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United States v. Johnson

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

April 16, 2019

HAIRL T. JOHNSON, Defendant.



         This matter comes before the Court on the Report and Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge John Bodenhausen [ECF No. 137], pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), recommending the denial of Defendant Hairl Johnson's Motion to Suppress Evidence [ECF No. 90]. Defendant filed timely objections to the Report and Recommendation [ECF No. 143] and the U.S. Attorney filed his response to Defendant's objections [ECF No. 147]. Specifically, Defendant objects to the magistrate judge's findings that (1) the November 13, 2014 Complaint for Search Warrant established probable cause to issue a search warrant; (2) the November 13, 2014 Search Warrant satisfied all the requirements for a search warrant; and (3) Detective Andrew Ward acted in good faith reliance in obtaining and executing the Search Warrant.

         When a party objects to a Report and Recommendation concerning a motion to suppress in a criminal case, the court is required to “make a de novo review determination of those portions of the record or specified proposed findings to which objection is made.” United States v. Lothridge, 324 F.3d 599, 600 (8th Cir. 2003) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)). This Court has conducted a de novo review of the motions, and the testimony, evidence, and arguments from the evidentiary hearing. Based on this review, the Court concludes the magistrate judge made proper findings and correctly analyzed the issues. The facts of the case, relevant to the motion to suppress, are as follows.

         On November 10, 2014, at about 3:00 p.m., the body of Antonio Jones was recovered from the trunk of a Buick LeSabre that was burning in East St. Louis, Illinois. The Major Case Squad, including Detective Andrew Ward, was activated to investigate Jones' death. From interviewing Antonio Jones' friends and family, the Major Case Squad detectives learned 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 and identified several telephone calls of interest associated with Jones' phone activity for November 10, 2014. One such call was between Jones' phone and telephone number 314-740-5338. This call took place at about 9:00 a.m. on November 10th, and lasted approximately 130 seconds.

         Cell-site location information relative to Antonio Jones' cell phone further indicated the last known use of the phone was in Ferguson, MO, on November 10, 2014. The investigators learned the cell-site associated with that last known use was a cell tower in the area of 308 Georgia, in Ferguson, MO, where Defendant Hairl Johnson lived with a girlfriend. Also of interest were two calls made during the morning of November 10, 2014, between victim's phone and the cell phone of his friend and co-worker, Anthony Stringer. Mr. Stringer told investigators the first call was from victim Jones and the second call was from someone using Jones' phone named “Butchy, ” who was later determined to be 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. Mr. Stringer stated Patton later called him on Jones' phone and told him he and Jones were at “the Big B store, ” also known as the Price Chopper.

         Det. Ward and his partner interviewed the owner of Price Chopper and obtained and reviewed surveillance video from the morning of November 10, 2014. The surveillance video showed Patton drive onto Price Chopper's parking lot in a Ford Expedition, accompanied by Defendant Johnson. Antonio Jones' Buick pulled alongside of the Expedition. 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 Expedition drove off the parking lot. The video showed that Jones quickly came back out of the store and drove off the parking lot in the same direction as the Expedition.

         Investigators interviewed Randall Patton about the events of November 10, 2014. Patton initially told investigators he did not know Defendant and 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 stated the Expedition belonged to Defendant Johnson and Patton had been at Johnson's house at 308 Georgia. According to Patton, after leaving the Price Chopper parking lot, Johnson, Jones, and Patton went to smoke cannabis together.

         Investigators learned the Expedition was registered to a person named Synovia Clemons, who was in a dating relationship with Defendant Johnson and lived with him at 308 Georgia. Ms. Clemons reportedly confirmed Johnson and Patton used the Expedition the morning of November 10, 2014. Ms. Clemons stated Johnson's telephone number was 314-740-5338.

         Det. Ward presented a Complaint for Search Warrant [hereinafter, the “Affidavit”] to obtain records related to telephone number 314-740-5338.[1] Det. Ward testified that he and an Assistant State Attorney prepared the Affidavit and Search Warrant together before presenting the documents to Judge Julia Gomric. The Affidavit requested records related to telephone number 314-740-5338 and sought sixteen (16) categories of information. In particular, Det. Ward requested information relative to the subscriber of telephone number 314-740-5338, the cell towers used by that telephone number, including cell site location information (CSLI) records, and incoming and outgoing telephone records for that number.[2]

         In support of the Affidavit, Det. Ward set forth the following facts and circumstances:

On November 10, 2014, at about 3:00 p.m., an actively burning 1990 Buick LeSabre was located in . . . East St. Louis . . . Illinois. After the fire was extinguished, law enforcement realized the deceased body of a man was located in the trunk . . . . The registered owners of the LeSabre are Antonio L. Jones and Sandra Mitchill [sic]. Sandra Mitchell has been located. Though not yet conclusive, a preliminary identification of the body is that of Antonio L. Jones. Antonio L. Jones' cell phone number is 314- 482-7120.
An “exigent circumstances” request to Sprint Corporation for the cell phone records of Antonio L. Jones reveals the above cell number (314-482-7120) to have been the source of a conversation with the possessor of the phone with the phone number 314-740-5338 of 136 seconds in length on 11/10/14 at approximately 9:17 a.m.

(ECF No. 121-1 at 2).

         The Affidavit further stated “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 footage.” Id. Det. Ward claimed the telephone records requested by the Affidavit were “necessary to the investigation to determine the nature and the source of the telephone call made with Antonio L. Jones' known phone.” Id. Det. Ward further stated that subscriber information relative to 314-740-5338 was needed to determine the subscriber's identity, and that the ...

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