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United States v. Armstrong

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Dublin Division

May 1, 2015



BRIAN K. EPPS, Magistrate Judge.

Defendant Brenita Rachelle Armstrong, facing charges of possession with intent to distribute cocaine, moves the Court to suppress evidence seized during a detention and vehicle search on February 28, 2014. (Doc. nos. 17, 19.) Having considered all arguments by the parties, along with all exhibits and sworn testimony provided from the evidentiary hearing, the Court hereby REPORTS and RECOMMENDS that the motion be DENIED.


On February 26, 2014, Investigator Ryan Alexander, a DEA Task Force Agent from the Glynn County Sheriff's Department, made an application for an order authorizing the use of a tracking device on any Enterprise rental car rented by Defendant. (Govt. Ex. 1A; Court's recording system, For The Record, (hereinafter "FTR"), 10:25:50-29:55.) The information supporting Inv. Alexander's application primarily came from three confidential sources. (Govt. Ex. 1A, ¶ 2; FTR 10:30:50-10:36:30.) The first source, known as Confidential Informant #XX-XXXXXXX, informed Inv. Alexander and DEA Special Agent Rufus A. Wallace that Rafael Baker was a major drug trafficker in Glynn County. (Gov't Ex. 1A., ¶ 2.A; FTR 10:30:50-10:32:19.) The second source, referred to as CS, informed Inv. Alexander and a deputy that Baker was receiving approximately two to five kilograms of cocaine per week from Donnie "Cleotis" Holmes in the Atlanta area. (Gov't Ex. 1A., ¶ 2.B; FTR 10:32:20-10:34:30.)

The third confidential source, referred to as CI-1, informed Investigator Matt Wilson that Baker was obtaining approximately two to four kilograms of cocaine per week and that Defendant Brenita Armstrong, who lived on Treville Avenue in Brunswick, was obtaining the drugs for Baker from Atlanta. (Gov't Ex. 1A., ¶ 2.C; FTR 10:34:51-10:36:30.) According to CI-1, Defendant would rent vehicles from the Brunswick Enterprise on Altama Avenue and drive to Atlanta to obtain the drugs for Baker. (Gov't Ex. 1A., ¶ 2.C; FTR 10:34:51-10:36:30.) Defendant would then drive back to Brunswick, and Baker would retrieve the drugs from her residence at a later time. (Gov't Ex. 1A., ¶ 2.C; FTR 10:34:51-10:36:30.) Baker paid Defendant for the drug runs in cash and also in cocaine for her to distribute. (Gov't Ex. 1A, ¶ 2A.) After obtaining this information from CI-1, Inv. Wilson conducted surveillance at Defendant's residence and observed Defendant driving a rental car from Enterprise. (Gov't Ex. 1A., ¶ 2.C; FTR 10:36:30-10:37:22.) Inv. Wilson conveyed to Inv. Alexander all of the information obtained from CI-1. (Gov't Ex. 1A., ¶ 2.C; FTR 10:34:51-10:36:30.)

Inv. Alexander confirmed the information by interviewing CI-I on February 6, 2014 and by conducting surveillance of Defendant's residence on February 12, 2014. (Gov't Ex. 1A, ¶ 2.D; FTR 10:37:22-10:37:55.) While conducting surveillance, Inv. Alexander verified that an Enterprise rental car was located at Defendant's residence by checking the tag of the vehicle. (Gov't Ex. 1A ¶ 2.D.) Inv. Alexander also observed a female matching the description of Defendant operating the vehicle and returning it to Enterprise on Altama Avenue. (Gov't Ex. 1A ¶ 2.D.) The tracking device application detailed all of the information gathered by Invs. Wilson and Alexander, and on February 26, 2014, Judge Stephen D. Kelly of the Brunswick Judicial Circuit authorized the installation and use of a tracking device on any Enterprise rental vehicle leased to Defendant. (Gov't Ex. 1B; FTR 10:38:13-10:38:40.)

On February 27, 2014, Inv. Alexander and several other officers established surveillance at Enterprise on Altama Avenue and placed the tracking device on a silver Ford Focus rented by Defendant. (Gov't Ex. 3A; FTR 10:40:10-10:41:32.) Shortly after Inv. Alexander placed the tracking device, Defendant left Enterprise in the silver Ford Focus. (Gov't Ex. 3A, ¶¶ 3-5, FTR 10:41:40-10:44:29.) Inv. Wilson observed Defendant arrive at her residence after leaving Enterprise in the rental vehicle and later re-established surveillance of Defendant on I-95 northbound in Glynn County, Georgia. (Gov't Ex. 3A, ¶¶ 6-7; FTR 10:44:30-10:44:45.) From this point, the team of investigators observed Defendant, through electronic and physical surveillance, travel from Brunswick to the Atlanta area, making a few routine stops along the way. (Gov't Ex. 3A, ¶¶ 7-19; FTR 10:45:15-10:47:17.)

Shortly before 11:00 p.m. and approximately five and half hours after Inv. Wilson observed Defendant leaving Brunswick, Investigator James Cassada observed Defendant arrive at The Landings at Princeton Lakes Apartment Complex in Atlanta, Georgia. (Gov't Ex. 3A, ¶ 19; FTR 10:49:05-10:49:40.) Although Inv. Cassada could not follow Defendant into the gated complex at first, SA Wallace and Inv. Wilson were able to enter through the north gate. (Gov't Ex. 3A ¶ 19.) SA Wallace and Inv. Wilson observed Defendant emerge from a breezeway in the apartment complex carrying a bag approximately an hour and a half after she arrived. (Gov't Ex. 3A, ¶ 20; FTR 10:49:40-10:49:56.) They also observed Defendant place the bag into the trunk of her vehicle. (Gov't Ex. 3A, ¶ 20; FTR 10:49:40-10:49:56.) After leaving Princeton Lakes Apartment Complex, Plaintiff travelled to Gables Mills Apartments in Atlanta, Georgia. (Gov't Ex. 3A, ¶ 21; FTR 10:50:05-10:50:23.) Plaintiff left Gables Mills Apartments after only a short stay of approximately ten minutes. (Gov't Ex. 3A, ¶¶ 21-22; FTR 10:50:15-10:50:27.) At approximately 2:55 a.m., Defendant retired to La Quinta Inn in Locust Grove, Georgia, south of Atlanta. (Gov't Ex. 3A, ¶ 28; FTR 10:50:27-10:51:24.) Defendant left the hotel around 10:00 a.m. the next day travelling southbound on I-75 toward Brunswick. (Gov't Ex. 3A, ¶ 29; FTR 10:51:24-10:51:38.)

After Defendant left the hotel, SA Wallace contacted Sergeant Christopher Brewer of the Laurens County Sheriff's Department to inform him that the DEA was conducting an investigation of a Brunswick resident on a return trip from Atlanta and that they believed the individual currently possessed narcotics. (FTR 12:00:56-12:01:59.) SA Wallace advised Sgt. Brewer to contact a deputy and have the vehicle stopped, with the instruction that the deputy should observe the vehicle for a time to see if there might be an independent basis for the stop. (FTR 12:01:23-12:01:59.) SA Wallace advised that the deputy should stop the vehicle even in the absence of an independent basis (Id.) SA Wallace testified he wanted an independent basis for the stop to conceal involvement of the DEA in the investigation of Rafael Baker's drug organization. (FTR 12:03:21-12:03:51.)

Sergeant Brewer contacted Corporal Brian Stokes to make the stop of Defendant, and he relayed the information and instructions obtained from SA Wallace. (FTR 11:10:00-11:10:50.) Sometime after 11:00 a.m. on February 28, 2015, Sgt. Brewer, who was following the vehicle, informed Corporal Stokes that the vehicle was approaching Corporal Stokes' position on I-16, travelling east in the left hand lane. (FTR 11:10:50-11:11:31.) Corporal Stokes observed Defendant's vehicle pass a tractor-trailer and smaller vehicle in front of the tractor-trailer and then move from the left-hand lane to the right-hand lane without using a turn signal. (FTR 11:11:31-11:11:50.) Corporal Stokes testified that the traffic was moderately heavy that day and that such a lane change was in contravention of Georgia law. (FTR 11:11:50-11:12:47.)

Upon seeing the lane change without the signal, Corporal Stokes conducted a traffic stop. (FTR 11:13:00-11:13-21.) Corporal Stokes approached the passenger side of the vehicle and asked for Defendant's license, asked Defendant to step to the rear of the vehicle, explained that he stopped her because of the traffic violation, and advised that he was going to issue a written warning. (FTR 11:13:29-11:14:36.) Corporal Stokes continued to converse with Defendant at the rear of the vehicle while writing Defendant's warning. (FTR 11:14:36-11:14:59.) Approximately eight minutes after first approaching the passenger-side window, Corporal Stokes issued the warning to Defendant. (Gov't. Ex. 4, 11:28:40; FTR 11:16:30-11:16:45.)

Corporal Stokes then asked Defendant for consent to search her vehicle and upon her refusal, requested a K-9 unit to the location. (Gov't Ex. 4, 11:29:34; FTR 11:16:45-11:17:20.) Glen Townsend of the Georgia Department of Corrections arrived with Luna, a drug dog certified to detect cocaine, approximately four minutes after Corporal Stokes issued the warning. (Gov't. Ex. 2A, 11:33:15; FTR 11:18:51-11:19:28.) Luna alerted to the presence of drugs in the vehicle at the front right tire less than two minutes after arriving upon the scene and about six minutes after Corporal Stokes issued the warning. (Gov't. Ex. 4, 11:34:55; FTR 11:19:28-11:19:39.) Upon searching the vehicle, Corporal Stokes and the accompanying officers found a bag containing 1.5 kilograms of cocaine in the trunk. (FTR 11:19:45-11:20:23.) In total, the traffic stop lasted approximately fourteen minutes from the time Defendant stopped the vehicle until Luna alerted to the presence of drugs. (Gov't Ex. 4.)


A. The Facts Gleaned from the Investigation of Defendant Established Probable Cause for the Traffic Stop and ...

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