Lanny Eugene Ham, Cindy Ann Nevatt, Autumn Sky Provience, Jarub Ray Baird, Breann Nicole Hall, Jake Ian Nixon, Aaron Randall Stull, Michelle Vanne Gray and Tara L. Harken.[1] In Count One of the Superseding Indictment, defendant Michael Nevatt is charged with conspiracy to distribute 500 grams and more of methamphetamine. In Count Two, defendant Michael Nevatt is charged with conspiracy to carry, use and possess various firearms in furtherance of the conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine charged in Count One. In Count Three, defendant Michael Nevatt is charged with possession of firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. In Count Four, defendant Michael Nevatt is charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering. Counts Five and Six charge defendant Michael Nevatt with engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity. Count Seven charges defendant Michael Nevatt with laundering of monetary instruments.

         On February 7, 2018, an evidentiary hearing was held on defendant’s motion to suppress. Defendant Nevatt was represented by retained counsel John P. O’Connor. The Government was represented by Assistant United States Attorney Bruce A. Rhoades. The Government called Detective Jason Copley and Officer Jim Cooney of the Springfield, Missouri Police Department as witnesses. The defense called no witnesses to testify.


         On the basis of the evidence adduced at the evidentiary hearing, the undersigned submits the following proposed findings of fact:

         1. In July 2015, Detective Jason Copley was assigned to the Narcotics Enforcement Team of the Springfield Police Department. (Tr. at 4) The Narcotics Enforcement Team cultivates long-term narcotics cases hoping that they will develop into conspiracy cases which the team can then work on with the DEA or other federal agencies. (Tr. at 4) In mid-July, 2015, Detective Copley received information through his chain of command that Michael Nevatt was trafficking large amounts of methamphetamine from Texas and Oklahoma to Branson and Springfield, Missouri. (Tr. at 5) Detective Copley conducted criminal history checks and basic research regarding the targets set forth in the information provided. (Tr. at 6) Detective Copley obtained a Department of Revenue photo and criminal history for Michael Nevatt. (Tr. at 6) The criminal history stated that Nevatt had past felony offenses including violent offenses. (Tr. at 6)

         2. In the late morning or early afternoon of July 29, 2015, Detective Copley was contacted by Task Force Officer J.D. Roberts. (Tr. at 6) Officer Roberts informed Detective Copley that he had run Michael Nevatt’s name in a deconfliction system and received a conflict with Copley, so Roberts was calling to let Copley know that Nevatt was a suspect in a conspiracy that was being worked out of Kansas City. (Tr. at 6)

         3. Also on July 29, 2015, Detective Copley received information that Michael Nevatt was operating a motorcycle and that he was at Mercy Hospital in Springfield, Missouri. (Tr. at 7) That information came from Breann Hall’s[2] father. (Tr. at 47) In the mid-afternoon, Detective Copley and Detective Miller responded to Mercy Hospital in an unmarked vehicle, located Nevatt’s motorcycle (by running the plates through dispatch), and conducted surveillance. (Tr. at 7-8) The detectives waited half an hour to an hour before Michael Nevatt came out of the hospital and approached the motorcycle. (Tr. at 7) Nevatt was wearing a drawstring type backpack. (Tr. at 9) Nevatt got into the side saddle of the motorcycle, pulled a helmet out, placed the helmet on his head, and left the parking lot on the motorcycle. (Tr. at 9)

         4. Detective Copley and Detective Miller followed Michael Nevatt. (Tr. at 10) Detective Copley testified that Nevatt appeared very uncomfortable operating the motorcycle, that is a very rigid form, slow acceleration to the point of impeding traffic, and almost unable to keep balance on the motorcycle. (Tr. at 10) Detective Copley testified that the traffic violations he observed Nevatt commit were impeding and obstructing traffic and being unable to maintain a lane. (Tr. at 24) Detective Copley testified that he had previously worked in a patrol capacity with the Springfield Police Department and had experience and training relating to impaired driving. (Tr. at 10) Based on the way in which Nevatt was operating the motorcycle, Detective Copley thought that Nevatt was possibly impaired. (Tr. at 11) Detective Miller contacted Officer Jim Cooney in an attempt to get him to conduct a traffic stop on Nevatt. (Tr. at 11) The detectives had used Officer Cooney in the past to conduct traffic stops on drug targets. (Tr. at 11) Detective Miller told Officer Cooney that he wanted the motorcycle stopped based on the officers’ suspicion that the operator was intoxicated or impaired. (Tr. at 12, 51-52) Detective Copley and Detective Miller continued to follow Nevatt until Officer Cooney arrived. (Tr. at 12) Nevatt was stopped approximately two miles from the hospital. (Tr. at 12) After Nevatt was stopped, Detective Copley requested Detective Eric Hawkins, a K-9 officer, to respond to do a sniff of the motorcycle. (Tr. at 15-16, 25) Detective Copley testified that other than the information Copley had that Nevatt was involved in some kind of drug trafficking conspiracy, he had no reason to believe that Nevatt was carrying something of evidentiary value on the motorcycle. (Tr. at 47-48)

         5. Officer Cooney was driving an unmarked patrol vehicle that was equipped with a dash strobe light. (Tr. at 13) The vehicle was not equipped with a video camera. (Tr. at 13) Officer Cooney was not wearing a body camera or a body microphone. (Tr. at 13-14) The vehicle Detective Copley was driving did not have audio or video recording equipment. (Tr. at 14)

         6. Officer Cooney had Michael Nevatt get off the motorcycle and told him that he was going to give him a pat-down for weapons, to which Nevatt consented. (Tr. at 55) Officer Cooney asked Nevatt for consent to search the motorcycle for any weapons or anything else, but Nevatt declined to consent. (Tr. at 41, 55) Officer Cooney told Michael Nevatt that he stopped him because another officer had observed some indicators of impairment while Nevatt was driving his motorcycle. (Tr. at 55) Officer Cooney testified that Nevatt stated that he had just gotten the motorcycle a few days before, that he had never ridden a motorcycle, and that was why he was probably driving like that. (Tr. at 55) Officer Cooney determined that Nevatt was not impaired from drugs or alcohol based on Cooney’s interaction with Nevatt and after administering Nevatt a field sobriety test. (Tr. at 24-25, 48, 59-60) Officer Cooney ran Nevatt through the computer and determined that he had no warrants. (Tr. at 26) While Nevatt had a valid driver’s license, he did not have a proper endorsement for driving a motorcycle and he did not have any insurance for the motorcycle. (Tr. at 26, 56-57) Officer Cooney wrote Nevatt a municipal citation for not having a motorcycle endorsement. (Tr. at 26, 57) Officer Cooney gave Nevatt a verbal warning for not having insurance. (Tr. at 58)

         7. An inventory search of the motorcycle was performed because Officer Cooney was going to have the motorcycle towed. (Tr. at 38-39) Officer Cooney testified that he decided to tow the motorcycle for the following reasons:

Based on no insurance, that he didn’t have it, the bike still being in the street, him having access to it, he wasn’t going to have any warrants or anything else to take him to jail for to separate himself from the motorcycle, I was going to tow the motorcycle.

(Tr. at 57) Officer Cooney testified that it would have created a safety hazard if he had just left the motorcycle in the street where Michael Nevatt, who admittedly could not safely operate the motorcycle and who had no insurance, could just come back to it. (Tr. at 63-64) Officer Cooney testified that he did not consult with Detective Miller or Detective Copley about his decision to tow the motorcycle. (Tr. at 57) When asked why he did not consult with the detectives, Officer Cooney testified, “Because at that point it was my traffic stop and, you know, that was – they had their side of it and then I had my obligations and the side of my stop.” (Tr. at 57)

         8. The Springfield Police Department Standard Operating Guideline in effect at the time provides, in relevant part, the following policy regarding the towing of vehicles:

         Custody Tow – A vehicle towed for ...

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