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United States v. Tejada-Ardon

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division

June 4, 2019




         Defendant Jose Antonio Tejada-Ardon filed a Motion to Suppress (doc. 12), and the United States of America (the “United States”) filed a response (doc. 14). The Court held a hearing on the Motion to Suppress on April 11, 2019. The parties have also submitted post-hearing briefs. (Docs. 24, 25). Therefore, the Motion to Suppress is ready for review. For the reasons stated below, the Motion to Suppress is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. The Encounter with the defendant on December 31, 2018

         The events leading up to the arrest of defendant on December 31, 2018, occurred on property owned by United States Steel that borders, in part, I-459 North in Hoover, Alabama, around mile markers 11 and 12. (Doc. 21, pp. 4; Do c . 19-12, p. 2 (Ala. Uniform Incident/Offense Rep., p. 2)). The property consists of around 135 acres within the city limits of Hoover and is near, or adjacent to, at least one shopping center and a residential neighborhood. (Doc. 21, pp. 21, 23-24, 27-28, 48, 103-04, 109, 115; Do c. 19-1 (Aerial photograph)). The property was leased by Robert Barton for recreational and bow hunting purposes. (Doc. 21, p. 100). Barton's friend, Erik Stahr, was the only other person who had Barton's permission to use the property. (Id.). Prior to December 31, Barton had found evidence of hunting activity, including a headless deer and some footprints that did not belong to himself or Stahr. (Id. at 101, 118). Because of this, Barton and Stahr went to the property on the morning of December 31 with the intention of placing cameras and putting up more property line markers and boundary signs. (Id.).

         Barton had forgotten the cameras so he went to I-459 to meet his son, who was bringing him the cameras. (Id. at 101). While Barton was gone, Stahr heard gunshots. (Id. at 118). Barton eventually met back up with Stahr on the property, and they heard more gunshots. (Id. at 101-02, 118). As a result, Barton attempted to make contact with Officer Kerry Bradford with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, but was only able to leave a voicemail. (Id. at 113). Barton also called 911 to report illegal hunting activity and to request that City of Hoover police officers respond to the scene. (Id. at 20, 103, 119; Do c . 19-12 (Ala. Uniform Incident/Offense Rep., p. 2)). This call occurred approximately around 10 a.m. (Id. at 13).

         Stahr went to I-459 to meet the Hoover police officers, Officer Cedric Acoff and Officer Hess (collectively, the “Hoover police officers”). (Id. at 104). Mo r e gunshots were fired after Officer Acoff and Officer Hess arrived. (Id. at 7, 21-23). Because of the rough terrain, Starh transported Officer Hess and Officer Acoff, separately, to the property on an all-terrain vehicle. (Id. at 22-23). Barton and Stahr informed Officer Acoff that the four individuals did not have permission to be on their leasehold. (Id. at 6, 30). Officer Acoff was aware that Barton was or had contacted Officer Bradford. (Id. at 29). The four men lined up and then spread out to search the property. (Id. at 8, 119). On the ground, there were fresh blood trails and empty shotgun and rifle casings. (Id. at 119). Around this time, Officer Bradford called Barton and told Barton that he was on the way; while on the phone with Barton, Officer Bradford heard gunshots. (Id. at 47, 106). Officer Bradford had dealt with Barton and Stahr before and testified that the information Barton gives is credible. (Id. at 46).

         Around fifteen to twenty minutes after the search began, Stahr and Officer Acoff encountered four Hispanic males at or around the same time. (Doc. 21, pp. 8, 13; Do c . 19 -12 (Ala. Uniform Incident/Offense Rep., p. 2)). All four men, including the defendant, were armed with a long gun. (Doc. 21, pp. 9-10, 25). Officer Acoff commanded the four men to stop, drop their weapons and let him see their hands; the four men complied. (Doc. 21, pp. 8-10, 30, 120). The four men were ordered to walk to Officer Acoff, which required them to cross a small creek; the four men were then handcuffed. (Id. at 10, 30-31, 121). Offier Acoff observed what he believed to be deer hair on the defendant. (Doc. 21, p. 15). Stahr went across the creek to retrieve the four weapons and a backpack. (Id. at 31, 121).

         Officer Acoff testified that the defendant was the only one of the four who spoke English, and that he may have spoken to the defendant at that point. (Id. at 14, 35). Other testimony indicates that there was some conversation between at least the defendant and the Hoover police officers, although the extent or topic of any such conversation is not clear.[1] (Id. at 107-10, 124). Officer Acoff did not tell the suspects that they were under arrest because, according to him, he and Officer Hess were there to simply investigate and detain the suspects until Officer Bradford arrived. (Id. at 16-17). Officer Acoff never recited to the defendant his Miranda rights. (Id. at 36). Officer Acoff does not know whether Officer Hess read Miranda rights to the defendant. (Id.).

         The four suspects, including the defendant, were escorted from the property to the right-of-way off I-459; th e distance to I-459 was approximately several hundred yards. (Doc. 21, p. 31). Although it is not clear how long this walk took, testimony indicates that it was longer than it took to walk into the property (i.e., over fifteen minutes), that defendants were in the woods, that the woods were very steep and the terrain rough, and there was not an easy way to get back to I-459. (Id. at 14, 106, 122). Officer Bradford met Officer Acoff and Officer Hess and the four suspects on the right-of-way. (Id. at 33).

         Officer Bradford guessed that he arrived on the scene around 12:00 or 12:30 p.m. (Id. at 38).[2] Officer Bradford observed the four suspects seated on the ground and handcuffed. (Id. at 40). While on the scene, Officer Bradford took statements from Barton and Officer Acoff. (Id.). Around this time, Officer Bradford also contacted Officer Hinkle with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”). (Doc. 21, pp. 71, 95-96; Do c. 20-3 (DHS Report)). Officer Bradford took possession of the four weapons and the backpack. (Doc. 21, pp. 41, 62). Those weapons were a Winchester Ranger .30-30 (the “30-30 rifle”); another rifle; and two shotguns. (Doc. 21, pp. 35, 51-52, 56-57; Do c . 19-12 (Ala. Uniform Incident/Offense Rep., p. 2)). The backpack contained approximately 230 bullets. (Doc. 21, p. 51).

         Officer Bradford testified that he was told by the Hoover police officers that the four suspects had been found out in the woods, and the defendant had admitted to shooting two deer. (Id. at 41-42, 49). Officer Bradford testified that one of the suspects had deer hair and blood on his clothes. (Id. at 50). Officer Bradford also determined that none of the suspects, including the defendant, had a hunting license. (Doc. 21, pp. 42, 58). Officer Bradford testified that he did not arrest the four suspects, including the defendant, that day. (Id. at 43). Instead, Officer Bradford obtained warrants for the four suspects' arrest the next business day for hunting without permission, hunting without a license, hunting without hunter orange, and failure to possess a buck harvest record. (Id. at 43-44, 53; Do c. 19-2 (Ala. Uniform Incident/Offense Rep. Supplement); Do c . 1 9-9 (Evidence Tracking Form)).

         Officer Hinkle arrived on the scene right after Officer Bradford arrived and while Officer Bradford was conducting his investigation. (Doc. 20-3 (D HS Report); Doc. 21, pp. 18, 55, 71)). It is not entirely clear how much time elapsed from when the defendant was initially handcuffed until Officer Hinkle arrived on the scene, however. Officer Hinkle questioned the four suspects, including the defendant, regarding their country of birth, country of citizenship, name, date of birth, and legal status in the United States. (Doc. 21, pp. 76, 98; Doc 20-3 (D HS Report)). Officer Hinkle told Officer Bradford that he believed that the four suspects were unlawfully present in the United States. (Id. at 55-56). During a search incident to arrest, two rounds of ammunition were found by Officer Hinkle in the defendant's right front pocket and twenty-one rounds were found in his left front pants pocket. (Id. at 57, 63; Doc. 19-9 (Evidence Tracking Form); Do c . 20 -3 (DHS Report)).

         The four suspects were transported to the Office of Homeland Security in Homewood, Alabama. (Doc. 21, p. 56). While Officer Bradford was standing with Officer Hinkle at the Homeland Security Office, Officer Bradford asked the defendant whether the 30-30 rifle was his, and the defendant said, “Yes.” (Id. at 62). Officer Bradford never read the defendant his Miranda rights. (Id. at 65). The defendant was taken ...

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