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United States v. Ashburn

United States District Court, E.D. New York

May 6, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
YASSA ASHBURN, HAILE CUMMINGS, GERALDO ELAINOR, DANIEL HARRISON, RICKY HOLLENQUEST, JAMAL LAURENT, TREVELLE MERRITT, and RALIK ODOM, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

NICHOLAS G. GARAUFIS, District Judge.

Before the court are the pretrial motions of Defendants Ralik Odom ("Odom"), Yassa Ashburn ("Ashburn"), Daniel Harrison Ruiz ("Harrison Ruiz"), Haile Cummings ("Cummings"), and Jamal Laurent ("Laurent, " and collectively "Defendants").[1] (See Odom Mot. to Suppress ("Odom Mot.") (Dkt. 111); Cummings Mot. for Bill of Particulars ("Cummings Mot.") (Dkt. 113); Laurent Mot. to Suppress ("Laurent Mot. #1") (Dkts. 114-116); Ashburn Mot. for Discovery & Supporting Documents ("Ashburn Mot.") (Dkt. 121); Harrison Ruiz Mot. for Bill of Particulars and Severance of Trials ("Harrison Ruiz Mot.") (Dkt. 122); Laurent Mot. for Bill of Particulars ("Laurent Mot. #2") (Dkt. 123).) For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' pretrial motions are DENIED in part and HELD IN ABEYANCE in part.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Charged Criminal Conduct

Defendants are charged by a twenty-one count indictment with being members of the Six Tre Outlaw Gangsta Disciples Folk Nation ("Six Tre Folk Nation" or "the enterprise"), which allegedly was a racketeering enterprise responsible for various acts of violence, murder, attempted murder, and robbery between April 2008 and October 2011. (Superseding Indictment S-3 (Dkt. 71).) According to the Government, the Folk Nation is a nationwide gang founded in Chicago, Illinois in the early 1990s. (Gov't Br. in Opp'n to Defs.'s Pre-Trial Mot. ("Gov't Opp'n") (Dkt. 131) at 1.) In New York, the Six Tre Folk Nation allegedly has been operating in and around the Ebbets Field housing projects in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn for several years. (Id.) Beginning in about 2007, the enterprise allegedly has been responsible for a "slew of gang-related homicides, non-fatal shootings (the victims of which were often innocent bystanders, including a 10-year-old girl), and commercial robberies both in and around Flatbush and elsewhere." (Id.)

The indictment, [2] dated November 15, 2012, charges each Defendant with multiple Counts of criminal conduct. In short, each Defendant is charged with one count of racketeering (Count 1) predicated on sixteen predicate Racketeering Acts ("RAs"), [3] which include, among other things: conspiracy to murder members of a rival Crips gang (RA 1) as well as an associate of a rival gang known as "Specs" (RA 5); the murders of Courtney Robinson on or about April 20, 2008, Anthony Thomas on or about August 9, 2008, and Brent Duncan on or about June 19, 2010 (RAs 2, 3, 9); the attempted murder of an individual known as "Wrinkles" on or about September 13, 2008, John Doe #1 on or about May 15, 2009, and John Doe #3 on or about June 30, 2010 (RAs 4, 6, 12); Hobbs Act robbery and a robbery conspiracy targeting employees of various jewelry stores (RAs 7, 8); Hobbs Act robberies and a robbery conspiracy concerning individuals targeted through Craigslist (RAs 10, 11, 13, 14, 15); and robbery resulting in the murder of one Dasta James on or about January 28, 2011 (RA 16). (Indictment at 4-12.) Each Defendant is likewise charged with participating in a racketeering conspiracy (Count 2). (Id. at 12-13.)

In addition, individual Defendants are charged in Counts 3-21 with various federal crimes predicated on the same or similar conduct at issue in the Racketeering Acts, including: murder in-aid-of racketeering; assault with a dangerous weapon in-aid-of racketeering; conspiracy to murder in-aid-of racketeering; robbery and robbery conspiracy in violation of the Hobbs Act; unlawful use of a firearm; and causing death through use of a firearm. (Id. at 13-25.)

B. Pretrial Motions at Issue

In accordance with the briefing schedules set by the court, all Defendants except Trevelle Merritt and Ricky Hollenquest filed separate pretrial motions for the court's consideration. In addition to overlapping in material respects, each Defendant's motion expressly joins or seeks permission to join in the motions of his co-defendants. (Laurent Not. of Mot. (Dkt. 123) at 1; Ashburn Not. of Mot. (Dkt. 121) at 1; Harrison Ruiz Mot. at 1; Odom Mot. at 2; Cummings Not. of Mot. (Dkt. 113) at 1.) The court therefore considers the following requests as having been made jointly by all Defendants: (1) to sever the individual trials from those of co-defendants; (2) to compel a bill of particulars from the Government; (3) to compel the Government to disclose various discovery material on an accelerated basis; and (4) to dissolve the separation order enforced by the Bureau of Prisons. (Laurent Mot. #2; Ashburn Mot.; Harrison Ruiz Mot.; Odom Mot. at 3-7, 9-11; Cummings Mot; Oral Arg. Tr. ("Tr.") at 25-27, Apr. 9, 2014.)

In addition, Defendant Laurent separately moves to suppress a 9 mm Smith and Wesson handgun found in his apartment by officers with the New York Police Department ("NYPD") on the night of June 21, 2010, among other physical evidence, which allegedly was used in the murder of Brent Duncan (Counts 8, 9, and RA 9). (Laurent Mot. #1; Gov't Opp'n at 14.) Defendant Odom also moves to suppress his post-arrest statements and to dismiss all charges against him on the grounds that he was a juvenile at the time of the alleged crimes. (Odom Mot. at 7-9, 11-12.)

In the interests of clarity, the court will address the individual motions of Defendants Laurent and Odom before considering Defendants' joint requests.

II. INDIVIDUAL MOTIONS

A. Defendant Laurent's Motion to Suppress

Defendant Laurent moves to suppress all evidence, including a 9 mm Smith and Wesson semi-automatic handgun, ammunition, a spent shell casing, and a bag of marijuana seized from his bedroom at a group residence on June 21, 2010, as the result of a warrantless search by the NYPD. (Laurent Mot. #1.) The Government opposes the motion as it relates to the handgun and ammunition, arguing that the officers entered Laurent's room under exigent circumstances and/or to conduct a protective sweep, and that the weapon was properly seized because it was in plain view. (Gov't Opp'n at 14-23.)

In 2010, Laurent was indicted by a grand jury in New York Supreme Court, Kings County, with criminal possession of a firearm, reckless endangerment, and other charges arising from the June 21, 2010, incident that led to the seizure of the handgun and other evidence at issue here. (See Aff. of Counsel in Supp. of Laurent Mot. #1, Ex. A (Indictment # 6052/10) (Dkt. 116-1).) Prior to trial, Laurent moved to suppress the same gun and ammunition at issue here, arguing that it was seized in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. (Laurent Mot. #1 at 6.) At the evidentiary hearing, the court heard testimony from Police Officer Evan Hodos, one of the officers who conducted the search of Laurent's bedroom. (See Aff. of Counsel in Supp. of Laurent Mot. #1, Ex. C (Suppression Hr'g Tr., June 29, 2012) ("Suppression Tr.") (Dkt. 116-3).) Finding Officer Hodos' account to be credible, and acknowledging that this is a "borderline" case, Justice Alan Marrus determined that the officers' entry was justified as it occurred under exigent circumstances and that seizure of the gun was permissible because it was in plain view. (Id. at 34-37.) However, neither Officer Hodos' testimony nor the state court's decision on the motion addressed the ammunition that was purportedly also the subject of Laurent's motion.

For the reasons set forth below, the court agrees with the reasoned judgment of Justice Mamas and denies Laurent's motion to suppress the handgun. To the extent Laurent seeks to suppress any other evidence gathered from his bedroom on June 21, 2010, including the above-referenced shell casing, ammunition, and/or bag of marijuana, those aspects of the motion also are denied without prejudice subject to renewal to the extent warranted in light of the addition submissions required by the court. See infra Part II.A.2.c.

1. Factual Background

For purposes of this Memorandum and Order, the factual background provided below is derived from Officer Hodos' sworn testimony before Justice Marrus and the briefs of the parties. The court relies on the state court's assessment of the officer's credibility, but makes independent findings of fact based on his testimony in connection with the motion under review.

At approximately 11:40 p.m. on June 21, 2010, NYPD officers responded to a 911 call reporting that shots had been fired at a residence located at 1445 Schenectady Avenue in Brooklyn, New York. (Suppression Tr. at 5-6.) Upon arriving at the private residence approximately five minutes later, Police Officer Evan Hodos and his partner were met outside by Mr. Siedel Chesney and an unidentified man. (Id. at 6-7, 13-14.) Chesney told the officers that he had been awoken by a single gunshot about five to ten minutes ago, [4] and had immediately seen a bullet enter his apartment through the wall, hit a black handbag, and fall to the ground. (Id. at 7-8, 15.) Chesney reported that shortly after the shot, Defendant Laurent-who lived in the room adjacent to Chesney's from which the bullet originated-came into Chesney's room with two other men, apologized to him, and requested that he not call the police as Laurent was on probation. (Id. at 7, 20-21; see also Aff. of Counsel in Supp. of Laurent Mot. #1, Ex. B (Police Report) (Dkt. 116-2).) Once Laurent left his room, Chesney called 911. (Suppression Tr. at 20.) According to Officer Hodos, when he and his partner examined Chesney's bedroom they observed a bullet hole in the wall and bullet fragments on the ground. (Id. at 8-9, 18-19.) Hodos's testimony also indicates that Chesney told the officers that Laurent had left the house after speaking with him, but that Chesney was not sure where Laurent had gone or whether he was still in the building. (Id. at 11, 20-21.)

The officers proceeded to knock on the door of the bedroom from which the bullet had originated, which was locked, having been informed by Chesney that it belonged to Laurent. (Id. at 8-9.) They also yelled to see if anyone was in the room, but received no response. (Id. at 9.) At that time, the officers called a lieutenant to explain the situation-that a shot had been fired from the locked room and that someone may be hurt inside-and asked if they could break down the door to ensure "[their] safety and make sure everything [was] okay inside." (Id. at 9, 20-21.) The officers received permission to do so and proceeded to break down the door and enter the room. (Id. at 9-10.)

Upon entering the small bedroom, the officers conducted a brief search for someone who might be hurt or pose a danger, but were able to "quickly determine[]" that nobody was inside. (Id. at 22-23.) Officer Hodos testified that the only two places a person might be hidden in the bedroom were in the closet and underneath the bed. (Id. at 21.) During the course of their search, which lasted approximately one to two minutes, the officers observed an 8-10 inch slit in the side of the box spring of the bed. (Id. at 9-10, 22-23.) The bed had no sheets or covers on it, and the officers moved nothing in conducting their visual inspection of the bed and box spring. (Id. at 22, 24-25.)

Standing a few feet away from the bed, Officer Hodos observed through the slit what he recognized to be a firearm inside the box spring. (Id. at 10, 23-26.) Officer Hodos called the Evidence Collection Team which removed the loaded weapon from the box spring. (Id. at 10.)

2. Analysis

There is no dispute that that Officer Hodos and his partner entered Laurent's bedroom without a warrant. In opposing Laurent's motion to suppress the handgun seized as a result of that search, however, the Government argues that the officers' entry was lawful under the exigent circumstances and/or protective sweep exceptions to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement. (Gov't Opp'n at 18-21.) Specifically, the Government asserts that the officers could reasonably have believed that someone was injured inside the bedroom and required immediate assistance and/or that Laurent or one of his associates was still in the room and posed a continuing danger to the officers. (See Suppression Tr. at 20 (noting two other men who were with Laurent when he came to Chesney's room to apologize.) Because the gun was in plain view, the Government argues, it was properly seized as its criminality was readily apparent. (Gov't Opp'n at 21-22.) By contrast, Laurent asserts that the officers' entry into his bedroom was not lawful under either exception to the warrant requirement and, even if it were, the resulting search exceeded the scope permissible under the Fourth Amendment. (Laurent Mot. #1 at 10-11.) Laurent additionally requests that the court hold an evidentiary ...


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