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United States v. Bankins

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 12, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
FRANCIS BANKINS, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         In this criminal action, Defendant Francis Bankins is charged with Unlawful Possession of a Firearm and Ammunition by a Person Convicted of a Crime Punishable by Imprisonment for a Term Exceeding One Year in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Defendant has moved to suppress as evidence any and all tangible physical evidence seized by law enforcement officers on June 11, 2018. Defendant argues that such evidence was seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Specifically, Defendant moves to suppress the recovery of a loaded firearm which was found in his right pocket during the allegedly unconstitutional search. Accordingly, the Court must determine whether or not the loaded firearm seized from Defendant was seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment. If such evidence was unconstitutionally seized, the it must be suppressed.

         Upon consideration of the pleadings, [1] the relevant legal authorities, and the record as a whole, the Court DENIES Defendant's Motion to Suppress. The Court concludes that the Fourth Amendment was not violated when a law enforcement officer seized the loaded firearm from Defendant because the officer conducting the search had a reasonable articulable suspicion that Defendant was armed and dangerous.

         I. FINDINGS OF FACT

         The Court held an evidentiary hearing on Defendant's motion to suppress on April 4, 2019. The Court has considered the evidence presented during the hearing. In doing so, the Court considered the demeanor and behavior of the witness on the stand, the witness's manner of testifying, whether the witness impressed the Court as truthful, whether the witness impressed the Court as having an accurate memory and recollection, whether the witness had any motive for not telling the truth, whether the witness had a full opportunity to observe the matters about which he testified, and whether the witness had any interest in the outcome of the case, or friendship or hostility to the other persons concerned with the case. The Court also considered the reasonableness or unreasonableness and the probability or improbability of the testimony of the witness in determining whether to accept it as true and accurate, as well as whether the testimony was contradicted or supported by other credible evidence. The Court has also considered the pleadings, the footage from officers' body-worn cameras, and the entire record in this case.

         The Court credits the testimony of the only witness, Officer Brock Vigil, as follows.

         The Court makes the following findings of fact. The Court will first make findings of fact that are relevant to the Defendant's motion and undisputed and/or uncontroverted by any evidence, and then make findings as to facts that are relevant and disputed or controverted by some evidence.

         A. The Undisputed or Uncontroverted Relevant Evidence

         The only witness at the evidentiary hearing, Officer Vigil, has worked for the Metropolitan Police Department for just under 17 years. April 4, 2019 Hr'g Tr. 8: 15. For approximately three years he has been assigned to the narcotics enforcement unit which primarily focuses on street-level undercover drug operations. Id. at 8: 17-25.

         On June 11, 2018, Officer Vigil was on duty, driving in an unmarked law enforcement vehicle with his partner Officer Joseph Harkins. Id. at 10: 3-4. Officer Vigil was wearing a body-worn camera located at the lower-part of the center of his chest, which he activated when conducting official business. Id. at 10: 16-17, 12: 1-3. Because the body-worn camera focuses only straight ahead and is lower than Officer Vigil's sight-line, the camera does not capture everything that Officer Vigil sees. Id. at 103: 7-19. His fellow officers were also wearing body-worn cameras. Id. at 12: 6-8.

         At approximately 5:00 p.m., Officer Vigil and Officer Harkins were called to assist at the 3100 block of Naylor Road Southeast in the District of Columbia. Id. at 12: 16-19. Another police vehicle, which was in front of Officer Vigil's vehicle, was operated by Officer Dominique Tyson, with Officers Travis Collins and James Love accompanying him. Id. at 12: 21-24. Officer Vigil observed Officer Tyson stop his vehicle and activate its emergency lights. Id. at 13: 1-4. So, Officer Vigil and Officer Harkins also stopped their vehicle and activated their emergency lights. Id. at 13: 5-7. Officer Vigil was notified that Officer Tyson had stopped a vehicle for a window tint violation. Id. at 13: 12. Prior to exiting the vehicle, Officer Vigil activated his body-worn camera. Id. at 14: 5-8.

         When Officer Vigil exited his vehicle, he approached the passenger's side of the stopped vehicle. Defendant was in the front seat on the passenger side. Id. at 14: 15-17. Officer Vigil observed Officer Tyson, who had initiated the stop, interacting with Defendant. Id. at 14: 17-19. Officer Tyson asked Defendant to step out of the vehicle. Id. at 14: 23-25.

         Despite some initial reluctance, Defendant eventually exited the vehicle. Id. at 15: 8-11. At this time, Officer Vigil was standing a foot or two back from the passenger-side door. Id. at 15: 12-16.

         Upon stepping out of the vehicle, Defendant was wearing a long, dark jacket. The length of the jacket was approximately to Defendant's knees and was zipped up. Id. at 92: 13. The jacket had large zippered pockets with vertical openings which were located on the left and right sides of the jacket. See Gov.'s Ex. 2. In the back of Defendant's jacket, there was a split positioned vertically from the bottom of the jacket up to the lower part of Defendant's back. April 4, 2019 Hr'g Tr. 26: 23-25.

         After Defendant stepped out of the car, he dropped his identification card. Id. at 16: 14-15. Defendant bent down to retrieve his card. Id. After getting his card, Defendant stood back up. Id. at 16: 23. Officer Tyson directed Defendant to step back, maybe a foot or two, towards the rear of the car closer to where Officer Vigil was standing. Id. at 16: 24-25. At this time, Officer Vigil asked Defendant if he had a firearm and Defendant replied that he did not. Id. at 17: 8-9.

         The parties dispute what Officer Vigil observed after Defendant stepped out of the vehicle. Accordingly, Officer Vigil's observations will be discussed below in the section on disputed or controverted evidence. However, the parties agree that, after asking Defendant if he had a firearm, Officer Vigil patted-down Defendant, finding what Officer Vigil believed to be a firearm in Defendant's right pocket. Id. at 20: 9-12. Officer Vigil immediately handcuffed Defendant and an officer recovered the loaded firearm from Defendant's pocket. Id. at 20: 14-19. The recovered loaded firearm was a .357, which is heavier than most guns because it is made out of solid metal and is big-barreled. Id. at 20: 23-25; see also Gov.'s Exs. 4-5.

         B. The Disputed or ...


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