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United States v. Olejniczak

United States District Court, W.D. New York

November 15, 2017





         The above-captioned matter involves 12 remaining defendants[1] named in a 46-count Second Superseding Indictment (Dkt. 33) returned on March 16, 2016, alleging various crimes, including a conspiracy in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1961 et seq., in connection with the operation of the Kingsmen Motorcycle Club.

         On August 2, 2017, United States Magistrate Judge Michael J. Roemer, to whom various pretrial matters had been referred pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), including a motion to suppress that had been filed by defendant Stanley Olejniczak ("Defendant") (Dkt. 394), issued a Report and Recommendation ("R&R") recommending that the motion to suppress be denied (Dkt. 709). Defendant had moved to suppress firearms seized from a safe located in a downstairs bedroom, and a shotgun, ammunition, and marijuana seized from an upstairs bedroom, during the execution of a warrant to arrest Defendant at his residence on March 22, 2016. (Dkt. 394).

         Magistrate Judge Roemer recommended denial of the suppression motion and made the following findings. (Dkt. 709 at 3). First, Magistrate Judge Roemer found that the Government had shown by a preponderance of the evidence that on March 22, 2016, the SWAT team discovered the evidence at issue while searching for Defendant pursuant to a lawful arrest warrant, as authorized by Maryland v. Buie, 494 U.S. 325, 333 (1990) (holding that law enforcement possessing an arrest warrant and probable cause to believe that the subject of the warrant is in the home "were entitled to enter and to search anywhere in the house in which [the subject] . . . might be found, " but "[o]nce he was found, ... the search for him was over, and there was no longer that particular justification for entering any rooms that had not yet been searched"). (Id. at 8-12). Second, Magistrate Judge Roemer found that the Government established by a preponderance of the evidence that Defendant voluntarily consented to the search of the firearm safe. (Id. at 12-15). Third, Magistrate Judge Roemer found that the evidence was lawfully seized under the plain view doctrine, and no basis exists to suppress any of the evidence. (Id. at 15-16).

         On August 25, 2017, Defendant filed objections to the R&R. (Dkt. 758). The Government filed papers in opposition to the objections on September 11, 2017 (Dkt. 770), and Defendant filed a reply on September 18, 2017 (Dkt. 795). Oral argument was held before the undersigned on September 21, 2017, at which time the Court reserved decision. (Dkt. 800).


         This Court reviews Defendant's objections under a de novo standard. Fed. R. Crim. P. 59(b)(3); see also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) ("A judge of the court shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made."); United States v. Male Juvenile, 121 F.3d 34, 38 (2d Cir. 1997) (requiring a district court to make de novo determinations to the extent that a party makes specific objections to a magistrate judge's findings).

         Defendant's challenges to the R&R focus on the factual findings made by Magistrate Judge Roemer. Defendant challenges the credibility determinations made by Magistrate Judge Roemer, particularly with respect to Vernon Beaty, the Commander of the SWAT team who entered Defendant's residence to execute the arrest warrant. (See, e.g., Dkt. 758 at 19 (claiming that Beaty's "testimony was incredible at times and as a whole not worthy of belief), 20 (claiming that Beaty's testimony was "fabricated testimony by someone who doesn't remember what happened in this incident"); Dkt. 795 at 2 (referring to Beaty's testimony as "crazy" and revealing that "he had no idea what happened here and tailored his testimony to fit the needs of the Government")).

         Although this Court's review is de novo, it must give appropriate deference to the credibility determinations made by the magistrate judge who heard the witness testimony in this case. See United States v. Lawson, 961 F.Supp.2d 496, 499 (W.D.N.Y. 2013) ("The Second Circuit has instructed that where a Magistrate Judge conducts an evidentiary hearing and makes credibility findings on disputed issues of fact, the district court will ordinarily accept those credibility findings."); see also United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 675-76 (1980) (district court is not required to rehear witness testimony when accepting a magistrate judge's credibility findings). Magistrate Judge Roemer found "all of the witnesses who testified at the suppression hearing to be credible, " and any discrepancies in the testimony were neither significant nor surprising given the number of SWAT team entries conducted each year. (Dkt. 709 at 8).

         This Court has reviewed the entire transcript of the three-day hearing[2] before Magistrate Judge Roemer, and the record in this case fully supports Magistrate Judge Roemer's factual findings. Defendant's papers in support of his objections make a valiant effort to pick out portions of the testimony in support of his version of events on the date in question. However, Magistrate Judge Roemer considered the testimony of the various law enforcement witnesses who entered the residence on the date in question and, making fair inferences from their testimony, concluded that the evidence at issue was observed in plain view during the lawful entry into the home to execute the arrest warrant. After this Court's de novo review, it agrees with Magistrate Judge Roemer's conclusions and adopts the R&R in its entirety. The Court will not repeat the full extent of Magistrate Judge Roemer's findings as set forth in the R&R, with which familiarity is assumed, but it does address a few of the points raised by Defendant.

         As an initial matter, the evidence elicited during the three days of testimony established that upon entering the residence, the SWAT team "flooded" the house looking for bodies, and it is their procedure to clear a residence room-by-room. While many of the members of the SWAT team had difficulty recalling specifics about this particular arrest, the testimony established that they conduct hundreds of similar procedures annually, and the practices they follow are regimented and consistent, as required to ensure their own safety and the safety of others during these procedures.

         With respect to the discovery of the gun safe on the first floor, Magistrate Judge Roemer concluded as follows:

In the course of clearing the first floor of the defendant's residence, the SWAT team entered a bedroom located off of a dining-room area in the middle of the first floor and observed a large firearm safe. (T2: 64, 68-71, 79-80). A team member stayed with the safe until ...

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