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United States v. Meekins

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 13, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
GERALD MEEKINS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Amit P. Mehta, United States District Court Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On July 24, 2019, a grand jury indicted Defendant Gerald Meekins on one count of 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). See Indictment, ECF No. 1. Defendant now moves to suppress the gun and ammunition he is alleged to have possessed. The government claims that Defendant tossed the loaded gun to the ground as officers approached him, thereby abandoning any expectation of privacy in the weapon. Defendant, on the other hand, argues that the officers lacked reasonable suspicion to seize him and that his alleged tossing of the weapon occurred after the illegal seizure. This sequence of events, he contends, makes the gun and ammunition fruit of the illegal seizure and thus subject to suppression. See Def.'s Mot., ECF No. 12 [hereinafter Def.'s Mot.].

         For the reasons that follow, Defendant's motion is denied.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Findings of Fact

         The following findings of fact are based on (1) the testimony of Officer Merissa McCaw, the lone witness called by either party during the suppression hearing held on March 1, 2019; (2) evidence presented at the hearing, including body-worn camera footage; and (3) evidence submitted with the parties' pleadings.

         On June 26, 2018, at approximately 11:50 p.m., Officers Matthew Hiller, Matthew Mancini, and Merissa McCaw of the Metropolitan Police Department's (“MPD”) Narcotics and Special Investigations Division Gun Recovery Unit were on patrol within the Seventh District in the District of Columbia. See Tr. of May 1, 2019, Hr'g. on Mot. to Suppress, ECF No. 34 [hereinafter Hr'g. Tr.], at 52-54. The officers were assigned to this area as part of the MPD's “Summer Crime Initiative, ” a program to increase police presence in parts of the city with the most violent crime. Id. at 50-53. The three officers were wearing plain clothes with outer tactical vests marked “POLICE” on the front and back, and they patrolled the area in an unmarked car. Id. at 54. Officer Hiller was at the wheel. Id. at 55.

         While driving westbound on the 2000 block of Savannah Terrace, Southeast, the officers observed Defendant walking alone in the same direction in which they were heading. Id. at 54. The officers noticed that Defendant was walking with both hands held close to his body and balled up in front of his waistband. Id. Based on this hand position, Officer Hiller slowed the car and pulled up next to Defendant. Id. at 54-55. While driving slowly alongside Defendant, through the open window of the police car and separated from Defendant by a row of parked cars, Officer Hiller identified himself as a police officer and asked, “Everything good?” Id. at 55, 59. Defendant replied, “I'm good, ” and continued to walk with his hands balled in front of his waistband. Id. at 55.

         Officer Hiller then asked Defendant, “No guns, right?” Id. Defendant continued to walk down the street and responded, “I'm just going home.” Id. at 60. Officer Hiller then asked him, “Do you mind showing me your waistband?” Id. At this point, Officer Hiller cast his flashlight on Defendant. See Gov't. Hr'g Ex. 1 (Body Cam Footage from Officer McCaw) [hereinafter Ex. 1], at 1:51. Defendant looked down to his waistband and, while keeping his left hand balled in front of his waistband, grabbed but did not lift the right side of his shirt. Hr'g. Tr. at 55, 61.

         Officer McCaw testified that the officers, at that time, decided to stop and get out of the car. Their intent was to do a pat-down of Defendant. Id. at 56, 149. Officer McCaw deemed Defendant's behavior suspicious because of his “unusual” hand position and walk, and because he had not directly answered whether he had a gun and he had refused to show his waistband. Id. at 148. According to Officer McCaw, after Defendant did not lift his waistband, “all of us believed he had a firearm in his waistband.” Id. at 56.

         As Officers Mancini and McCaw got out of the car, both turned on their body-worn cameras, which began recording both audio and video. Ex. 1 at 1:57.[1] Neither officer drew a weapon. Officer McCaw testified that, while rounding a parked SUV, she momentarily lost sight of Defendant and that, upon seeing him again, Defendant had his shirt pulled up with his hands in the air. Hr'g Tr. at 55. While walking towards Defendant, Officer Mancini asked, “Just no gun on you, boss?” Id. at 55-56; Ex. 1. at 2:03.[2] With Defendant now having stopped, Officer Mancini continued to approach and said to Defendant, “Can you spread your legs, I'm going to pat you down real quick.” Hr'g. Tr. at 115, 138; Ex. 1 at 2:08. Officer McCaw testified that throughout the encounter, the officers and Defendant remained calm, and the video recordings confirm this. Hr'g. Tr. at 59, 96, 102.

         Officer Hiller initially remained in the car. After Officers McCaw and Mancini got out and began walking towards Defendant, Officer Hiller saw Defendant reach into his waistband, pull out an object, and make a tossing motion down and away from his body. Id. at 56. Officer Hiller then left the car, walked in front of a parked car, pointed his flashlight towards the ground where he had seen Defendant make a tossing motion, and saw what he immediately identified as a firearm. Id. Officer Hiller then voiced the Unit's code word for the presence of a firearm, walked towards Defendant, and placed him into a “bear hug, ” a maneuver designed to prevent the suspect from moving or being able to access a firearm. Id. at 101-02; Ex. 1 at 2:11. Officers then handcuffed Defendant and placed him under arrest, and Hr'g. Tr. at 102; Ex. 1 at 2:14, and later seized the firearm, a 9-millimeter handgun loaded with one round of ammunition in the chamber and 12 rounds in the magazine. Hr'g. Tr. at 70.

         B. ...


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