United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Valdosta Division
LAWSON, SENIOR JUDGE
the Court is Defendant Uriah Wade Hall's Motion to
Suppress Illegally Obtained Evidence. (Doc. 21, 25).
Defendant argues that evidence obtained at his residence, n
methamphetamine, marijuana, and a firearm, should be
suppressed under the “fruit of the poisonous tree
doctrine” because (1) the arresting officers illegally
detained Defendant without reasonable suspicion or probable
cause; (2) law enforcement officers illegally searched
Defendant's vehicle; (3) law enforcement officers
illegally seized personal property from Defendant's
vehicle; and (4) law enforcement officers illegally entered
Defendant's residence without a search warrant. After
conducting an evidentiary hearing, and after thoroughly
reviewing the arguments of Defendant and the Government, the
Court finds based on a totality of the circumstances that the
law enforcement officers lacked objectively reasonable
suspicion to detain Defendant. Accordingly, any evidence of
criminal wrongdoing discovered subsequent to the detention is
fruit of an unconstitutional intrusion. The Court therefore
GRANTS Defendant's motion to suppress.
11 o'clock on the morning of March 14, 2017, Lieutenant
Rob Picciotti, who is employed with the Special Operations
Division of the Lowndes County Sheriff's Department and
also a member of the FBI Task Force in Valdosta, Georgia,
began his daily patrol in an SUV with Staff Sergeant Tyler
Greene, Sergeant Kenny Busby, and Investigator Steve Exum.
(Doc. 28, p. 10-11, 41). The officers were not assigned a
specific area to patrol. (Id. at p. 12). Rather,
they “work[ed] within the county and the outlying
times throughout the day, the officers patrolled through
Webster Street, which “is located on the southern end
of the east side of Valdosta.” (Id.).
According to Lieutenant Picciotti, the area around Webster
and Charlton Streets is known to be a “high crime
area” predominated by the Gangster Disciple gang and is
patrolled several times a day. (Id. at p. 12-13). Of
particular interest to Lieutenant Picciotti on the night in
question were the adjoining rooming houses located at 402 and
404 Webster Street. (Id. at p. 12). Several months
prior, sometime in the fall of 2016, “[t]he area itself
had been identified . . . as a location where a number of
narcotics deals were occurring in the yards of the two
rooming houses either from dealers that were arriving there
or persons that were residing at the home.”
(Id.). Lieutenant Picciotti was involved in serving
a search warrant on a Mr. Robert Wimberly, who at that time
lived at 404 Webster Street and was suspected of selling
methamphetamine. (Id. at p. 13). While awaiting Mr.
Wimberly's arrival at the residence to serve the warrant,
Lieutenant Picciotti encountered “a couple of gentlemen
that were out in front of 402 that were heavy drinkers, older
gentlemen that lived there, and we began speaking on and off
in times when I would patrol through there and they would
identify things to me that were occurring in the area.”
Lieutenant Picciotti and the other law enforcement officers
passed by the property located at 402 and 404 Webster Street
several times on March 14, 2017, they found no cause to stop
at the residence. Lieutenant Picciotti remarked that they had
observed cars in the driveway, “but I had not seen
anybody standing outside that I wanted to speak to. . . . 402
had a lot of guys out front that were drinking that I saw
coming and going, but nothing that led to me, hey, you know,
who are these people that I want to go up and speak
to.” (Id. at p. 40). Then, sometime around 9
or 10 o'clock that evening, Lieutenant Picciotti
“observed two silhouettes in the driveway.”
(Id. at p. 14, 40). He did not know who the
individuals were, or even whether they were male or female.
The two people were standing fifteen to twenty yards from the
front side of the residence next to a car with the doors
open. (Id.). Lieutenant Picciotti stated, “I
wanted to go out and see who the people were that were
visiting. I hadn't noticed any activity in the driveway
of 404 throughout the day. I wanted to see who that was in
the driveway - if they were affiliated with the house.”
(Id.). The law enforcement officers pulled their SUV
into the driveway and parked about a car's length behind
the other cars in the driveway. (Id. at p. 36-37).
The officers exited the vehicle en masse, activated their
body worn cameras, and approached the two figures.
(Id. at p. 14). It was dark, so the officers
approached with flashlights. (Id. at p. 43). They
each also wore a vest that identified them as law enforcement
the officers first saw the two individuals by the driveway,
they were standing on either side of the vehicle.
(Id. at p. 14). As the officers approached, the
person on the passenger side of the vehicle, who identified
himself as Tony Hall, Defendant's father, sat down in the
passenger seat. (Id.). Lieutenant Picciotti casually
approached Defendant, who appeared to be folding a pair of
jeans. (Gov't Ex. 1, Picciotti, 0:08). Picciotti then
asked whether the two individuals “stayed” at
that address. (Gov't Ex. 1, Picciotti, 0:08-10).
Defendant replied in the negative, stating that they live on
Magnolia Street. (Gov't Ex. 1, Picciotti, 0:10-15).
Picciotti then remarked that law enforcement had received a
tip about drug use in the parking lot of a rooming house.
(Gov't Ex. 1, Picciotti, 0:10-20).
Picciotti testified that as he was speaking with Defendant,
he “pretty quickly smelled an odor of burnt marijuana
either coming from the person and/or from the open door of
the vehicle.” (Doc. 28, p. 16). He also observed that a
sandwich bag with the corners removed fell onto the ground as
Defendant was folding his jeans. (Id.). Based on his
training and experience, clear plastic sandwich bags with the
corners removed are a common tool of drug distribution.
(Id. at p. 17). Lieutenant Picciotti commented to
Defendant on the missing “bag bottoms, ” which he
identified as having fallen out of Defendant's pants and
as being observed in the car door. (Gov't Ex. 1,
Picciotti, 0:30-42). Defendant responded with the question,
“Bag bottoms?” (Gov't Ex. 1, Picciotti,
0:30-32). Lieutenant Picciotti next inquired whether
Defendant “used the marijuana, ” informing
Defendant that he smelled “a little bit of burnt
marijuana.” (Gov't Ex. 1, Picciotti 1:04-06,
1:09-11). Defendant admitted that he does smoke a little bit.
(Gov't Ex. 1, Picciotti, 1:08-10). Defendant also
admitted that he had smoked marijuana but not at that
location as they had just arrived to visit with one of the
downstairs residents. (Gov't Ex. 1, Picciotti, 1:10-20).
During this exchange, the other officers can be seen looking
in and around the car with their flashlights. (Gov't Ex.
1, Busby, 0:01-36; Exum, 0:01-36). One of the officers also
runs a check on Defendant's name for any outstanding
warrants. (Gov't Ex. 1, Exum, 0:48 -1:04).
unclear from the body camera footage which officer requested
permission to search Defendant's car, or even if a law
enforcement officer affirmatively posed the question.
However, Defendant can be heard saying at one point,
“You're welcome to do whatever you want to
do.” (Gov't Ex. 1, Picciotti, 0:42-43). The
officers then conducted a physical search of Defendant, his
father, and the vehicle. No. drugs were found on either
individual or in the car. (Doc. 28, p. 45).
interaction between law enforcement and Defendant did not
conclude once the officers completed the search of the car,
though. Lieutenant Picciotti continued to detain Defendant so
that he could investigate whether Defendant was truthfully
reporting that he was visiting another resident. (Doc. 28, p.
19). Apparently, the downstairs resident denied that
Defendant was visiting him and instead claimed that Defendant
lived in an upstairs apartment. (Id. at p. 19, 21,
47; Gov't Ex. 1, Exum, 3:17-28). Lieutenant Picciotti
confirmed through his testimony that during this time,
neither Defendant nor his father were free to leave.
(Id. at p. 20, 47). Picciotti justified the
continued detention based on the presence of alleged drug
packaging material, the odor of marijuana, and the
inconsistent statements concerning whether Defendant was
visiting a resident of the property or whether he resided at
the property. (Id.).
Picciotti returned to the car to pursue additional
information regarding why Defendant and his father were on
the property. He stated that he was “trying to, at this
point through my arrest, dispel anything dealing with what
I'm dealing with under the violation of Georgia
Controlled Substance Act. Where it could be originating from,
what areas of the home have you accessed through either
consent or illegally? Could a crime have occurred other than
a BGCS, say like a burglary.” (Id. at p. 23,
48). He wanted to know what other reason the pair may have
“to be there if you haven't visited the person you
were telling me you were there to see.” (Id.
at p. 23).
Picciotti then noticed that Defendant's father was
carrying a set of keys on his belt. (Id. at p. 21).
He inquired whether any of the keys would fit any of the
doors to the residence. (Id. at p. 22). None of Mr.
Hall's keys fit any lock. (Id. at p. 49;
Gov't Ex. 1, Exum, 7:09-28). Picciotti then returned to
the car where he noticed another set of keys on the seat of
the car, which Defendant identified as his father's
maintenance keys for the building. (Id. at p. 24-25;
Gov't Ex. 1, Busby, 9:30-45). Picciotti took the keys
from the car, claiming that the keys “were recovered in
the car under the consent search of the car.”
(Id. at p. 25).
Picciotti used the second set of keys to unlock the front
door and to enter the building. (Id. at p. 24, 50;
Gov't Ex. 1, Busby, 9:58-10:06; Exum, 9:40-10:00). He
called “hello” as he started up the stairs from
the ground floor to the upstairs apartment. (Id. at
p. 25, 50; Gov't Ex. 1, Busby, 10:06-07; Exum, 10:01).
Picciotti met another resident of the unit at the top of the
stairs, where there was a secondary door. (Id. at p.
25, Gov't Ex. 1, Exum, 10:07-10:29). The man confirmed
that he thought Defendant did live in the unit. (Doc. 28, p.
51-52; Gov't Ex. 1, Exum, 10:50-54). He permitted
Lieutenant Picciotti to enter the residence so that Picciotti
could also speak with another man who lived there and look
around the common areas. (Gov't Ex. 1, Exum, 11:30-48).
The man, Robert Brown, explained that he, Defendant, and one
other person shared the kitchen area but that each had his
own locked room. (Gov't Ex. 1, Exum, 11:48-12:07).
pointed out which door belonged to Defendant. (Govt' Ex.
1, Exum, 12:50-13:16). Lieutenant Picciotti testified that he
heard a dog in the room identified as Defendant's and
that he also could detect the odor of marijuana emanating
from the room. (Doc. 28, p. 28). Lieutenant Picciotti then
took the keys that had been used to open the front door and
successfully tried ...