The opinion of the court was delivered by: GREEN
JUNE L. GREEN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
This case is before the Court on defendant's Motion to Suppress Physical Evidence. At the suppression hearing held on July 30, 1990, Detective Vance Beard of the Metropolitan Police Department testified on behalf of the government. Mr. Raheem Tucker and the defendant testified on behalf of the defense. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants defendant's motion to suppress.
This case involves yet another confrontation between members of the Metropolitan Police Department's Narcotics Interdiction Unit and a member of the public traveling on an interstate bus. At about 6:30 p.m. on the evening of May 15, 1990, detectives from the Interdiction Unit observed the arrival of a Greyhound bus at the terminal located at 1005 First Street, N.E., Washington, D.C.
Defendant Chandler, who along with several companions was en route from Newark, New Jersey to Florence, South Carolina, disembarked and walked across the station to get something to eat at Hardee's. As the four young men returned to the bus, they were stopped by Detectives Beard, Huffman, Hairston and Oxendine. Detective Beard testified that the officers had determined to stop and interview these passengers before they re-boarded the bus. Detective Beard offered no explanation for why these young men were selected for interviewing. Certainly, he had nothing approaching probable cause, nor even a reasonable, articulable suspicion that these individuals were involved in drug trafficking.
It appears that preliminary conversations occurred outside the bus. However, at least four officers boarded the bus with the defendant and his companions in order to continue the interviews. These interviews and searches were conducted in the cramped aisles of the bus. Detective Beard testified that the aisle in a Greyhound bus is only 14 1/2 to 15 inches wide. Two officers remained near the front of the bus, blocking the exit aisle. Detective Beard was in the rear of the bus, a seat or two behind where the defendant was sitting. Detective Huffman was parallel to defendant's seat, and was also standing in the aisle.
The defendant and one of his companions, Mr. Raheem Tucker, testified that they consented to the officers' requests to search their bags. Detective Beard, who had been interviewing another companion at the time, testified that the defendant volunteered to Detective Huffman that he could search his bag, without being asked first. At best, the Court finds it improbable that the defendant would turn to the detective without prompting and volunteer to have his possessions searched. Even if the defendant "volunteered," the Court finds that the crowded and intimidating atmosphere on the bus created an environment in which the defendant felt compelled to accede to what the officers wanted.
Detective Beard testified that the officers re-boarded because they had determined that several pieces of luggage without identification tags, which were located in the rack near the defendant's seat, had not been searched. Detective Oxendine stood in the seat immediately in front of the defendant, with only her foot in the aisle. Detective Beard stood two seats ahead, by his own admission with half of his body partially blocking the narrow aisle. Another detective stood near the front of the bus, but, according to Beard, did not block the aisle. Detective Beard testified that the defendant admitted that three bags in the overhead rack were his, and consented to their search. Two of the bags contained narcotics. The defendant testified that he admitted ownership of only two blue bags, one of which was searched the first time, and one of which was searched the second time the detectives came through the bus.
Neither of those bags contained narcotics. He testified that Detective Oxendine told him to hand her the other bags from the rack to be searched, and he did. Whether he consented to their search or handed them to the officer without saying anything is not important in light of the Court's finding that the circumstances of this encounter were so coercive as to render any "consent" invalid.
It has become commonplace for the Court to hear of confrontations involving the Narcotics Interdiction Unit and individuals passing through this city's bus terminal. The officers in this case testified that they inspected every piece of luggage in the racks above the passengers' heads, looking for bags without identifying tags. These were the bags the officers ultimately determined to search. The Court emphasizes the fact that many of the individuals stopped by the Interdiction Unit, like the defendant and his companions, are traveling on an interstate bus through Washington, D.C. They have no intention of stopping in Washington, D.C., or presumably, of distributing illegal narcotics on the streets of Washington, D.C. Yet, it has become routine to subject interstate travelers to warrantless searches and intimidating interviews while sitting aboard a bus stopped for a short layover in the Capital. These searches, ostensibly made with the interviewee's consent, are inconvenient, intrusive and intimidating. In this case, and in many others, the warrantless search and seizure of these citizens violates the fourth amendment to the constitution.
The fourth amendment protects "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures . . . ." Whether or not an individual is seized so as to implicate the protections of the fourth amendment depends upon the totality of the circumstances. United States v. Baskin, 280 U.S. App. D.C. 366, 886 F.2d 383, 386 (D.C. Cir. 1989), cert. denied 494 U.S. 1089, 108 L. Ed. 2d 960, 110 S. Ct. 1831 (1990). If, in view of all the circumstances, a reasonable person would not feel free to leave, then a "seizure" has taken place. United States v. Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544, 554, 64 L. Ed. 2d 497, 100 S. Ct. 1870 (1980). The Court finds that the police conduct in this case was "'so intimidating' that [an individual] could reasonably have believed that he was not free to disregard the police presence and go about his business." See Michigan v. Chesternut, 486 U.S. 567, 576, 100 L. Ed. 2d 565, 108 S. Ct. 1975 (1988); United States v. Cothran, 729 F. Supp. 153, 155 (D.D.C. 1990).