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United States v. Williams

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

May 9, 2019




         I. BACKGROUND

         Robert Williams, Jr. (“Williams”) is charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) and possession of cocaine and oxycodone in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 844(a). Indictment (Doc. 1). Evidence supporting these charges was seized during a late-night traffic stop of Williams' motorcycle conducted by Corporal William J. Kaufmann (“Officer Kaufmann”) of the Dothan Police Department. Officer Kaufmann initially pulled the motorcycle over for speeding. As Officer Kaufmann approached the bike, Williams passed a Newport cigarette box to his passenger riding on the back, and she hid it between her legs. Officer Kaufmann looked inside the cigarette box and discovered cocaine. He then frisked Williams for weapons and discovered a 9mm pistol tucked in his waist band. The cigarette box also contained two Acetaminophin-Oxycodone pills.

         Williams filed a Motion to Suppress arguing that Officer Kaufmann's search of the cigarette box was unlawful and that this unlawful search led to the subsequent pat-down where the gun was discovered. (Doc. 22) at 3-4. On April 22, 2019, the undersigned held a suppression hearing. Transcript (Doc. 31). At the hearing, Williams raised a new argument that the traffic stop itself was unlawful because Officer Kaufmann lacked reasonable suspicion that Williams was speeding. (Doc. 31) at 39. Williams seeks to suppress all evidence seized and statements made during the traffic stop. (Doc. 22). Upon consideration of Williams' Motion (Doc. 22), the Government's Response (Doc. 27), and the evidence and arguments presented at the suppression hearing, the undersigned Magistrate Judge recommends that Williams' Motion to Suppress be denied.

         II. FACTS

         The facts are essentially undisputed.[1] See Mot. to Suppress (Doc. 22) at 1-2. In the early morning hours of November 27, 2015, Officer Kaufmann was conducting a night-shift patrol with a trainee, Officer Christopher Hardman, in a marked police car. (Doc. 24-2) at 1; (Doc. 31) at 4. They were idling along the roadside near Montgomery Highway and Montezuma Avenue in Dothan, Alabama, monitoring traffic using a Stalker radar gun mounted to the dash of the police car. (Doc 24-2) at 2; (Doc. 31) at 5, 17. At approximately 2:15 a.m., Officer Kaufmann clocked a motorcycle traveling northbound on Montgomery Highway doing 57 mph in a 40 mph zone. (Doc. 31) at 5; (Doc 24-2) at 2. He pulled out behind the motorcycle, turned on his emergency lights, and made a traffic stop. Id.

         The motorcycle, a black 2005 Harley-Davidson Street Glide, pulled over, and Officer Kaufmann observed a black male rider, later identified as Williams, and a black female passenger, later identified as Ursula Mack (“Mack”), on the bike. Officer Kaufmann and Officer Hardman exited the police car and approached the motorcycle. (Doc. 24-2) at 2; (Doc. 31) at 6. Officer Kaufmann noted that both Williams and Mack were wearing clothing that identified them as members or affiliates of the Outcast Motorcycle Club (“Outcast M.C.”). (Doc. 24-2) at 2, 4; (Doc. 31) at 7, 29-30, 31.

         Officer Kaufmann was familiar with the Outcast M.C. (Doc. 31) at 10. The Outcast M.C. has a clubhouse a short distance from the police station in Dothan. Id. at 11. Officer Kaufmann understood it to be an “outlaw motorcycle gang” whose members “regularly partake in acts of violence.” Id. at 10. Officer Kaufmann knew from police intelligence that the Outcast M.C.'s annual Dothan rally was taking place that weekend. Id. at 27. He understood that Outcast M.C. chapters from different states were in Dothan for the rally, and that a few hundred members were at the Dothan clubhouse. Id. at 27. He also knew that during the previous year's rally, the Outcast M.C. had a large fight at their clubhouse in which somebody was severely beaten and suffered a bad head injury. Id. at 28.

         Approximately one hour before the traffic stop at issue here, Officer Kaufmann had been called as backup on another traffic stop on the same side of town involving another motorcycle ridden by an Outcast M.C. member with a female passenger. Id. at 8-10, 16. The officer making that stop, Officer Dodson, called for backup when a large number of people began to show up at the scene. Id. at 9. Police recovered three handguns from the Outcast M.C. rider at this earlier traffic stop, and Officer Kaufmann personally observed “the weapons that were taken off the suspect.” Id. at 16.

         Turning back to the stop at issue here, as Officer Kaufmann approached the Harley, Williams turned around and handed a box of Newport cigarettes he was holding in his left hand to Mack. (Doc. 24-2) at 2; (Doc. 31) at 11. Mack, still seated on the bike, then hid the cigarette box between her legs. Id. Officer Kaufmann testified that, in his “experience as a law enforcement officer, seeing an object transferred from one person to another in the sight of police, . . . would be some type of furtive movement.” Id. at 12. Officer Kaufmann asked Williams why he handed the cigarette box to Mack, and he responded, “why do you need to know?” (Doc. 24-2) at 2; (Doc. 31) at 12-13. Officer Kaufmann then asked Mack if she would hand the box to him. (Doc. 24-2) at 4; (Doc. 31) at 12. She did not respond. Id. At this point, Williams told Mack to give the box to Officer Kaufmann, and she handed it to him. (Doc. 24-2) at 4; (Doc. 31) at 13.

         Officer Kaufmann testified that he believed that the cigarette box might contain a weapon of some kind such as a razor blade or pocket knife. (Doc. 31) at 32. The box was unwrapped, and he flipped open the top and discovered a clear plastic baggy containing a white powdery substance that he believed to be cocaine. (Doc. 24-2) at 5; (Doc. 31) at 14. He secured the cigarette box in his cargo pocket and patted-down Williams for weapons. Id. at 14-15. He immediately felt a large, hard object on Williams's right hip that he believed to be a pistol. Id. at 15. He lifted Williams's shirt and discovered a Hi Point Arms C9 9mm pistol tucked in his waistband. (Doc. 24-2) at 5; (Doc. 31) at 14. He removed the pistol, gave it to Officer Hardman, and handcuffed Williams. (Doc. 31) at 15. Officer Kaufmann asked Williams if he had a permit for the pistol, and he replied “no.” (Doc. 24-2) at 5; (Doc. 31) at 15. He searched the motorcycle and found a billy club in the left saddle bag. (Doc. 24-2) at 5. As the traffic stop progressed, approximately 15 people showed up in the area. (Doc. 31) at 29.

         Investigator Thomas Davis arrived at some point and took charge of the investigation. (Doc. 24-2) at 5. His report states that the cigarette box contained two small partial sandwich bags that held a white powder substance that field tested positive for cocaine. Id. It also contained two 325mg/5mg Acetaminophin-Oxcodone (Percocet) pills. Id. Williams was placed under arrest for possession of cocaine and carrying a pistol without a permit. Id. Officer Kaufmann also issued Williams traffic citations for speeding and driving with a revoked license. Id. After being advised of his Miranda rights, Williams stated that the cocaine was for personal use. Id.


         The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from unreasonable search and seizure. See U.S. Const. amend. IV. When a defendant moves “to suppress evidence garnered through a warrantless search and seizure, the burden of proof as to the reasonableness of the search rests with the prosecution.” U.S. v. Freire, 710 F.2d 1515, 1519 (11th Cir. 1983) (emphasis original). To sustain this burden, the “Government must demonstrate that the challenged action falls within one of the ...

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