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United States v. Valentine

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

March 29, 2019




         Currently before the Court is Defendant Hakeem Valentine's Motion to Suppress Evidence.[2] (ECF No. 23) The government opposes Valentine's motion. (ECF No. 24) For the reasons outlined below, the undersigned recommends that the Court deny Valentine's motion.


         On May 10, 2018, the Grand Jury charged Valentine with one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). The charges flow from an April 17, 2018, traffic stop during which officers with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD) seized three handguns from a car in which Valentine was a passenger. In his motion to suppress, Valentine suggests that the police lacked lawful authority to stop the car, and even if lawful, the police unlawfully extended the duration of the stop rendering any search of the car unconstitutional. The government contends that the police had probable cause to stop the car for a traffic violation and that reasonable suspicion justified extending the stop to search the car for weapons.

         On January 3, 2019, the Court held an evidentiary hearing. Valentine was present and represented by Assistant Federal Public Defenders Brocca Morrison and Kayla Williams. The government was represented by Assistant United States Attorney Thomas Mehan. Also present were the two SLMPD Officers who conducted the traffic stop in question-Officers Michael Joyner and Benjamin Lacy. The government presented the testimony of Officer Joyner and Valentine presented the testimony of Officer Lacy. Ms. Morrison cross-examined Officer Joyner extensively. Valentine submitted one exhibit-Defendant's Exhibit A-a DVD that included copies of the relevant radio transmissions and dashboard camera video (hereinafter “dash cam”) from the officers' patrol car. At the conclusion of the hearing, Valentine requested leave to submit a post-hearing memorandum after receiving a transcript of the evidentiary hearing. Both parties have filed their respective post-hearing memoranda. (ECF Nos. 32, 34, 37)

         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 witnesses, having carefully reviewed Defendant's Exhibit A, and having fully considered the parties' arguments and written submissions, the undersigned makes the following findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendation.


         Michael Joyner is an SLMPD patrol officer. At the time of the evidentiary hearing, he had been an officer for six years. Officer Joyner was on duty on the evening of April 17, 2018, and was patrolling the First District in a marked patrol car with Officer Lacy.

         Officer Joyner explained that the officers' patrol car was equipped with a dash cam video recording system. He generally described his understanding of what events trigger a recording. Although the dash cam system is always operating, it does not preserve or save recordings until some triggering event causes the recording to be preserved. Officer Joyner's testimony suggested that certain events, such as activating the flashing lights, would trigger the dash cam to capture and preserve records, including a portion of time before the trigger event. The dash cam recording submitted in this case as Defendant's Exhibit A is consistent with Officer Joyner's general description.

         At around 8 p.m. on April 17th, in the area of the 3200 block of Keokuk, Officers Joyner and Lacy observed a Chevrolet Impala stopped at the curb. A person on foot was talking to someone in the Impala. Officer Joyner explained that as the patrol car passed the Impala, the person on foot took off south through a gangway. Officer Joyner clarified that the person did not run, but rather walked away with “a purpose.” The officers drove within feet of the Impala and noticed that it had an expired temporary license tag. The officers elected not to stop the Impala for the tag violation at that time and drove to an alley to look for the person on foot.

         The officers drove to the alley but did not find the person on foot. As the officers turned down the alley, however, a vehicle entered the alley from the opposite direction. As the vehicles got closer, the officers realized that the other vehicle was the Impala they had just seen. Although the dash cam video in Officer Joyner's patrol car did not capture the initial encounter with the Impala on Keokuk, it captured the entire sequence of events in the alley.

         After seeing the Impala in the alley, the officers “spotlighted” it and activated their emergency lights to conduct a traffic stop of the vehicle. Officer Joyner testified that, before the Impala stopped, it backed up and then started to try to go around the officers' vehicle. The Impala had four occupants-two in the front and two in the back. Valentine was seated in the rear seat on the passenger side.

         Officer Joyner exited the patrol car and approached the driver's side of the Impala. Officer Joyner testified that he could see the driver of the Impala moving his arm and it looked to Officer Joyner as if he was trying to conceal something on the floorboard. Officer Joyner explained that he assumed anything someone might try to conceal could be dangerous, so he shouted a command to show hands. Officer Joyner also abruptly stopped his approach to the Impala and raised his left hand. Although not immediately, all four occupants obeyed the command to raise their hands. Officer Joyner then resumed his approach and removed the driver from the vehicle, secured him, and moved him to the rear of the vehicle. Officer Joyner testified that, in the process of confronting the driver and removing him from the Impala, he observed a handgun on the floorboard.

         While Officer Joyner was dealing with the driver, Officer Lacy approached the Impala from the passenger side. The passenger side of the vehicle was positioned somewhat snuggly against a fence or wall in the alley, but there was room for a door to open and for a passenger to get out of the Impala. Officer Lacy testified that it appeared to him as though the person in the back seat on the passenger side (later identified as Valentine) was trying to exit the car. Officer Joyner testified that he heard Officer Lacy shouting at someone to keep the door closed. The dash cam video shows Officer Lacy proceed directly to the passenger side rear door and, after a few moments, remove Valentine and secure him at the rear of the vehicle with the driver.

         After Valentine was removed from the Impala, the other back seat passenger was removed and secured at the back of the vehicle. The final passenger removed was the front seat passenger. All four passengers were kept at the rear of the Impala and one officer remained ...

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