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United States v. Meyers

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

August 3, 2017

United States of America, Plaintiff,
v.
Lamar Meyers, Defendant.

          ORDER

          PATRICK MICHAEL DUFFY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Lamar Meyers' motion to suppress (ECF No. 39). For the following reasons, the Court denies the motion.

         FACTS

         On the night of April 18, 2016, Donald Moultrie was driving his wife's SUV on Sam Rittenberg Boulevard, one of Charleston's largest and busiest streets. Meyers was in the front passenger's seat. City of Charleston Police Department officer Christopher Wycoff, who was patrolling the area, saw the SUV being operated without its taillights illuminated. Wycoff activated his marked car's blue lights to pull over the SUV. Moultrie turned into a gas station. The station's parking lot had several open spaces, but Moultrie drove slowly past them to an area beyond the station's convenience store, by its dumpster. Wycoff, who had worked as a Charleston police officer for several years[1] and who had received training on traffic stops and drug interdiction, found it unusual for a driver being pulled over to pass several obvious places to stop.

         As Moultrie was parking, Wycoff followed behind. He could see Moultrie and Meyers moving around inside the SUV. They continued to move around after Moultrie parked. Wycoff had learned in his training that when both occupants of a car being stopped are noticeably moving around, it indicates the occupants are trying to conceal or reach for something.

         Wycoff's body camera captured most of his encounter with Moultrie and Meyers. Wycoff turned on the camera as he was reporting the SUV's license plate. He then approached the driver's window, which Moultrie had rolled down, and began talking with the two men. Wycoff started by introducing himself and telling Moultrie he had been driving with the SUV's lights off. Wycoff asked Moultrie for his vehicle registration, proof of insurance, and driver's license. Moultrie handed over a wad of papers, which did not include a license. While Moultrie was doing that, Meyers mentioned that he and Moultrie had been out drinking. Seeing no license in the paperwork Moultrie handed over, Wycoff asked again for the license. Moultrie said he thought it was in the back seat and began looking for it.

         In the course of looking for his license, Moultrie picked up a water bottle from the floorboard and asked if he could throw it into the parking lot. When Wycoff told him not to do that, Meyers asked for permission to get out of the car. Wycoff told Meyers to “just sit tight, ” because the way he had seen the men moving around made him nervous. As Wycoff would later testify, he wanted to maintain control of the situation, for his safety, by keeping both men in his line of sight.

         Wycoff asked Moultrie to provide some identification. Moultrie handed Wycoff an identification card. When Wycoff again asked for Moultrie's driver's license, Moultrie admitted that it had been suspended. Meyers did not have a license, either, but he handed Wycoff an identification card. As Meyers was producing his card, Wycoff noticed him sigh loudly. Wycoff then asked if the men were on parole. Moultrie was not, but Meyers acknowledged he was on probation for a prior drug conviction. Wycoff asked the men if they had “something you're not supposed to have.” Moultrie and Meyers said they did not. Wycoff repeated his question, noting again that he had seen them moving around the car earlier. That time, Moultrie again said no, while avoiding Wycoff's eyes. Meyers said nothing but stared wide-eyed at Wycoff for several seconds. Wycoff asked once more if the men had driver's licenses. When they again replied “no, ” Wycoff radioed for backup; he suspected at that point that there were drugs or weapons in the car.

         After asking for backup, Wycoff questioned Meyers about his prior drug conviction. Meyers told him it was for crack cocaine, and that he had spent six years in prison for it. Sensing the men were “shaky, ” Wycoff asked them once more if they had anything they were not supposed to have. They both said no.

         Wycoff then started talking with Moultrie about his criminal history. After Moultrie said that he had not been convicted before of driving under suspension, Wycoff paused the conversation for a moment to call in a request for a canine unit. Wycoff and Moultrie then continued talking until Meyers leaned over in his seat with some fast food bags he had been clutching in his hands. Wycoff told Meyers not to reach under his seat. Meyers sat up, placed the bags on the dashboard, and put up his hands, saying he did not want to get shot. Wycoff told Meyers that reaching under the seat made him (Wycoff) nervous-it was a safety issue-but there was no need for Meyers to keep his hands up. After several seconds of silence, Meyers offered that “there ain't nothing in the car.” Wycoff resumed questioning Moultrie, who said that he had a court date coming up for another incident of driving under suspension and that his prior arrest record was “pretty clean, ” with an arrest about twenty years earlier.

         Shortly after that, Officer Beaver arrived and walked up to Meyers' window. At Wycoff's request, Moultrie rolled it down. Wycoff then told Moultrie to get out of the car. As Moultrie did so, he said he was looking for his money; Wycoff pointed out that Moultrie was holding money in his hand. They then went to the back of the SUV, where Wycoff asked if Moultrie had anything on him that would poke Wycoff in a pat-down. Moultrie said he had a syringe in his pocket because he was a diabetic. Wycoff found the syringe from Moultrie's pocket, filled with what Moultrie claimed was water. Wycoff, however, believed the syringe contained heroin. Wycoff asked Moultrie again when he was last arrested. This time, Moultrie said he had been arrested two weeks ago. Wycoff then told Moultrie to be honest with him and asked once more if there was anything illegal in the SUV. Moultrie responded that “[t]here's nothing on my side” but that Meyers had a gun in his front pocket.

         By that point, Officer Bradish had arrived with a drug dog. Wycoff told Bradish that Meyers had a gun. Wycoff then returned to the SUV, where Meyers was still seated, and told him to put his hands on his head and get out of the car. Once Meyers did so, Beaver and Bradish began patting down Meyers' pants and lifting up his shirt for several seconds. As they did so, Wycoff asked Meyers if he had any weapons; Meyers said he did not. Wycoff handcuffed Meyers and then took over the frisk, focusing on Meyers' front pants pockets. After several more seconds, Wycoff asked him if he had anything illegal; Meyers again denied that. Feeling what he thought were drugs in Meyers' pocket, Wycoff reached in and found a folded $50 bill that felt like it had something inside it. Wycoff believed it was cocaine.

         Wycoff continued to pat down Meyers' waistline and pockets. He then stopped and asked Beaver to check the SUV for the gun. Beaver did not find anything, so Wycoff began frisking Meyers again. Between Meyers' legs, Wycoff felt what he believed to be a gun and said “it's in his pants.” Meyers offered to get the gun out himself. Wycoff refused and positioned Meyers to face him. In that position, Meyers was also facing Beaver and Bradish, as well as the area between the gas station's pumps and its convenience store. Several patrons were walking in that area, at distances of twenty to thirty feet from Meyers and the officers.

         Wycoff put on a latex glove, unbuckled Meyers' belt, and opened the fly on Meyers' pants. Meyers was wearing gym shorts under his pants, and underwear under those shorts. Wycoff pulled Meyers' pants and shorts out away from Meyers' body and then began to reach inside the shorts with his gloved hand. As Wycoff did so, Meyers said, “It's in the drawers.” After confirming that with Meyers, Wycoff pulled Meyers' underwear out from his waist, exposing Meyers' genitals- at least to Wycoff's body camera-for several seconds. Wycoff then pulled Meyers' underwear and shorts back up and, with his gloved hand, reached inside the underwear without pulling it or the shorts away from Meyers' body again. Wycoff paused to put a glove on his other hand and then resumed his search, using one hand to hold Meyers' underwear in place and the other to get the gun. Within another ten seconds, Wycoff had retrieved a pistol from between Meyers' legs.

         After Wycoff finished searching Meyers, he unfolded the $50 bill he had found in Meyers' pocket. Wycoff found a substance inside that was determined to be heroin.

         A federal grand jury indicted Meyers with possessing heroin, see 21 U.S.C. § 844(a), and possessing a firearm after a felony conviction, see 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). Meyers filed his motion to suppress on June 9, 2017. The Government responded on July 19. On July 25, the Court held a hearing on Meyers' motion. Wycoff testified, and the Government offered several exhibits, including footage of the stop from Wycoff's body camera.

         DISCUSSION

         The Fourth Amendment guarantees “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 809 (1996). Meyers contends the police violated that reasonableness requirement in several respects. The Court addresses each issue seriatim.

         I. Detaining Meyers

         Meyers contends that stopping Moultrie's car in the first place was unlawful, that Wycoff lacked a reasonable suspicion to order Meyers to “sit tight” in the car, and that Wycoff extended the stop without reasonable suspicion that other criminal activity was afoot.

         A. ...


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