United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
ORDER AND MEMORANDUM ON PLAINTIFFS’ MOTION TO
SUPPRESS EVIDENCE (DOCKET NO. 34)
TIMOTHY S. HILLMAN, DISTRICT JUDGE.
United States of America (the “Government”)
charged Leroy Byron (“Defendant”) with possession
of a firearm by a convicted felon after officers found a
firearm in his waistband during a traffic stop. (Docket No.
1). Defendant moves to suppress evidence of the firearm and
certain statements he made to officers. (Docket No. 34).
Because the traffic stop was lawful and police officers had
reasonable suspicion based on articulable facts that the
Defendant was armed, the Court
denies Defendant’s motion to
suppress evidence of his firearm. Because Defendant’s
admission that he did not have a license for the firearm was
the result of a custodial interrogation, the Court
grants Defendant’s motion to
suppress his statements to officers.
November 5, 2018, at 12:45 am, four members of the Worcester
Police Department’s Shooting Response Team were in an
unmarked police car in the Kelley Square area of the city.
They observed a silver Acura TSX approaching the intersection
of Harding and Lamartine Streets. (Docket Nos. 34 at 1, 39 at
1–2). As the car slowed and stopped, the officers
noticed that the rear brake light on the driver’s side
was broken. (September 12 transcript at 5, 16). The vehicle
travelled towards the intersection of Lafayette and Millbury
Streets and took a left-hand turn. (Docket No. 1-1 at 3). The
officers activated their lights and pulled over the vehicle.
(Docket No. 1-1 at 3).
Bennes recognized the driver as Richard Garcia (“Mr.
Garcia”), a member of the Providence Street Posse gang
with a violent criminal history. (Docket Nos. 1-1 at 3).
Defendant sat in the front passenger seat. (Docket Nos. 34 at
1, 39 at 2). Officer Bennes approached the car and spoke with
Mr. Garcia. (Docket No. 1-1 at 3). He noticed Defendant
acting nervously and holding onto a bulge in his waistband.
(Docket No. 1-1 at 3). Detective Chabot and Officer Turgeon
also observed Defendant adjusting an object in his waistband.
(Docket No. 1-1 at 3, 39 at 2). Mr. Garcia reached into his
glove compartment and retrieved his vehicle registration
card. (September 12 transcript at 21). He held the
registration card in front of Officer Bennes in an effort to
obscure Officer Bennes’ view into the vehicle.
(September 12 transcript at 7).
Chabot and Officer Turgeon told Officer Bennes that Defendant
“kept moving his hands” despite being told to
stay still. (September 12 transcript at 9–10). Officer
Bennes ordered the driver and passengers to exit the vehicle.
(Docket No. 1-1 at 3). After exiting the vehicle, Defendant
remained non-compliant by not removing his hands from the
area of his waistband. (Docket No. 1-1 at 4). Detective
Chabot and Officer Turgeon tried to restrain Defendant, and
Detective Chabot shouted “GUN.” (September 12
transcript at 11–12, 27–28). After the officers
handcuffed the Defendant, Officer Bennes felt the back and
handle of a firearm in the front of Defendant’s
waistband. (Docket No. 1-1 at 4). He lifted Defendant’s
shirt, and Officer Turgeon retrieved the firearm. (Docket No.
1-1 at 4). The officers asked Defendant for his license to
carry the firearm. Defendant indicated that he did not have
one. (Docket Nos. 34 at 1, 1-1 at 4).
was arrested and charged with possession of a firearm by a
convicted felon under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). (Docket No.
1). He moves to suppress the evidence gathered during the
stop. (Docket No. 34).
Lawfulness of Initial Stop
argues that the Court should suppress evidence of the firearm
because the Government obtained it during an unlawful traffic
stop. A traffic stop by police officers constitutes a
“seizure” within the ambit of the Fourth
Amendment. Whren v. United States, 517 U.S.
806, 810 (1996). It “is thus subject to the
constitutional imperative that it not be
‘unreasonable’ under the circumstances.”
Id. For a traffic stop to be reasonable, officers
must have a “reasonable suspicion that a traffic
violation has occurred.” United States v.
Chaney, 584 F.3d 20, 24 (1st Cir. 2009).
contends that the officers could not have had a
“reasonable suspicion that a traffic violation ha[d]
occurred” because Mr. Garcia’s vehicle had two
working brake lights when he was pulled over; one on the
passenger’s side of the rear of the vehicle and one in
the center of the back windshield. (Docket No. 34 at 2).
Massachusetts law requires a motor vehicle to have “two
rear lights mounted at each side of the rear of the
vehicle.” See M.G.L. c. 90 § 7 (emphasis
added). Defendant does not dispute that, because the rear
brake light on the driver’s side was broken, Mr.
Garcia’s vehicle had only one working brake light
mounted on the side of the rear of his vehicle. (Docket No.
39 at 4). The officers thus had reasonable suspicion Mr.
Garcia had committed a traffic violation. And because they
had reasonable suspicion, the traffic stop was
Reasonable Suspicion to Conduct Terry Stop and
next argues that we should suppress evidence of the firearm
because the officers conducting his pat-frisk did not have a
reasonable suspicion that he was armed and dangerous. To
justify a pat-frisk of a passenger during a traffic stop, an
officer must have a reasonable suspicion, supported by
“specific and articulable facts, ” that the
passenger is armed and dangerous. See Terry v. Ohio,
392 U.S. 1, 21 (1968); see also Arizona v. Johnson,
555 U.S. 323, 327 (2009). “Reasonable suspicion is a
less exacting requirement than probable cause, but requires
‘something more than an inchoate and unparticularized
suspicion or “hunch.”’” United
States v. Tiru-Plaza, 766 F.3d 111, 116 (1st Cir. 2014)
(quoting United States v. Sokolow, 490 U.S. 1, 7
(1989)). In determining whether an officer had reasonable
suspicion, we apply an objective standard and consider the
totality of the circumstances. Id.
to Defendant, Officer Bennes had no more than a hunch that
Defendant was armed. (Docket No. 34 at 4–5). He
contends that, “[o]ther than being understandably
nervous, . . . [he] did not act in any manner that would give
an officer reason to believe he was armed and
dangerous.” (Docket No. 34 at 5). The Court rejects
this argument. Officer Bennes recognized the driver as a gang
member with a violent criminal history. (Docket Nos. 1-1 at
3). While he spoke with that driver, he noticed Defendant
holding onto a bulge in his waistband. ...