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United States v. $389

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

May 24, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
$389, 820 IN UNITED STATES CURRENCY, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          EMILY C. MARKS CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This is an action for civil forfeiture of the Defendant property brought by the United States of America pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881(a)(6).[1] On July 27, 2017, Claimant Ruby Barton filed an answer and a verified claim seeking the Defendant property. (Doc. 42). Now pending before the Court is Claimant Barton's motion to suppress, filed on April 12, 2019. (Doc. 75). The Government filed a response to the motion to suppress on April 29, 2019 (doc. 80), and the Claimant filed a reply on May 13, 2019 (doc. 84). For the reasons that follow, the Claimant's motion to suppress (doc. 75) is due to be denied.

         I. Background

         A. Facts from Investigator James Talley's Affidavit.

         On May 13, 2016 at 10:48 p.m., Millbrook Police were dispatched to the Sonic Drive-In at 77 Dudley Drive in Millbrook, Alabama. Officers approached a vehicle containing Rodriguez Lakeith Garth, who was shot twice in the torso, but was still conscious. Garth told police that he was shot while he was sitting in his vehicle near the Liberty Convenience Center at 154 Deatsville Highway.

         At 11:05 p.m., the Elmore County Sheriff's Office received a call from John Bloch, a resident of 74 Breckenridge Court in Deatsville. Bloch reported that his neighbor, Shanda Daniels, came to his house and told him that her husband, Rodriguez Lakeith Garth, had been shot and was laying in the backyard at 94 Breckenridge Court. Bloch reported that he and his wife had gone to the neighbor's house at 94 Breckenridge Court and attempted to look into the backyard. However, it was too dark to see, and they didn't enter the backyard. Bloch told the deputy that shortly after asking him for help, Daniels received a call informing her that Garth was not at 94 Breckenridge Court, and she left.

         Deputies determined that Bloch was referring to the same Garth who had already been attended to at the Sonic Drive-In. Accordingly, they did not dispatch to Breckenridge Court at that time. Soon thereafter, Bloch called the Sheriff's Office again to report that several vehicles arrived at and left from the residence at 94 Breckenridge Court. The Sheriff's Office advised Bloch to contact the Millbrook Police Department, as Breckenridge Court was within their jurisdiction. Bloch then contacted Millbrook Police and relayed the same, and he also told Millbrook Police that his daughter heard two gunshots around 11:00 p.m. that evening.

         An Elmore County Sheriff's Deputy went to 94 Breckenridge Court and found one spent shell casing in the driveway outside the garage. He also discovered tire tracks, which originated in the driveway at 94 Breckenridge Court and crossed through the neighbor's yard, tearing up the grass. Based on the condition of the neighbor's yard, it appeared the vehicle that left the tracks was moving quickly. Investigators also went to the Liberty Convenience Center, where Garth claimed he had been shot, and found a shell casing similar to the one located at 94 Breckenridge Court.

         During the investigation, Garth's sister told investigators that Garth called her at 10:40 p.m. and informed her that he had been shot and was driving for help. Garth stated that he was driving down a backroad, and he remained on the line with her for three to four minutes. Shanda Daniels reported to investigators that Garth called her as well. In this call, Garth told Daniels that he had been shot, but because he did not give her any information about the shooting, she went to 94 Breckenridge Court, believing he was there.

         Investigator James Talley of the Elmore County Sheriff's Office presented all of the preceding facts in an affidavit to Elmore County District Judge Glenn Goggans for the purpose of obtaining a search warrant for 94 Breckenridge Court. Investigator Talley concluded that the timing of Garth's phone calls and the distance between 94 Breckenridge Court and the Liberty Convenience Center indicated that Garth had been shot at 94 Breckenridge Court and then traveled several miles along Deatsville Highway. Accordingly, Investigator Talley requested a search warrant for 94 Breckenridge Court to locate firearms, ammunition, spent ammunition casings and any other evidence related to the discharge of a firearm or a physical altercation.

         Based on Investigator Talley's affidavit, Judge Goggans found that probable cause existed and issued a search warrant for 94 Breckenridge Court for the purpose of locating firearms, ammunition, spent ammunition casings and any other evidence related to the discharge of a firearm or a physical altercation.

         B. Subsequent Investigation.

         Pursuant to the search warrant, officers discovered several large bundles of marijuana in the guest bedroom of 94 Breckenridge Court. The officers then sought and obtained a second, more extensive search warrant authorizing them to search 94 Breckenridge Court, and any vehicles on the property, for firearms, ammunition, illegal narcotics, drug packaging materials, currency, ledgers, notes, computers, cellular telephones, mediums used for storing electronic data, measuring scales, and any stolen property. During the search of 94 Breckenridge Court pursuant to the second search warrant, agents seized nineteen bundles of marijuana (over 200 kilograms), five bags of cocaine (over 1.6 kilograms), a digital scale, two pistols, six cell phones, assorted jewelry, AR 15 magazines, and over $400, 000 in United States Currency found both in the residence and in the trunk of a 1972 Chevrolet Chevelle parked on the property. Agents impounded Garth's Mercedes, the 1972 Chevelle, and a Cadillac CTS that was also parked on the property. Several of these seizures are the subjects of the instant civil forfeiture action.

         In her motion to suppress, the Claimant alleges that the initial search warrant for firearms, ammunition, spent ammunition casings and any other evidence related to the discharge of a firearm or a physical altercation was not properly supported by probable cause. Accordingly, the Claimant asserts that all ...


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