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United States v. Odom

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

July 17, 2019




         This case is before the court on Defendant Jonathan Gary Odom's motion to suppress evidence obtained during the warrantless search of a vehicle. (Doc. # 17). For the reasons explained below, the motion is due to be denied.

         I. Background

         The court held a hearing on Odom's suppression motion on June 17, 2019. Based on the testimony and evidence presented at the hearing, the court finds the following facts.

         On June 22, 2018, Officer Jesse White of the Fort Payne Police Department was assigned to patrol an area near Stewart Circle Court and Godfrey Avenue in Fort Payne, Alabama. (Docs. # 35 at 8; 31-4 at 1). Officer White, who has lived in Fort Payne for about 40 years, knew the neighborhood to be “a very high crime area” and testified that “it used to be one of the worst . . . in our city, actually.” (Doc. # 35 at 9). He was patrolling the neighborhood in part because police had received “a few complaints about some drug activity going on in that area.” (Id. at 10).

         At around 5:30 a.m., while driving north on Godfrey Avenue, Officer White noticed a vehicle driving on Stewart Circle Court come to an extremely hard stop at the stop sign at the intersection of Stewart Circle Court and Godfrey Avenue. (Id. at 10-11; Doc. # 31-4 at 1). As Officer White passed the vehicle, it pulled out behind him on Godfrey Avenue. (Doc. # 35 at 11). Viewing the vehicle in his rear view mirror, Officer White observed the car come to almost a complete stop in the road behind him. (Id.). As he continued north on Godfrey Avenue, Officer White observed the vehicle turn right on 11th Street without giving a turn signal. (Id.). Officer White then made a U-turn and headed south on Godfrey Avenue, back toward 11th Street. (Id.).

         When Officer White turned left on 11th Street, he almost immediately met the vehicle, which was traveling in the opposite lane back toward Officer White and Godfrey Avenue. (Id. at 11-12). Officer White concluded that the vehicle had made a U-turn on 11th Street shortly after turning onto that road and was now heading back toward Godfrey Avenue. (Id. at 12).

         After passing the vehicle on 11th Street, Officer White made a U-turn and observed the vehicle run the stop sign at 11th Street and Godfrey Avenue “at a high rate of speed” and without giving a turn signal. (Id. at 12-13). Suspicious, Officer White pursued the vehicle in his marked patrol car. (Id. at 13). As he reached the intersection of 11th Street and Godfrey Avenue, Officer White observed the vehicle turning onto Steward Circle Court “at a very high rate of speed.” (Id.).

         Stewart Circle Court is the entrance to an apartment complex. (Id.; Doc. # 31-4). When the vehicle entered the complex, it was moving “very fast.” (Doc. # 35 at 13-14). Upon entering the complex, Officer White observed the vehicle “pretty much sliding into a stop” and activated the lights on his patrol car. (Id. at 14). As Officer White approached the vehicle in his patrol car, the vehicle's driver (later determined to be Defendant Odom) exited the vehicle, looked at Officer White, and took off running behind a building in the apartment complex. (Id.).

         Officer White exited his patrol car and pursued Odom on foot. (Id.). While chasing Odom, Officer White observed him throw something, though he could not identify what came out of Odom's hand.[1] (Id.). As he was chasing Odom, Officer White also noticed a female passenger in Odom's vehicle, with the passenger door open. (Id. at 15). Officer White ordered her to stay in the car as he ran by. (Id.). Officer White ultimately apprehended Odom in an open field in view of the vehicle. (Id.). Officer White ordered Odom onto the ground with his hands behind his head, drew his firearm, and kept both Odom and the female passenger in view while waiting for backup to arrive. (Id.).

         Backup arrived in short order and another officer, Sergeant Jones, helped Officer White handcuff Odom. (Id. at 16). While Sergeant Jones and Officer White handcuffed Odom, another officer, Nicholas Hill, approached the passenger door of the vehicle, where the female passenger remained seated. Officer Hill directed the female passenger (later determined to be Alena Benson) to step out of the car and place her hands behind her back. After handcuffing Benson, Officer Hill led her to a nearby sidewalk and directed her to have a seat.

         Officer Hill then asked Benson several questions, which prompted her to tell him that there was a large amount of “dope” in the car and that the dope might be in one of Odom's bags.[2]Officer Hill also asked Benson who the car belonged to, and she responded that it belonged to her.[3] Officers at the scene confirmed that the vehicle was registered to a person with the last name of “Benson.” (Doc. # 35 at 90-91). Finally, Officer Hill asked Benson if she would mind if he searched the car to look for the dope, and she gave her consent to the search.[4]

         Officer Hill then proceeded to search the car. During the search, he found a black backpack containing approximately 78.4 grams of methamphetamine. (Doc. # 30-2 at 2). The backpack also contained a traffic citation belonging to Odom and a pair of size 32x34 men's blue jeans, which were consistent with Odom's size. (Id.). Officers also found other drug-related evidence and paraphernalia in the vehicle. (Id.; Doc. # 35 at 82-83).

         Odom has moved to suppress all of the evidence recovered from the search of the vehicle on grounds that the search ...

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