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United States v. Green

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Southern Division

April 30, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
DAMION GREEN, DENISHA BLANDENBURG

          RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          CHARLES S. COODY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On April 27, 2016, the defendants, Damion Green (“Green”), Denisha Blandenburg (“Blandenburg”) and Kenyon Smith (“Smith”), were charged in a multi-count indictment with conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute controlled substances, [1] conspiracy to import a controlled substance, and possession with the intent to distribute controlled substances, all in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841 and § 846. They were also charged in multiple counts with knowingly and intentionally using a communication facility, a cellular telephone, to cause and facilitate the conspiracy, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 843(b) and 18 U.S.C. § 2, and with money laundering and money laundering conspiracy in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956. They were changed with conspiracy to maintain drug-involved premises for the purpose of manufacturing, storing and distributing controlled substances in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and 18 U.S.C. § 2. Finally, the defendants were charged with possessing a firearm during and in relation to a drug-trafficking crime in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924. See Doc. # 13.

         On February 5, 2018, Green filed a motion to suppress (doc. # 151), and on February 6, 2018, Blandenburg filed a very similar motion (doc. # 160). The motions are not models of clarity, but it appears that the defendants are seeking to suppress all evidence seized as the results of warrants authorizing the installation of GPS tracking devices on vehicles driven by Blandenburg, search warrants issued by three separate courts, and all evidence obtained from telephone calls made by Green to Blandenburg while he was incarcerated in the Houston County Jail. See Docs. # 151 & 160. Green and Blandenburg assert that the state and federal search warrants did not establish probable cause because (1) the information about the confidential informants was sparse and vague and failed to establish their reliability; (2) the information in the affidavits “was too vague to justify installation of Global Positioning System (GPS) devices on the vehicles;” and (3) the affidavits were “sham” affidavits because of the similarities in the warrants. (Id.). The defendants also argue that various state agents somehow conspired to arrest and incarcerate Green so they could listen to his telephone conversations with Blandenburg. Both defendants assert that this scheme violated Green's due process rights.[2]

         The court held an evidentiary hearing on the motions on April 23, 2018. Based on the evidence presented to the court and argument of the parties, the court concludes that the motions to suppress are due to be denied.

         II. FACTS

         A. The 2015 Traffic Stop of Defendant Green.

         In 2012, Green and Blandenburg were arrested in Houston County, Alabama, and charged with drug trafficking. Dothan City police officer Thomas Davis (“Davis”) was involved in the 2012 investigation of Green and Blandenburg that resulted in this arrest. As part of the 2012 investigation, a search warrant was executed at 1004 Southland Drive in Dothan, Alabama, a residence shared by Green and Blandenburg. Cocaine, marijuana and ecstasy were seized from the residence. Blandenburg and Green were charged with drug trafficking offenses and released on bond.[3] Eventually Green entered a guilty plea to drug trafficking and possession of controlled substances. He was continued on bond pending sentencing.[4] During this time, Blandenburg was also released on bond pending her sentencing.[5]

         On February 18, 2015, while still on bond awaiting sentencing, Green was observed by Houston County Sheriff's Investigator Phillip Small (“Small”) driving a Chevrolet Malibu in Dothan, Alabama. Small recognized the defendant and was aware that Green did not possess a valid driver's license, but Small sought confirmation of the status of Green's license. While Small was waiting for confirmation, he followed Green in an unmarked police vehicle from a distance of two to three car lengths. Small observed Green throw a blunt from the car window and smelled the odor of burnt marijuana coming from the vehicle.

         When Small received confirmation of the status of Green's license, he initiated a traffic stop based on Green's driving without a valid driver's license.[6]When Small approached the driver's side of the vehicle, he smelled the odor of burnt marijuana coming from the vehicle. Small asked Green to exit the vehicle. Based on the smell of marijuana, Small searched the vehicle and found loose green marijuana on the console and on the driver's side floor board.

         Green was arrested for possession of marijuana, second degree.[7] Although Green was initially eligible for a bond, five days after his arrest, Green was placed on a “no bond” status.[8]

         B. The Facts Establishing Probable Cause for the Warrants.

         What follows in this section is a recitation of the facts gleaned from the affidavits supporting the issuance of the challenged warrants. On February 5, 2015, Officer Davis arrested Devonta Daniels for trafficking synthetic marijuana. (Doc. # 175, Ex. 1). During questioning, Daniels told Davis that a black male named “Nine” was bringing large quantities of synthetic marijuana into Dothan. Daniels described “Nine” as “stocky with light skin and . . . numerous tattoos covering most of his upper body.”[9] (Id.) Daniels identified Green from a photograph. (Id.). Davis testified at the evidentiary hearing that Daniels was not made any promises of leniency for his statement.

         Also, on February 15, 2015, investigator Robert Cole spoke with a confidential informant who advised that “Nine was supplying most of Dothan, Alabama with synthetic marijuana.” (Id.). Cole provided this information to Davis. Thus, Davis had received information about Green and his involvement in distributing synthetic marijuana prior to Small's arrest of Green. Based on the information from the other investigators, coupled with Green's arrest, Davis pursued an investigation into Green's and Blandenburg's activities.

         On February 24, 2015, Davis contacted United States Postal Inspector James Tynan (“Tynan”) and asked if packages were being shipped to 1100 Meadowlane Drive in Dothan, Alabama.[10] Tynan informed Davis that several months earlier, he had learned that packages were being shipped to that address from China.[11] (Id.) Tynan further advised Davis that “within the last several weeks [Tynan] noticed approximately one package being shipped to the residence per week.” (Id.)

         On February 28, 2015, investigator Matthew Krabbe (“Krabbe”) arrested Rakim Jackson (“Jackson”) for unlawful possession of synthetic marijuana. At that time, Jackson told Krabbe that “Nine and his old lady” were supplying synthetic marijuana in Dothan, Alabama. (Id.). Krabbe contacted Davis and relayed this information to him.

         Based on the information he had received, on March 6, 2015, Davis began surveilling the Meadowlane Drive address. (Id.) Davis observed a red Chevrolet Malibu vehicle at the residence, and when the vehicle left the house, Davis followed it. The vehicle stopped at a local Burger King restaurant, and the driver and passenger got out. Eventually, the passenger of the Malibu got into a white Chevrolet Tahoe at the Burger King. Krabbe and another officer conducted a traffic stop on the Tahoe. Blandenburg was driving the Tahoe. The officers could smell marijuana coming from the vehicle.[12] The vehicle was registered to Green. Blandenburg was cooperative but did not answer any questions. She and the passenger were released.

         On March 6, 2015, Davis and Krabbe listened to telephone calls made by Green from the Houston County jail to Blandenburg and an unknown male. Blandenburg informed Green that she had been stopped by police, and that she had been smoking marijuana in the car. Green advised Blandenburg that the police were “essentially on to them, ” and directed her to “close up” and “relocate.” (Id.) On March 17, 2015, officers conducted surveillance on Blandenburg driving a red 2013 Chevrolet Camaro which was registered to her. ...


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