United States District Court, D. Kansas
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
L. TEETER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
S. Williams is charged with felony drug and firearm crimes.
He moves to suppress the evidence found in his vehicle after
a traffic stop. Doc. 21. Because the stop was valid at its
inception, the officers' use of felony stop procedures
was reasonable under the circumstances, and the search was
supported by probable cause, there was no violation of Mr.
Williams's Fourth Amendment rights and there is no basis
to suppress the evidence. Therefore, the Court denies the
Williams was indicted for violations of 21 U.S.C. §
841(a)(1) (possession with the intent to distribute ecstasy),
18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A) (possession of a firearm in
furtherance of a drug trafficking offense), and 18 U.S.C.
§ 922(g)(1) (possession of a firearm by a prohibited
person). These charges stem from evidence discovered during a
search of his vehicle, a white GMC Denali, following a
traffic stop in Topeka, Kansas, on May 17, 2018.
days earlier, on May 12, 2018, a violent homicide was
committed with a firearm in Topeka, Kansas. The Topeka Police
Department (“TPD”) considered Justin McCoy a
possible suspect. Mr. McCoy was also known to the FBI from a
multi-agency investigation involving houses known to be
involved in narcotics trafficking, with a house at 2312 SE
Pennsylvania Avenue in Topeka as the hub. Mr. McCoy and his
brother were known to frequent that house. FBI agents
associated Mr. Williams's vehicle with that house because
they had seen it there in April 2018. They first saw his
vehicle at a house on SE Indiana Avenue known to be
associated with drug trafficking and believed to be connected
with the house on SE Pennsylvania. FBI agents observed Mr.
Williams enter the house on SE Indiana and come out a short
time later with something in his hands. He then drove to the
SE Pennsylvania address and entered that house.
17, 2018, FBI Task Force Officer (“TFO”) Salmon
and FBI Special Agent Ian Knooihuizen were surveilling the
Paradise Plaza apartment complex because Mr. McCoy's
girlfriend lived there, and he was known to frequent there.
Shortly after 9:00 p.m., they saw Mr. Williams's Denali
leaving the apartment complex. They radioed the TPD and
recommended that officers follow the vehicle because it was a
vehicle that could be associated with Mr. McCoy and they knew
that TPD considered him a possible homicide suspect.
thereafter, Officers Barry Nelson and Brady Qualls located
the Denali and followed it, watching for a traffic violation.
They observed Mr. Williams signal as he began to change lanes
and determined that he had committed a traffic infraction by
failing to activate his turn signal at least 100 feet prior
to starting the maneuver, in violation of K.S.A. §
preparing to make a traffic stop for the violation, Officer
Nelson radioed that they were going to execute a
“felony car stop.” Felony car stops are used when
an officer believes that an individual inside the vehicle may
attempt to escape or cause potential harm to the officers or
the public. In executing a felony car stop or
“high-risk car stop, ” officers do not approach
the stopped vehicle but instead remain at their cars in a
position of cover, with their weapons drawn, and order the
occupants to show their hands, exit the stopped vehicle, and
walk toward the officers.
Officers Nelson and Qualls made the stop, they could see one
passenger and believed there was another passenger in the
backseat. It was difficult to see because it was nighttime
and the windows of the Denali were tinted. The officers
exited their vehicle and took positions behind the front
doors, with their guns drawn. Additional patrol cars arrived
as backup. Officer Nelson ordered the driver (Mr. Williams),
to put his hands out of the window, exit the car, and walk
back to where the officers were standing. Officer Nelson saw
that the left front pocket of his shorts was “turned
out” as if something had been hurriedly taken out of
it. Officer Qualls handcuffed Mr. Williams, noticing the
smell of raw marijuana on him. He placed Mr. Williams in the
backseat of a patrol car. Officer Nelson then ordered the
passenger, Tara Wharton,  to exit and walk back toward him. An
officer handcuffed Ms. Wharton and placed her in the backseat
of a different patrol car. Officer Nelson called out for any
other passengers to exit. When no one responded, several
officers approached the Denali, with their weapons drawn and
in the “low ready” position, to verify that there
were no other passengers in the vehicle. They did not find
any other passengers.
standing outside the driver's door of the Denali, Officer
Anthony Palumbo shined his flashlight into the vehicle and
saw a knife on the front seat. A short time later, he saw a
jar under the seat and announced to Officer McEntire, who was
outside the passenger door, that there was dope in it. When
he removed the jar, he saw that it contained marijuana and
pills that were ultimately determined to be Ecstasy. Back at
the patrol cars, Ms. Wharton told an officer that she had
marijuana in her pants that Mr. Williams told her to hide
when they were stopped. When an officer told her that a safe
had been found in the Denali, she said that there were two
guns in the safe and that both belonged to her. Ms. Wharton
identified which of her keys would unlock the safe. When
officers opened the safe, they found one gun, ammunition, and
cash. Ms. Wharton stated that her other gun was at her house.
Officers also found a digital scale and cocaine in the
Williams brings this motion to suppress all of the evidence
found in the search, as well as any statements made or
evidence gathered, during his allegedly illegal detention.
Williams advances four arguments. First, he argues that law
enforcement violated his Fourth Amendment rights because the
traffic stop was not justified at its inception. Second, he
contends that even if the stop was justified, the
officers' use of felony stop procedures converted the
traffic stop into an arrest that was not supported by
probable cause. Third, he argues that officers lacked
probable cause to search the vehicle. Doc. 21 at 12. Fourth,
and finally, he argues that Ms. Wharton's consent for the
search of the safe found in the vehicle was not voluntary-and
thus, not effective-and therefore, the handgun and other
contents must be suppressed. Id. at 14. For the
reasons stated below, the Court rejects each of these claims.
The Initial Stop Was Valid.
settled law that “a traffic stop is valid under the
Fourth Amendment if the stop is based on an observed traffic
violation or if the police officer has reasonable articulable
suspicion that a traffic or equipment violation has occurred
or is occurring.” United States v.
Botero-Ospina, 71 F.3d 783, 787 (10th Cir. 1995)
(quoting Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 661
Officers Nelson and Qualls observed Mr. Williams make a lane
change without signaling at least 100 feet before the move,
in violation of K.S.A. § 8-1548. That statute states in
(a) No. person shall turn a vehicle or move right or left
upon a roadway unless and until such movement can be made
with reasonable safety, nor without giving an appropriate