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United States v. Jones

United States District Court, District of Columbia

November 4, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
GREGORY JONES, Defendant. Re Documents No. 6, 7

MEMORANDUM OPINION

RUDOLPH CONTRERAS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Denying Defendant’s Motion to Suppress Physical Evidence and Denying Defendant’s Motion to Suppress Statements

I. INTRODUCTION

Defendant Gregory Jones was indicted on one count of possession with intent to distribute a substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(C), and one count of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1). Before the Court is Jones’s motion to suppress physical evidence that was recovered after Jones was stopped by police (ECF No. 7) and his motion to suppress statements he made during two later interviews conducted with members of the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department (“MPD”) (ECF No. 6). Upon consideration of the motions and the government’s oppositions thereto, the Court will deny both motions.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

In the early morning hours of June 29, 2015, Officer John Wright and Officer Patrick Vaillancourt of the MPD’s Narcotics and Special Investigations Division Gun Recovery Unit were patrolling the Trinidad neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Tr. of Mot. Hr’g at 8-9, ECF No. 14. The unit had been dispatched to patrol that neighborhood in light of several recent homicides involving firearms. Id. at 9. The officers drove an unmarked gray Ford Explorer and were dressed in casual attire, although they wore tactical vests with police placards on the front and back. Id. at 9, 41.

While driving on the 1100 block of Queen Street, Northeast, the officers observed four men sitting on the stairs and landing of an apartment building at 1116 Queen Street. Id. at 9-10. Defendant Jones and another individual were both sitting on the landing in front of the door, while two other men sat on the front steps of the building in front of Jones. Id. at 12. Officer Vaillancourt testified that the men’s presence drew the officers’ attention because there were no other people out in that area after midnight. Id. at 14, 36. In front of the men and on the bottom step of the stoop were four liquor bottles. Id. at 14. The officers stopped their vehicle in front of the building. From the vehicle, Officer Wright identified himself and Officer Vaillancourt as police officers and began a conversation with the men. Id. at 14. During that conversation, Officer Wright asked if the men had any firearms on their persons. According to Officer Vaillancourt’s testimony, the men, including Jones, appeared nervous and reluctantly responded in the negative. Id. at 14-15, 38.

Officer Wright then asked if he could see the men’s waistbands. Id. at 14-15. Three of the men complied and lifted their shirts to expose their waistbands. As a result, the officers could visibly see that those men were not carrying firearms in their waistbands. Id. at 15. Jones, however, was sitting behind one of the other men. Officer Vaillancourt testified that Jones did not stand up completely and, as a result, the majority of Jones’s body-including his waistband-remained obstructed from the officers’ view. Jones did raise his arms halfway over his head, and up to his shoulder area. But, unlike the other men, he did not lift up his shirt and display his waistband. Id. at 15-16, 43-45. When Jones raised his arms, the officers also noticed that he was wearing a single, white latex glove on his right hand. From his training and experience, Officer Vaillancourt understood latex gloves to be commonly worn by individuals who distribute PCP while handling the drug. Id. at 16.

At that point, and “[b]ased on the suspicion that there may be liquid PCP or even firearms, based on Mr. Jones’[s] awkward response to [the officers’] question, ” Officer Wright called for backup, although he and Officer Vaillancourt remained in the vehicle. Id. at 16. While the officers waited for backup to arrive, the men began to gather their things. Officer Vaillancourt noticed Jones “moving something around his waistband to his left side.” Id. at 17. Then, as if “there was something he was trying to move underneath his butt, ” Officer Vaillancourt observed Jones “sort of rock[ing] back and forth as if to adjust his seat” and doing so “continuously.” Id. at 17. When the man sitting in front of Jones stood, Officer Vaillancourt was able to see Jones more clearly, and he saw that Jones’s “hands were pretty much in between his knees while he was sitting, and it appeared he was trying to stealthily just take the glove off.” Id. at 18. Officer Vaillancourt “decided to exit the vehicle and try to continue [the officers’] contact with [the men] and try to keep them in the area while the other officers were still responding.” Id. at 18. Although the officers remained on the sidewalk and attempted to continue talking with the three men other than Jones, the officers “didn’t observe anything suspicious from th[ose] individuals” and “allowed them to walk out of the area.” Id. at 18; see also Id. at 56.

Jones also attempted to leave. As Jones stood, however, the officers noticed a black, opaque plastic bag on the landing where Jones had been sitting. Id. at 20. Because “Jones was doing other things besides gathering his stuff together, ” Officer Vaillancourt testified that Jones “seemed to be a little bit behind everyone.” Id. at 19. As Jones attempted to follow the other men, Vaillancourt told Jones: “I need to talk to you for a second, you need to stop.” Id. Instead of stopping, Jones quickened his pace. Id. Although the officers attempted to stop him, Jones tried to push through them. Id. A scuffle ensued during which the officers took Jones to the ground. Id. With the help of the additional officers who by then had arrived as backup, Officers Wright and Vaillancourt handcuffed Jones. Id. at 20.

After Jones was restrained, Officer Wright looked underneath the plastic bag on which Jones had been sitting. Id. Underneath the bag, the officers recovered a semi-automatic Glock firearm loaded with one round of ammunition, and an extended magazine that contained twenty-nine rounds.[1] Id. at 22-23. The officers also recovered two smaller plastic bags from underneath the larger, black bag-one was clear, and the other was white and opaque. Id. at 20, 23. The clear bag contained twenty blue zips, while the solid white bag contained thirty-five blue and pink zips. Id. at 25. Together, fifty-five zips were recovered, and the results of a sample field test indicated the presence of cocaine base. Id. Finally, a white latex glove was also left on the stairs. Id. at 26. After recovering the firearm and drugs, the officers decided to arrest Jones.[2] Id. at 54.

Jones was transferred to the MPD’s Fifth District station, where he was interviewed by Detective Hain. Id. at 32. After introducing himself and obtaining background information about Jones, including his name, date of birth, and address, Detective Hain informed Jones that he was arrested for possession with intent to distribute drugs while armed and stated that “if you want to talk to me about that, I’ve got to read you your rights.” Gov’ts Ex. 10 (DVD of Def.’s Interview at Fifth District) at 5:14-8:02. Detective Hain then asked Jones if he was under the influence of any drugs, narcotics, alcohol, or prescription drugs. Id. at 8:03-8:05. Jones told Detective Hain that he was under the influence of alcohol and that he “just had one” drink. Id. at 8:06-8:14. In response to the detective’s question as to whether Jones understood what was going on around him, Jones answered “No.” Id. at 8:15-8:24. Jones then asked, without prompting: “Can I have a lawyer?” Id. at 8:25. At that point, Detective Hain said “all right, ” ceased talking to the defendant, and began writing on the piece of paper in front of him. Id. at 8:26-8:31.

Roughly five seconds later, and unsolicited, Jones then initiated the following conversation:

JONES: What do you want to ask me questions about, first?
DETECTIVE HAIN: Nah, man, you’re --
JONES: No, but I don’t need a lawyer. ...

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