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United States v. Blake

United States District Court, E.D. New York

February 15, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
JUSTIN BLAKE, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          MARGO K. BRODIE, United States District Judge

         Defendant Justin Blake is charged in a one-count indictment with being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1), 924(a)(2) and 3351 et seq. (Indictment 1, Docket Entry No. 7.) Blake now moves to suppress the firearm recovered from his person, arguing that it was the result of an unlawful search and seizure. (Def. Mot. to Suppress (“Def. Mot.”), Docket Entry No. 12-1.) The Court held a suppression hearing on the motion on December 14, 2016. For the reasons discussed below, the Court denies the motion.

         I. Background

         a. Criminal complaint and indictment

         At approximately 1:20 AM on November 20, 2015, three officers from the New York Police Department's (“NYPD”) City-wide Anti-Crime Unit were on patrol near the Marcus Garvey Housing Development in Brooklyn, New York. (Compl. ¶ 2, Docket Entry No. 1.) The officers observed a group of people conversing in front of an apartment building and decided to investigate the nature of their activities. (Id. ¶ 3.) The officers entered the building through the rear entrance, proceeded through the lobby, and approached the front of the building. (Id.) While the officers were exiting the front of the building, they observed Blake make “furtive movements in the vicinity of the waistband of his sweatpants [and] appear to shift an object to the groin area of his pants.” (Id. ¶ 4.) Based on their training and experience, the officers believed that Blake had a firearm and was attempting to conceal it. (Id.) The officers then approached Blake and searched his sweatpants, recovering a thirty-two caliber handgun. (Id. ¶ 5.)

         After taking Blake into custody, his criminal history revealed that he had a prior felony conviction. (Id. ¶ 7.) Blake was indicted for being a felon in possession of a firearm. (Indictment 1.)

         b. Blake's motion to suppress

         Blake moves to suppress the recovered firearm on the grounds that the officers lacked probable cause and reasonable suspicion for the search. (Def. Mot. 2-9.) Blake argues that the officers' justifications for the search are “vague, inchoate and unparticularized [sic] and fail to come close to articulating . . . a reasonable suspicion . . . let alone probable cause.” (Id. at 4.) Blake contends that the search was unlawful because: (1) the officers' “furtive[-]movements” observation is insufficient for reasonable suspicion because it is conclusory; (2) any shifting motion was not probative of criminality; and (3) the officers may not bolster the vagueness of the aforementioned observations by stating that, based on their training and experience, Blake's actions are consistent with the actions of someone possessing and attempting to conceal a firearm. (Id. at 4-7.) In addition, Blake contends that he “did not shift an object to the groin area of [his] pants, make any unusual or noticeable or so-called furtive movement in the vicinity of the waistband of [his] pants, or otherwise make so-called furtive movements.” (Decl. of Justin Blake (“Blake Aff.”) 1, Docket Entry No. 12-2.)

         c. Government's response to the motion

         The Government responds that, based on the totality of the circumstances, the officers had reasonable suspicion for the search. (Gov't Opp'n to Def. Mot. (“Gov't Opp'n”) 3-4, Docket Entry No. 13.) The Government argues that the search was justified because Blake was congregating with a group of individuals after 1:00 AM in a high-crime area and he moved an object from the side of his waist to the groin area of his sweatpants. (Id. at 3.)

         d. Suppression motion and hearing

         The Court held a suppression hearing on the motion on December 14, 2016. (Tr. of Suppression Hr'g (“Tr.”) 1, dated Dec. 14, 2016.) The Court received exhibits and heard testimony from Officer Brandon Ravelo, who was the arresting officer, Officer Peter Lazare, and Blake's brother Emmanuel Blake. (Tr. 6:1-131:21.)

         Officer Ravelo testified that on November 20, 2015, at approximately 1:15 AM, he was on patrol in an unmarked police vehicle near the Marcus Garvey Housing Development with Officer Lazare and Officer Rodriquez when they observed a large group gathered in front of one of the Development's buildings. (Tr. 8:1-9:9.) The officers decided to approach the group because they were loud and boisterous and it was after 1:00 AM in a high-crime area. (Id. at 9:10-10:23.) The officers covertly entered through the building's rear entrance. (Id. at 10:24- 11:2.) The officers then proceeded through the lobby toward the front entrance, approaching the group from behind. (Id. at 11:3-24.) As the officers exited the building, Blake started to walk away from the group and then shifted something from the side of his waist to his groin area. (Id. at 12:2-13:15, 18:10-12, 66:1-9.) After noticing Blake's actions, Officer Ravelo approached Blake because he suspected that Blake possessed a firearm. (Id. at 13:16-14:6, 16:8-17.) Officer Ravelo ordered Blake to stop walking and to turn around. (Id.) Blake complied. (Id. at 16:18-21.) When Blake turned around, Officer Ravelo noticed an “L-shaped” object in the groin area of Blake's fitted sweatpants. (Id. at 16:22-25; 67:18-68:3.) Based on those observations, Officer Ravelo believed Blake had a firearm, grabbed Blake's hands, and then silently alerted Officer Rodriquez to search Blake's sweatpants. (Id. at 17:1-24.) The search revealed that Blake was carrying a thirty-two caliber handgun.[1] (Id. at 19:23-20:4, 20:10-21:5.)

         Emmanuel testified that he was with Blake for most of the day on November 19, 2015, and never observed or was otherwise made aware that Blake had a firearm on his person. (Id. at 75:1-2, 76:7-77:25.) Later in the evening on November 19, 2015 and into the morning of November 20, 2015, he and Blake were speaking with a few friends in front of a building in the Marcus Garvey Housing Development. (Id. at 78:4-22, 86:13-24.) They were not overly loud and were not causing any trouble. (Id. at 81:12-15.) When the officers appeared from the front entrance of the building, Officer Lazare had a conversation with Emmanuel. (Id. at 81:24- 82:11.) Emmanuel was familiar with Officer Lazare because he routinely patrolled the Marcus Garvey Housing Development. (Id.) After the officers exited the building, Officers Ravelo and Rodriquez approached Blake. (Id. at 83:5-12.) Officer Ravelo then ordered Blake to stop and to turn around. (Id. at 83:13-14.) Blake complied and placed his hands in the air. (Id.) ...


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