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United States v. Johnson

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

March 11, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
HAIRL T. JOHNSON, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE [1]

          John M. Bodenhausen, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Currently before the Court is Defendant Hairl T. Johnson's Motion to Suppress Evidence. (ECF No. 90) The government has filed a response in opposition. (ECF No. 100) On January 16, 2019, the Court held an evidentiary hearing on Johnson's motion, and the parties submitted post-hearing memoranda. (ECF Nos. 117, 121) The undersigned recommends that Johnson's Motion to Suppress be denied.

         INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND

         This is a complex case with three co-defendants. (ECF No. 46) The Indictment alleges two violations. Count I alleges a conspiracy to distribute drugs. Count II alleges that the defendants possessed one or more firearms in furtherance of their drug-trafficking crime, and that they killed another person in the course of their conduct. (ECF No. 1) Count II relates to the alleged murder of Antonio Jones, whose burned body was found on November 10, 2014, in East St. Louis, Illinois. While the charge in Count II, if proven, carries a potential death penalty, the government has formally indicated that it will not seek the death penalty. (ECF No. 73)

         During the Jones' murder investigation, law enforcement officers applied for and obtained two search warrants directed at a telephone number believed to be connected to the killing. Both warrants were obtained in St. Clair County, Illinois, where Jones' body was found. The first warrant was applied for on November 11, 2014, and was directed at telephone number 314-740-5338. No. relevant records were received pursuant to the November 11, 2014, warrant. The second warrant was applied for on November 13, 2014, and was directed at telephone number 314-740-5338. Johnson contends that the evidence obtained pursuant to the November 13th Search Warrant must be suppressed.

         On January 16, 2019, the undersigned held an evidentiary hearing on Johnson's motion. Johnson was present with his attorney, Daniel Schattnik, and the government was represented by AUSAs John Montovani and Lisa Yemm. The government presented the testimony of one witness, Detective Andrew Ward, a police officer with the City of Fairview Heights, IL, and a member of the Major Case Squad. Mr. Schattnik cross-examined Det. Ward extensively.

         At the hearing, the Court received several exhibits, including a copy of the Complaint submitted for the November 13, 2014, Search Warrant and a copy of the Search Warrant as issued. (Gov't Exhs. 1A and 1B) The government also submitted a CD (Gov't Exh. 2) that included a copy of the data received as a result of the November 13, 2014, Search Warrant. Johnson introduced copies of the November 11th Complaint and associated Search Warrant (Def. Exhs. 1-3). (See Clerk's Exhibit List, ECF No. 110)

         Based on the testimony and evidence adduced at the evidentiary hearing, having had the opportunity to observe the demeanor and evaluate the credibility of the witness, and having fully considered the parties' arguments and written submissions, the undersigned makes the following findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendations.

         FINDINGS OF FACT

         On November 10, 2014, at about 3:00 p.m., the body of Antonio Jones was recovered from the trunk of a burgundy Buick LeSabre that was burning in East St. Louis, Illinois. The Major Case Squad was activated to investigate Jones' death.

         Andrew Ward is a detective with the City of Fairview Heights, Illinois, police department. As of the date of the evidentiary hearing, Det. Ward had been a police officer for more than eight years. In November 2014, Det. Ward was a member of the Major Case Squad. On the evening of November 10, 2014, he was assigned to assist in the Antonio Jones investigation. At the evidentiary hearing, Det. Ward described generally how the Major Case Squad works. He explained that detectives typically work in teams of two and are assigned various tasks. He further explained how the investigators collaborate and share information.

         Detective Ward testified that his first assignment during the investigation involved interviewing Antonio Jones' family and friends. During the evening of November 10th, he interviewed Felicia Jones. From that interview, Det. Ward learned that Antonio Jones had been in the presence of a man known as “Baby Hairl” earlier on November 10th. Ms. Jones did not know this man's real name. According to Det. Ward, the Major Case Squad later determined that “Baby Hairl” was Defendant Hairl Johnson.

         Other members of the Major Case Squad interviewed Pier Finn and Sandra Mitchell. Ms. Finn was Antonio Jones' girlfriend in November 2014. Ms. Finn advised that she had last seen Antonio Jones on the morning of November 10, 2014, and that they had an argument. Ms. Mitchell was Antonio Jones' ex-girlfriend, and she stated that she spoke with Antonio Jones via the telephone on November 9, 2014.

         From interviewing Antonio Jones' friends and family, the Major Case Squad detectives learned that Jones' cell phone number was 314-482-7120 and requested telephone records for that number, including cell-site location information. Detectives received records responsive to their request either late on November 10th or early on November 11th. From those records, detectives identified five telephone calls of interest associated with Jones' phone activity for November 10, 2014. One of the calls of interest was a call between Jones' phone and telephone number 314-740-5338, at about 9:00 a.m. on November 10th, which lasted approximately 130 seconds. The investigation revealed that Defendant Hairl Johnson was the user of telephone number 314-740-5338.

         Cell-site location information relative to Antonio Jones' cell phone also indicated that the last known use of the phone was in Ferguson, MO, on November 10, 2014. The investigators later learned that the cell-site associated with that last known use was a cell tower in the area of 308 Georgia, Ferguson, MO, where Johnson lived with a girlfriend.

         Another telephone number of interest was associated with a person named Anthony Stringer. Det. Ward interviewed Mr. Stringer on November 11, 2014. Stringer was Jones' friend and co-worker. Det. Ward testified that investigators identified two calls between Antonio Jones' cell phone and Mr. Stringer's cell phone during the morning of November 10, 2014. Mr. Stringer advised that the first call on November 10th was from Antonio Jones and the second call was from someone named “Butchy.” The Major Case Squad investigators later determined that “Butchy” was Randall Patton (a co-defendant in this matter). According to Mr. Stringer, when he spoke with Jones on November 10th, Jones told Stringer he was following Patton on Page Avenue. When Patton called Stringer later on Jones' phone, he told Stringer that he and Jones were at “the Big B store” near Goodfellow and Maffitt.

         “The Big B store” is also known as the Price Chopper store. Det. Ward and his partner interviewed the owner of Price Chopper and obtained and reviewed surveillance video from that store from the morning of November 10, 2014. Det. Ward testified that the surveillance video showed Randall Patton drive onto Price Chopper's parking lot in a white Ford Expedition, and that Patton was accompanied by Hairl Johnson. Det. Ward further testified that a burgundy Buick (Antonio Jones' vehicle) pulled alongside of the white Ford Expedition with the driver's side of the Buick next to the passenger side of the Ford Expedition. Det. Ward explained that there was some interaction between the occupants of the two vehicles, after which Antonio Jones parked the Buick and went inside the store while the Ford Expedition drove off the parking lot. According to Det. Ward, the video showed that Antonio Jones quickly came back out of the store and drove off the parking lot in the same direction as the Ford Expedition.

         Investigators interviewed Randall Patton relative to the events of November 10, 2014. Patton initially told investigators he did not know “Baby Hairl” and that he had been at work that day. When confronted with images from the Price Chopper surveillance, Patton admitted he had been with Johnson and Antonio Jones on November 10, 2014. Patton further advised that the white Ford Expedition belonged to Hairl Johnson and that he had been at Johnson's house at 308 Georgia, Ferguson, MO. According to Patton, after leaving the Price Chopper parking lot, Hairl Johnson, Antonio Jones, and Patton went to smoke cannabis together.

         Investigators also learned that the white Ford Expedition was registered to a person named Synovia Clemons, who Det. Ward described as being in a “dating relationship” with Hairl Johnson. Investigators with the Major Case Squad learned that Ms. Clemons lived at 308 Georgia, and interviewed Ms. Clemons at that address. When they arrived, they observed a white Ford Expedition in front of the residence. Ms. Clemons reportedly confirmed that Hairl Johnson lived with her at 308 Georgia, and that Johnson and Patton used the Ford Expedition the morning of November 10, 2014. Ms. Clemons indicated that Johnson and Patton dropped her off at work that day and picked her up later. Ms. Clemons advised that Hairl Johnson's telephone number was 314-740-5338, which is the number that is at the heart of Johnson's suppression motion.[2]

         On November 13, 2014, Det. Ward presented a Complaint for Search Warrant to obtain records related to telephone number 314-740-5338. Det. Ward testified that he and Ms. Dalan, an Assistant State Attorney, prepared the Complaint for Search Warrant and Search Warrant together before presenting the documents to Judge Gomric in St. Clair County, Illinois. Det. Ward signed, subscribed and swore to the Complaint for Search Warrant before Judge Gomric. The Complaint for Search Warrant was signed as “APPROVED” by the Assistant State's Attorney, and signed by Judge Gomric as well.

         As noted, the November 13th Complaint for Search Warrant requested records related to telephone number 314-740-5338 and listed sixteen (16) categories of information. As relevant to Johnson's Motion to Suppress, Det. Ward requested information relative to the subscriber of telephone number 314-740-5338, the cell towers used by that telephone number, [3] and incoming and outgoing telephone records for that number. Det. Ward also requested records regarding the content of stored communications associated with telephone number 314-740-5338, including voicemail, text messages, photographs, and browser traffic. Det. Ward testified that the investigation team did not receive any of the requested records of content data from Verizon Wireless.

         As part of the Complaint for Search Warrant, Det. Ward included a recitation of certain facts relevant to the investigation into the murder of Antonio Jones and how telephone number 314-740-5338 was connected to that investigation. Det. Ward explained that, on November 10, 2014, at about 3:00 p.m., a 1990 Buick LeSabre was found burning in East St. Louis. The fire was extinguished and the body of a man preliminarily identified as Antonio L. Jones was recovered from the trunk of the Buick LeSabre. The Buick LeSabre was registered to Sandra Mitchell and Antonio L. Jones. Det. Ward represented that Jones' cell phone number was 314-482-7120 and that investigators had made an exigent circumstances request to Sprint Corporation for records relative to Jones' cell phone. The records received from the exigent circumstances request included information that Jones' phone number (314-482-7120) had been in contact with phone number 314-740-5338 (the subject telephone number of the Complaint for Search Warrant) for 136 seconds, at about 9:17 a.m., on November 10, 2014.

         Detective Ward stated that law enforcement had “learned that the known user of [phone number] (314) 740-5338, was seen on video surveillance at approximately 9:00 a.m. on 11/10/14, at which time the known user of this phone was speaking to [Antonio Jones] on the surveillance video.” Det. Ward also represented that records requested by the Complaint for Search Warrant were “necessary to the investigation to determine the nature and the source of the telephone call made with Antonio L. Jones' [phone number].” Det. Ward further represented that subscriber information relative to 314-740-5338 was needed to determine ...


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