United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
For Osvaldo Vargas, Defendant: Jeanne A. Liddy, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Offices of Jeanne A. Liddy, Springfield, MA.
For USA, Plaintiff: Todd E. Newhouse, United States Attorney's Office, Springfield, MA.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER REGARDING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS (Dkt. No. 42)
MARK G. MASTROIANNI, United States District Judge.
On March 8, 2014, Detective Brendan Boyle seized from Osvaldo Vargas (" Defendant" ) a small " bundle" of heroin, among other items, during a street encounter. On May 1, 2014, a grand jury
indicted Defendant for a violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841 (Possession with Intent to Distribute Heroin). (Dkt. No. 2, Grand Jury Indictment 1.) Defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence on November 12, 2014. (Dkt. No. 42.) The United States (" Government" ) filed an opposition to this motion on November 26, 2014. (Dkt. No. 47.) A hearing took place over a two-day period, on December 12, 2014 and January 22, 2015.
For the reasons set forth below, the court denies Defendant's motion to suppress.
II. Findings of Fact
On March 8, 2014, at approximately 1:00p.m., Holyoke Police Detectives Brendan Boyle and Jared Hammel turned onto South Bridge Street in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Detective Hammel drove an unmarked gray mini-van while Detective Boyle rode in the passenger seat; both wore plain clothes. The two detectives testified that this contiguous " four-block radius" is an " extremely high crime area," as it has been the site of numerous violent crimes as well as frequent narcotic activity. They also explained the area is " overrun with gang activity." Specifically, the detectives referred to the " La Familia" criminal street gang, which is known for its presence in and around the Lafayette Bar located at 524 South Bridge Street.
As the detectives drove past the Lafayette Bar, they observed four individuals on the sidewalk, three of whom they recognized as La Familia gang members from prior arrests. The detectives were able to visually identify one of these individuals as Osvaldo Vargas (" Defendant" ) and another as Santiago, who testified for the defense in the motion hearing. The detectives claim they knew these men from prior encounters is bolstered by the fact that Detective Boyle was able to recollect their " street names."  Both Santiago and Defendant wore baggy clothing, including sweatshirts with front pockets and loose sweatpants.
The detectives and Santiago all testified that at least some of these individuals had been watching a video on a cell phone. The witnesses differed, however, in their descriptions of Defendant's proximity to Santiago and the rest of the group when the detectives arrived. Specifically, Santiago testified the Defendant was generally nearby, but not directly part of, the group watching the video on the cell phone. Based on the evidence presented, the court finds that, at the moment the detectives arrived, the two individuals were sufficiently close in proximity so they reasonably
could have been considered to be together for purposes of the instant motion.
The detectives parked the unmarked cruiser on the street near the group of men. Immediately thereafter, yet before either exited the vehicle, both detectives observed behavior leading them to believe the group noticed the detectives' presence in the vicinity. Specifically, one of the individuals began to walk in the direction of the Lafeyette Bar, and went inside. Defendant also walked away along South Bridge Street. A third individual remained in the vicinity. The detectives observed Santiago quickly reach into the front pocket of his sweatshirt.
Detective Hammel discussed this point in detail, testifying that, based on Santiago's hand movement, it seemed as if he may have been holding onto something in his front pocket. Detective Hammel explained he had previously arrested Santiago following a " shots fired call," and he had thereafter recovered two firearms which had been within Santiago's reach. Detective Hammel also stated that, based on his training and experience, he knew ...