The opinion of the court was delivered by: CEDARBAUM
Edwin and Jason Palacios are charged with murder for the purpose of gaining entrance to and maintaining and increasing their positions in the Almighty Latin King Queen Nation ("Latin Kings"), a racketeering enterprise, and with using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to such murder. They move to suppress physical evidence seized during an examination of their property by FBI agents after they were arrested on the charges in this case and transferred into federal custody. On January 10, January 27, and February 18, 1997, I held evidentiary hearings on these and other motions to suppress. For the reasons that follow, these motions are granted.
On May 22, 1996, Edwin and Jason Palacios were arrested at the Rockland County Jail by FBI agents and detectives from the New York City Police Department. At the request of FBI Special Agent Teresa Meehan, the defendants had been transferred to the Rockland County Jail from Albany County Correctional Facility, where they were serving state sentences. (Tr. 288.) Prior to the arrest, Agent Meehan agreed with the officials at the Rockland County Jail to take charge of the defendants' property because she knew that they would be staying in federal custody. (Tr. 288-89.) At the time the defendants were taken into federal custody, Jason Palacios' property was transferred to Agent Meehan, (Tr. 290), and Edwin Palacios' property was transferred to FBI Special Agent Francis Schulte, (Tr. 444).
Edwin Palacios' property remained in Agent Schulte's locked filing cabinet in a locked FBI storage room until May 28, 1996. (Tr. 507.) On May 28, 1996, Agent Schulte conducted what he described as an "inventory review" of the property. (Tr. 502.) He did not make an itemized list. Instead, he prepared a short report as follows:
An inventory of this property disclosed that it contains letters, documents, photographs and clothing.
Included in the photographs are eight (8) photographs of a metallic blue/green teal colored customized Nissan Pathfinder.
The above property is being maintained for possible evidence.
(Gov't Ex. 3504-E.) In preparing this summary, Agent Schulte read all the letters and documents from beginning to end. (Tr. 525.) When asked whether an inventory review was open-ended, and meant that an officer could examine whatever there was, Agent Schulte responded that that was his interpretation of an "inventory review." (Tr. 526.) He stated that "everything in an inventory search, if it was in our possession, I would look through." (Id.)
Over a month after Agent Schulte's inventory review, Agent Meehan also examined Edwin Palacios' property over a period of three days, from July 1 to July 3, 1996. Agent Meehan testified that the second examination of Edwin Palacios' property was done at the request of the "government attorney." (Tr. 316-17.) Agent Meehan examined the property and prepared a four page list with a very detailed description of each item. (Ex. C to Gov't Letter of Feb. 20, 1997.) Agent Meehan testified that in making this list she read the contents of all the letters in search of evidence. (Tr. 326.)
Jason Palacios' property remained in an FBI storage room adjacent to Agent Meehan's squad room for nine days until May 31, 1996. (Tr. 367.) From May 31, 1996 to June 2, 1996, Agent Meehan inventoried Jason Palacios' property, (Tr. 369), and prepared a five page summary, giving a description of each item and indicating whether that item was returned to the Palacios family, discarded, or retained for evidentiary purposes, (Gov't Ex. 3503-D). In making this list, Agent Meehan testified that she opened envelopes and read the letters to see "if it contained evidence of a crime." (Tr. 369-70.)
Agent Meehan testified that according to her understanding, there are three purposes for an inventory search: (i) to protect the FBI from any accusations of taking property; (ii) to make sure the property being stored in FBI space is safe; and (iii) to see if there is any contraband or evidence that should not be returned to the prisoner or his designee. (Tr. 291-92.) ...