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United States of America v. Dante Sheffield

September 20, 2011

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
DANTE SHEFFIELD, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Beryl A. Howell

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Defendants Dante Sheffield and Brande Dudley are charged in an indictment with one count of possession with intent to distribute 100 grams or more of phencyclidine ("PCP"), in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), arising from the seizure of a lemon bottle containing eight ounces of PCP from the vehicle in which the defendants were riding on June 8, 2011. Pending before the Court are the defendants' motions to suppress the physical evidence recovered from the vehicle, and defendant Sheffield's motion to suppress statements he made at the time of his arrest. Upon consideration of the memoranda of law submitted by the government and defendants, and the testimony presented at a suppression hearing on September 16, 2011, for the reasons set forth below, the defendants' motions are denied.

I.BACKGROUND

On the evening of June 8, 2011, Detective Christopher Smith of the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department's Narcotics Special Investigation Division (hereinafter "MPD"), was driving an unmarked car through the 2300 block of 11th Street N.W., Washington, D.C., which is a public housing complex called Garfield Terrace. Transcript of Suppression Hearing at 4, United States v. Sheffield, No. 11-cr-213 (Sept. 16, 2011) (testimony of Detective Christopher Smith) (hereinafter "Hearing Transcript").*fn1 He was accompanied in the car by MPD Detectives Lorenzo James and Michael Iannacchione, and Sergeant J.J. Brennan. Id. The officers were "patrolling" the Garfield Terrace neighborhood after having executed a search warrant in the area in connection with another matter. Id. at 5. Detective Smith observed defendant Sheffield and an unknown individual, who was later identified as Anthony Grant, walking together and then saw Mr. Grant enter a vehicle parked on the side of the street. Id. at 7-8. All of the windows of this vehicle were tinted, and the officers could not see inside. Id. at 10. Based on information from a prior investigation into narcotics distribution in the area of the Garfield Terrace housing complex, the officers were aware that defendant Sheffield was "known" to sell PCP in the area. Id. at 6.

Initially, the officers drove past the vehicle occupied by defendant Sheffield and Mr. Grant, but stopped in the middle of the block and began to reverse in order to "get more information on the vehicle and possibly make contact." Id. at 51. According to Detective Smith, "before [the officers] were able to back up, the vehicle pulled forward . . . and made a sharp left without using a turn signal" into an alleyway that was "slightly" in front of the defendants' vehicle. Id. at 9.

The officers followed the vehicle into the alley, at which point the "vehicle started driving very slow, and was . . . extra cautious with stops and stop signs." Id. The vehicle exited the alley, made a left turn onto another street, "stopped again, waited a long amount of time, and then the vehicle made a right turn without using its signal." Id. The officers then stopped the vehicle in front of 2715 11th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C.*fn2 Id.

After stopping the vehicle, all four officers approached the car, with two officers on the driver's side and two on the passenger side. Id. at 32. Due to the tinting of the vehicle's windows, the officers could not see the occupants and asked for the windows to be rolled down. Id. at 10. Defendant Smith testified that defendant Brande Dudley was in the driver's seat, defendant Sheffield was in the front passenger seat, and Mr. Grant was in the rear seat behind the driver.*fn3 Id. at 10-11. When the windows of the car were rolled down, Detective Smith and Detective Iannacchione smelled the "faint" odor of "fresh marijuana" coming from inside the vehicle. Id. at 11. Detective Smith testified that he noticed "numerous air fresheners all over the vehicle, [which were] more than usual. There were air fresheners on the top, the bottom, the back, the front, all over the car." Id.

After defendant Dudley provided her license, the officers asked defendants Dudley and Sheffield, and Mr. Grant to exit the vehicle. Id. at 11-12. Defendant Dudley and Mr. Grant were instructed to sit on the curb near the vehicle and Detective James took Mr. Sheffield aside to talk to him. Id. at 12. None of the defendants were placed in handcuffs at this time. Id.

The officers then began to search inside of the vehicle. Id. at 12-13. During the search, Detective Iannacchione noticed that the center armrest was locked. Id. The detective pulled the car key from the ignition and used it to open the locked armrest. Id. When Detective Iannacchione opened the center console he "immediately smelled a strong chemical odor" and found inside the armrest an eight-ounce lemon juice bottle, "which through [the officers'] investigation was consistent with that of storing and packaging of PCP in large quantities." Id. Detective Iannacchione opened up the bottle, and "noticed that there was a strong chemical odor consistent with that of PCP."*fn4 Id. Detectives Smith and Iannacchione walked to the rear of their police car and called for additional units, prepared flex handcuffs, and alerted Detective James, who was talking to defendant Sheffield, to bring defendant Sheffield back to the curb. Id.

The officers then handcuffed all three occupants of the vehicle, informed them that they would be seizing the car and that they were under arrest. Id. Detective James then escorted defendant Dudley away from the curb and further down the sidewalk to have a separate conversation. Id. at 13-14. Defendant Sheffield, while seated on the curb in handcuffs, asked why they were being arrested. Id. at 14. When Detective Smith responded that it was because of what was in the car, defendant Sheffield said that "everything [in the car] is his, everything was his." Id. As Detective James continued to speak with defendant Dudley separately, defendant Sheffield "became more irritated and started yelling towards their direction for her not to say nothing, that they didn't have a strong case, they got nothing on us, don't say anything to Ms. Dudley." Id.

Aside from the lemon juice bottle containing the PCP, no drug paraphernalia was found in the vehicle. When the officers searched Mr. Grant after his arrest, however, they recovered a plastic bag containing approximately 0.75 grams of marijuana, which Mr. Grant had hidden in his "sock area." Id. at 17.

On July 7, 2011, a grand jury returned an indictment against defendants Sheffield and Dudley for one count of possession with intent to distribute 100 grams or more of PCP in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), an offense punishable by a statutory mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of five years and up to 40 years' imprisonment. See 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B)(iv). The defendants were arraigned on July 22, 2011 and both entered not guilty pleas.

On August 12, 2011, defendants Sheffield and Dudley filed motions to suppress (1) "all evidence seized from the automobile in which the defendant[s] [were] riding on June 8, 2011," ECF Nos. 18, 21, and (2) any and all alleged statements made by the defendants the night of their arrest.*fn5 ECF Nos. 17, 21. On September 16, 2011, the Court held a hearing regarding the defendants' motions to suppress at which Detective Christopher Smith, one of the arresting officers, testified regarding the circumstances of the defendants' arrest and the search of their vehicle. During this hearing, the government stated that it would not seek admission of any statements made by defendant Dudley the night of her arrest. Hearing Transcript, at 70-72. The Court therefore grants as conceded defendant Dudley's motion to suppress statements she made the night of her arrest. Still pending before the Court are defendant Sheffield ...


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