United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division
OPINION AND ORDER
P. WATTERS United States District Judge
3, 2016, Deputy David Christensen of the McKenzic County
South Dakota Sheriffs Office, stopped a truck driven by
Defendant Thomas Gene Edwards. A pat-down search revealed
drug paraphernalia and a subsequent search of the truck
revealed guns and methamphetamine hidden in the truck.
Edwards moves to suppress the incriminating evidence. (Doc.
26). Edwards argues that Christensen unreasonably prolonged
the traffic stop and conducted an improper pat-down search.
This Court held a hearing on February 14, 2017. At the
hearing, the Court heard from Deputy Christensen and Fairview
Police Officer Liza Harmon. After considering the
parties' arguments and briefing, the Court DENIES the
evening of June 3, 2016, Deputy Christensen pulled over a
green pickup for driving on Highway 200 without its rear
registration lamps illuminated. (Doc. 30-2 at 1). The driver
of the truck identified himself as Edwards. He told Deputy
Christensen that he had borrowed the truck. (Id.).
The passenger, later identified as Autumn Mist Guerrero, told
Deputy Christensen that Edwards was driving her home. Deputy
Christensen obtained Edwards' driver's licence, but
Guerrero did not have any identification. Instead, she gave
Deputy Christensen her married name, Autumn Vonnerheide, and
date of birth. (Id.)
these initial introductions, Deputy Christensen noticed that
Guerrero was attempting to position her torso in between him
and some bags located on the floorboard of the passenger
seat. (Id.). Based on his training and experience,
this behavior made Deputy Christensen suspect a gun was in
the vehicle. (Id.) He radioed for assistance and
requested that Fairview Police Department Officer Liza Harmon
assist him. (Id.).
Christensen went back to his patrol car and ran Edwards'
name through the National Criminal Information Center (NCIC),
which indicated that Edwards had a restraining order out of
Montana for a female. (Id.) NCIC also listed an
officer caution warning regarding Edwards, indicating that he
had exhibited violent tendencies. NCIC produced no
information when Deputy Christensen input the name and date
of birth Guerrero had provided. (Id.). Deputy
Christensen testified that he believed she had provided him
with a false name. This raised his concerns with respect to
Edwards' restraining order because Deputy Christensen
could not determine if Guerro was related to the restraining
order and was in danger.
the information he had learned about Edwards and his
inability to verify Guerrero's identity, Deputy
Christensen decided to interview the two separately to make
sure that Guerrero was not the female associated with the
restraining order against Edwards. (Id.). He told
Edwards this and asked Edwards to get out of the truck,
(Id.) He brought Edwards to the front of his patrol
car and asked him if there were any illegal items in the
truck. Edwards told him no. When Deputy Christensen asked for
consent to search the truck, Edwards refused and told him
that he had just gotten the truck and whatever illegal items
it contained were not his. (Id.). He asked Edwards
about the restraining order. While he was talking with
Edwards, Officer Harmon arrived on the scene to assist.
Christensen asked Officer Harmon to attempt to identify the
passenger. Officer Harmon testified that Guerrero told her
that she gave Deputy Christensen her married name, but that
her license might list her maiden name. Guerrero also told
Officer Harmon that she had an expired license out of
California and a Montana identification card. Officer Harmon
told Deputy Christensen, who asked her to run the new name
through NCIC. Officer Harmon went to her patrol car and ran
Officer Harmon was running Guerrero's name through NCIC,
Deputy Christensen finished up his interview with Edwards. He
asked Edwards to consent to a pat-down search before he
turned his back on Edwards to interview Guerrero. Edwards
complied. As he was patting Edwards' right pocket, Deputy
Christensen felt a small cylindrical object. Edwards told him
that it was some broken glass he had picked up off the
ground. Deputy Christensen suspected that the object was a
knife. According to his report, Deputy Christensen removed
the object from Edwards pocket for officer safety and saw it
was a broken meth pipe with burnt residue in it. From Deputy
Christensen's dash cam video, however, it appears that
Edwards removed the broken pipe from his pocket and
simultaneously, Deputy Christensen saw the pipe, took it, and
placed it on the patrol car.
Christensen immediately placed Edwards into handcuffs. He
asked Officer Harmon to detain Guerrero. He advised them of
their Miranda rights and asked Guerrero if any other illegal
items were in the truck. She ultimately told him that there
was a handgun in the truck and illegal items in a purple bag.
Guerrero also told them that Edwards made her fear for her
and her children's lives. Deputy Christensen and Officer
Harmon searched the truck and found methamphetaminc, baggies,
scales, and cash. (Id. at 2).
makes two arguments in support of his motion. First, Edwards
argues that Deputy Christensen unreasonably prolonged the
traffic stop. Second, Edwards argues that Deputy Christensen
conducted an improper pat-down search. The Court will address
the arguments separately.
Whether the stop was justifiably
does not contest that Deputy Christensen had reasonable
suspicion to stop the truck. Edwards argues that Deputy
Christensen unreasonably prolonged the stop when he failed to
simply ask Guerrero while she was in the truck if she was the
female related to Edward's restraining order. (Doc. 27 at
8). By failing to ask this simple question and receive a
simple answer, Edwards ...