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United States v. Cooley

United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division

February 7, 2017



          SUSAN P.WATTERS, United States District Judge

         Defendant Joshua James Cooley (Cooley) is charged with Possession of Methamphetamine with Intent to Distribute and Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Drug Trafficking Crime. (Doc. 1). He has moved to suppress evidence under the Indian Civil Rights Act (ICRA) and the Fourth Amendment. (Doc. 33).

         On January 6, 2017, the Court held an evidentiary hearing. The Court heard testimony from Tribal Highway Safety Officer James Saylor and Bureau of Indian Affairs Special Agent Kevin Proctor. Having read and reviewed the parties' submissions and having heard the testimony of the witnesses noted above, the Court GRANTS Cooley's motion.

         I. Statement of facts

         Around 1:00 AM on February 26, 2016, Tribal Highway Safety Officer James Saylor (Officer Saylor) was traveling eastbound on State Highway 212 within the exterior boundaries of the Crow Reservation when he noticed a white pickup truck stopped on the shoulder of the westbound lane. Officer Saylor, knowing this portion of Highway 212 has bad cellphone reception, turned his vehicle around and pulled up behind the truck to see if the truck's occupants needed assistance. As he pulled up behind the truck, Officer Saylor turned on his rear emergency lights but did not turn on his overhead lights. The truck had an extended cab and Wyoming plates.

         The truck's engine was running. With his flashlight on, Officer Saylor approached the driver's side of the truck and knocked on the truck's side. The rear driver's side window rolled partway down and then back up. In the backseat, Officer Saylor saw a child's car seat and a small child crawling to the front of the truck. As Officer Saylor came to the front driver's side window, he saw Cooley in the driver's seat. Officer Saylor asked Cooley to roll his window down, which Cooley did about six inches. The child was sitting in Cooley's lap, content.

         Officer Saylor observed Cooley was non-Indian and had bloodshot, watery eyes. Officer Saylor did not smell any alcohol. Officer Saylor asked Cooley if everything was okay. Cooley responded that everything was fine, he pulled over because he was tired. In Officer Saylor's experience, it is common for travelers along this stretch of highway to pull over because they are tired. Officer Saylor asked Cooley where he'd come from, to which Cooley responded Lame Deer, about 26 miles away. Officer Saylor could not tell whether Cooley's speech was slurred.

         Officer Saylor pressed Cooley on his answer, asking him what his business was in Lame Deer, who he had seen, and why he was traveling so late. Cooley explained he had been there to purchase a vehicle but the vehicle had broken down. He further explained the truck he was in was loaned to him by either a Thomas Spang or a Thomas Shoulderblade. Officer Saylor knew both a Thomas Spang and a Thomas Shoulderblade. Thomas Spang was a person Officer Saylor suspected of drug activity on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. Thomas Shoulderblade was a former probation officer with the Bureau of Indian Affairs on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.

         Officer Saylor suspected Cooley was not telling the truth and asked Cooley to roll his window down further. When Cooley rolled the window down, Officer Saylor saw the butts of two semiautomatic rifles in the front passenger seat and observed the center console was folded down. Officer Saylor asked Cooley about the rifles. Cooley stated they belonged to the owner of the truck, Thomas. Officer Saylor asked Cooley for some identification. The child was still sitting in Cooley's lap.

         Cooley reached into his right pants pocket and pulled out a wad of cash, which he placed on the dashboard. Cooley did this two or three times. The last time Cooley reached toward his pocket, his breath became shallow and his hand hesitated slightly around his pocket area. Officer Saylor drew his service pistol, held it to his side, and ordered Cooley to stop and show his hands. Cooley immediately complied, attempting to raise both his hands while holding onto the child in his lap. Officer Saylor told Cooley he was no longer allowed to move his hands unless told to do so. Officer Saylor instructed Cooley to slowly reach into his pocket and retrieve his identification. Cooley complied and produced a Wyoming driver's license.

         Using his portable unit, Officer Saylor, attempted to radio dispatch to run Cooley's identification. Officer Saylor could not reach dispatch because the portable unit had poor reception in this area. The unit in Officer Saylor's patrol car was capable of reaching dispatch because it had much better reception than the portable unit. Instead of returning to his patrol unit, Officer Saylor maneuvered around the truck to the passenger side and opened the door. Officer Saylor saw that the two semiautomatic rifles in the passenger seat were unloaded. He also saw there was a pistol tucked underneath the folded down center console. Officer Saylor asked Cooley why he hadn't said anything about the pistol. Cooley responded he did not know it was there because the truck and its contents belonged to Thomas.

         Officer Saylor reached into the truck under the center console, removed the pistol, removed the magazine from the pistol, and removed a round from the pistol's chamber. Officer Saylor ordered Cooley out of the truck. Cooley, holding the child, exited the truck and met Officer Saylor at the rear of the truck. Officer Saylor patted Cooley down and, after finding no weapons, ordered Cooley into the back of the patrol unit. Cooley asked Officer Saylor if he could empty his pockets first, to which Officer Saylor said yes. Cooley removed cash, credit cards, and a few small Ziploc bags from his pockets and placed the items on the patrol car's hood. The Ziploc bags were empty.

         Officer Saylor placed Cooley and the child in the patrol car's backseat and radioed dispatch to send another unit and, because Cooley was non-Indian, a county unit. Officer Saylor returned to the truck to retrieve the rifles. The truck was still running. From the passenger side, Officer Saylor reached across the seats to remove the keys from the ignition. While reaching for the keys, Officer Saylor saw a glass pipe and a plastic bag containing a white powder wedged between the driver seat and middle seat. Shortly thereafter, Bureau of Indian Affairs Lieutenant Sharon Brown and Big Horn County Deputy Gibbs arrived. Lt. Brown instructed Officer Saylor to seize all contraband in the truck within plain view. Subsequent searches discovered more white powder, which was later determined to be methamphetamine.

         II. ...

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