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United States v. Wright

United States District Court, District of Columbia

February 2, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
TYRONE WRIGHT, Defendant. Re Document Nos. 7, 28

          MEMORANDUM OPINION DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS EVIDENCE AND STATEMENTS

          RUDOLPH CONTRERAS United States District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Defendant Tyrone Wright is charged with three counts of bank robbery in violation of 18, U.S.C. § 2113(a). The government alleges that, over a two-day period, Mr. Wright robbed a Premier Bank, twice, and a TD Bank, once. Mr. Wright, pro se, moved to suppress some of the physical evidence and statements that the government collected.[1] See Mot. Suppress Evid. & Statements, ECF No. 7 (Mot. Suppress). The government opposed this motion. See Gov't's Opp'n Def.'s Mot. Suppress Evid. & Statements (Opp'n Suppress), ECF No. 12. Later, while Mr. Wright was represented by counsel, his counsel filed a supplemental suppression motion.[2]Mot. Suppress Statements & Tangible Evidence & Supp. P. & A. (2d Mot. Suppress), ECF No. 28. Mr. Wright is currently pro se once more. The Court held an evidentiary hearing on the suppression motion on January 31, 2017, and is now prepared to rule. For the following reasons, the Court denies Mr. Wright's motion to suppress evidence and statements.

         II. BACKGROUND

         The government's evidence presented at the suppression hearing provided the following account of the three bank robberies allegedly committed by Mr. Wright. On April 20, 2016, a Premier Bank in D.C. was robbed by a person who passed a note to the teller and received money. 1st Tr. 17:25-18:4, 20:3-14[3] (testimony of Special Agent Reginald Harris). Law enforcement officers interviewed bank employees and “the victim teller identified the bank robbery suspect because [the victim teller] had previous dealings with him” while the bank teller was employed at a different location. 1st Tr. 18:25-19:5 (testimony of Special Agent Harris). The bank teller identified the robber by name as Tyrone Wright. 1st Tr. 19:12-15 (testimony of Special Agent Harris). The bank teller also provided Mr. Wright's birth date and address.[4] 2d Tr. 3:13-15 (testimony of Sergeant Morani Hines). The bank's security system recorded video of the robbery, and a photograph from that footage was circulated to law enforcement officers later that day. 1st Tr. 20:18-21:25 (testimony of Special Agent Harris). The distributed photograph clearly shows the robber's face. Gov't Ex. H-7. Law enforcement officers also spoke to library police officer Vernon Smith at the Northwest One library after they learned that he might have knowledge related to the robbery. 1st Tr. 22-23 (testimony of Special Agent Harris). Officer Smith identified Tyrone Wright by name as the person in the photograph from the Premier Bank robbery.[5] 1st Tr. 24-25 (testimony of Special Agent Harris). Later on April 20, law enforcement officers received and reviewed additional photographs from the bank's surveillance system. 1st Tr. 26:9-27:4, Gov't Ex. H-8.

         On the next day-April 21, 2016-a TD bank in D.C. was robbed using a note. 2d Tr. 4:4-14 (testimony of Sergeant Hines). The bank employee gave the robber money and a red dye pack, and the dye pack triggered as the robber exited the bank. 2d Tr. 4:13-17 (testimony of Sergeant Hines). Law enforcement officers recovered some money and the dye pack on the street near the bank. 2d Tr. 4:15-5:9 (testimony of Sergeant Hines); see also Gov't Ex. 27. The Premier Bank which had been robbed on April 20 was also robbed again on April 21. 2d Tr. 5:19-6:5 (testimony of Sergeant Hines). Photographs from the surveillance video at both banks were circulated to law enforcement. Gov't Ex. H-9 (still photographs from the TD bank robbery on April 21); Gov't Ex. H-10 (still photographs from the Premier Bank robbery on April 21); see also 2d Tr. 32:1-20 (testimony of Sergeant Hines).

         After the two robberies occurred on April 21, Special Agent Harris was dispatched to the Northwest One library as part of the responding taskforce. 1st Tr. 28:19-22. As Special Agent Harris approached, he saw Mr. Wright walking near the Northwest One library and recognized him from the surveillance photographs circulated after the April 20 robbery.[6] 1st Tr. 29:11-30:1 (testimony of Special Agent Harris). Special Agent Harris and his partner followed Mr. Wright and saw him enter the library. 1st Tr. 32:17-33:8 (testimony of Special Agent Harris). They entered the entrance hall of the library as Mr. Wright was coming back out of the library. 1st Tr. 33:24-34:14 (testimony of Special Agent Harris). Special Agent Harris asked if his name was Mr. Wright, and Mr. Wright confirmed that was his name. See 1st Tr. 35:18-21 (testimony of Special Agent Harris) (indicating that Special Agent Harris asked “was his name Mr. Tyrone Wright. I can't remember how I asked him. I think he asked me ‘how do you know my name.'”).[7] After confirming that the person was Mr. Wright, Special Agent Harris told Mr. Wright that he was a “person of interest” in an investigation and asked him to step outside. 1st Tr. 36 (testimony of Special Agent Harris). Mr. Wright cooperated with the officers and was not handcuffed or physically restrained. 1st Tr. 37 (testimony of Special Agent Harris).

         The officers talked with Mr. Wright for ten or fifteen minutes until additional officers arrived. 1st Tr. 39:17-40:12 (testimony of Special Agent Harris). This conversation apparently involved background information about Mr. Wright. 1st Tr. 40:12-17 (testimony of Special Agent Harris). Although Mr. Wright answered some questions, he also refused to answer other questions-for example, he refused to provide his address. 1st Tr. 41:25-42:2 (testimony of Special Agent Harris). During this time one of the officers noticed red marks on Mr. Wright's clothing and fingers. 1st Tr. 41:14-25 (testimony of Special Agent Harris); see also Gov't Ex. 38 (photograph of Mr. Wright at the library showing red marks on his shirt); Gov't Ex. 39 (photograph of Mr. Wright at the library showing red marks on his fingers).

         After additional law enforcement officers arrived, including Sergeant Hines, the officers asked Mr. Wright if he would accompany them to police headquarters. 2d Tr. 6:21-8:13 (testimony of Sergeant Hines). Mr. Wright refused to go to police headquarters. 2d Tr. 8:13 (testimony of Sergeant Hines). After his refusal, the officers handcuffed Mr. Wright and patted him down. 2d Tr. 8:15-9:6 (testimony of Sergeant Hines). This pat-down produced several items of evidence and Mr. Wright was kept at the library until evidence technicians arrived to collect the items. 2d Tr. 9:14-10:16 (testimony of Sergeant Hines). The items collected at the library included keys, cigarettes, a cell phone, red-stained tissues, and a note reading “stay calm just pass over the money and no one gets hurt.” 2d Tr. 24-27 (testimony of Sergeant Hines); see also Gov't Exs. 40, 41, 42, 43. During this time, one of the officers asked Mr. Wright about the red markings on his clothing, and Mr. Wright indicated that he had been painting. 2d Tr. 43:5-11 (testimony of Sergeant Hines).

         After the evidence was collected, Mr. Wright was transported to the police station. 2d Tr. 9:14-10:16 (testimony of Sergeant Hines). Mr. Wright had still not been informed that he was under arrest when he was transported in handcuffs to the station, although Sergeant Hines indicated that he could imagine no circumstances after arriving at the library in which he would not take Mr. Wright to police headquarters. 2d Tr. 10:17-20, 40:17-20 (testimony of Sergeant Hines).

         At the station, additional evidence was collected from Mr. Wright. 2d Tr. 12:10-12 (testimony of Sergeant Hines); Gov't Ex. H-13. The evidence collected included Mr. Wright's clothes and both of his shoes, which were stuffed with money. 2d Tr. 12:10-12, 31:18-19 (testimony of Sergeant Hines); Gov't Ex. H-13. Mr. Wright was provided with a jumpsuit to wear and was restrained with ankle restraints inside the interview room. 2d Tr. 46:17-24 (testimony of Sergeant Hines); Gov't Ex. H-13. Sergeant Hines testified that he brought Mr. Wright water to drink at the police station.[8] 2d Tr. 11:19-20 (testimony of Sergeant Hines).

         Mr. Wright's time at the police station was captured on video, beginning with the collection of evidence and clothing and continuing through his interview with police officers. See Gov't Ex. H-13. The Court has reviewed the entire three hour video recording. Before the interview began, Sergeant Hines read a sheet containing Miranda warnings to Mr. Wright, [9] and Mr. Wright acknowledged and signed the waiver.[10] 2d Tr. 12:19-23 (testimony of Sergeant Hines); see also Gov't Ex. H-13; Gov't Ex. H-6 (Miranda waiver form showing Mr. Wright's signature). Sergeant Hines also testifies that Mr. Wright did not appear substantially impaired or unable to understand any portion of the interview. 2d Tr. 35:6-14 (testimony of Sergeant Hines). During the interview, Mr. Wright refused to answer several questions, including his home address and the names of some of his associates. See 2d Tr. 35:18-21; Gov't Ex. H-13. Nor was Mr. Wright physically threatened at any time. See 2d Tr. 35:22-36:1; Gov't Ex. H-13.

         An initial indictment was filed on April 26, 2016, charging Mr. Wright with one count of bank robbery in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2231(a). 1st Indictment, ECF No. 3. Several months later, on July 21, 2016, a superseding indictment was filed charging Mr. Wright with three counts of bank robbery. 2d Indictment, ECF No. 9.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Mr. Wright asks the Court to “grant suppression of evidence and statements made by the defendant.” Mot. Suppress at 6; see also 2d Mot. Suppress at 1 (requesting that the Court “suppress . . . all statements allegedly made by Mr. Wright to any government agent; tangible evidence seized from Mr. Wright; and any other unlawfully seized evidence, and fruits thereof”). The Court interprets this request as both a motion to suppress some or all of the physical evidence collected by law enforcement and a motion to suppress the statements made Mr. Wright, and addresses each in turn. The Court considers the motion in light of the principle that the government bears the burden of justifying a warrantless arrest or search. United States v. Jones, 374 F.Supp.2d 143, 147 (D.D.C. 2005); see also United States v. Jeffers, 342 U.S. 48, 51 (1951) (“[T]he burden is on those seeking the exemption to show the need for it[.]” (citation omitted)); United States v. Mangum, 100 F.3d 164, 169 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (“The government carries the burden of showing that the measures employed during the stop were justified.”). In this case, the government does not dispute that Mr. Wright was arrested without a warrant. See, e.g., 1st Tr. 43-44 (testimony of Special Agent Harris).

         A. Physical Evidence

         Mr. Wright requests the “suppression of evidence, ” Mot. Suppress at 6, apparently referring to some or all of the physical evidence taken from his person on the day he was arrested.[11]See also Mot. Suppress at 4 (complaining of the “seizure of items from defendant . . . by actions of officers in violation of the [F]ourth [A]mendment”). The Court agrees with the government ...


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