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United States v. Kalayjian

United States District Court, D. Montana, Missoula Division

June 8, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
GREGORY DAVID KALAYJIAN, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Dana L. Christensen, Chief Judge

         Before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Suppress (Doc. 34). For the reasons given below, the Court denies Defendant's motion.

         Factual Background[1]

         On Halloween night, 2016, as Missoula Police Officer Brandon O'Dell drove his police cruiser behind the Brooks Street Motor Inn, he saw a man and a woman leave room 607 and walk toward two cars-a white Subaru Impreza and a blue Nissan Altima-parked directly in front of the motel room. Noticing that the pair "seemed kind of startled to [his] arrival in a police car, " O'Dell turned into the motel parking lot. (Doc 37-1 at 7.) The white Subaru was heading out of the parking lot and toward the police car as O'Dell pulled in, but as O'Dell approached, the Subaru backed up into the parking spot it had just left, directly in front of room 607. O'Dell assumed that the occupants of the vehicle were the same man and woman that he had seen outside the room.[2]

         O'Dell recognized the other car parked outside room 607, the blue Altima, as belonging to Matthew Jones, for whom a warrant was outstanding. After confirming Jones's rental of the motel room, O'Dell called for backup. While O'Dell was waiting, Jones poked his head out of the room, and O'Dell ordered him to the ground, where he remained until the other officers arrived.

         O'Dell could see inside the room through the open door. Defendant Gregory Kalayjian sat on the motel room bed. A woman, Amy Johnson, exited the bathroom and sat down next to Kalayjian. When O'Dell's backup came onto the scene, the officers arrested Jones and asked Kalayjian to step outside the room. During their search of Johnson incident to arrest, officers located suspected methamphetamine, suspected heroin, and several thousand dollars.

         O'Dell entered the room, and he noticed drug paraphernalia in plain sight. O'Dell spoke with Johnson. She informed him that Kalayjian had picked her and Jones up from a gas station earlier that evening in the white Subaru.[3] Kalayjian then drove them to the motel, and the trio planned to celebrate Kalayjian's birthday at a strip club later that night. Johnson told O'Dell that she and Jones intended to walk to the club and that Kalayjian would drive his car, the white Subaru.

         The officers searched the hotel room, in which they found a large chunk of heroin, a small pebble of heroin, and marijuana. Johnson identified a black backpack as hers, and she gave consent to its search. O'Dell found paraphernalia and drugs in the bag. Kalayjian stated that nothing in the room belonged to him.

         Outside the room, O'Dell asked Kalayjian for consent to search the Subaru, which Kalayjian denied.[4] O'Dell looked through the vehicle's windows and saw a box of Remington ammunition, a bottle of liquor, a locked silvertone metal briefcase, and a small zippered red and black bag. O'Dell, who has seen a "fairly high volume" of drug-related calls as a patrol officer in his four and a half years on the force, knew that containers like the metal lock box and zippered pouch are commonly used to transport and conceal drugs and paraphernalia. (Doc. 37-1 at 5-6, 25-26.) Believing that the Subaru likely contained evidence of drug-related activity, O'Dell seized the vehicle to preserve the evidence. At that time, O'Dell and his fellow officers were unaware that Kalayjian was a felon and prohibited from possessing ammunition.

         Other members of the Missoula Police Department, including Detective Matthew Stonesifer, applied for and received a warrant to search the Subaru. After the vehicle was seized but before the application was completed, the officers learned that Kalayjian was a convicted felon. The search of the Subaru proved fruitful. Inside the trunk was a safe containing nearly $12, 000 in cash, suspected liquid methadone, suspected marijuana, and substances that NIK-tested presumptive positive for heroin and methamphetamine. Two handguns were found-one under the front passenger seat and the other under the driver's seat. The silver case contained additional ammunition. Following the search, a warrant issued for Kalayjian's arrest.

         As part of a separate drug investigation, law enforcement officers learned that Kalayjian was present in a mobile home at 915 Ronan Street, unit number 1, Missoula, Montana, where significant suspected drug activity was occurring. A search warrant issued to search the Ronan Street property on December 16, 2016. The warrant application referred to the outstanding warrant for Kalayjian's arrest. It also referenced a great deal of additional information learned during the course of the investigation of the Ronan Street property. Confidential sources and tipsters had given law enforcement information about another occupant of the Ronan Street property suggesting that this occupant was involved in the drug trade. The property was under surveillance in early December 2016, and officers observed traffic to and from the property consistent with drug distribution. On December 16, 2016 but before the search warrant was applied for and issued, officers witnessed an apparent hand-to-hand drug transaction involving the other occupant of the Ronan Street property just outside the residence. (Doc. 37-3.)

         When they executed the warrant, members of the United States Marshal Service and local police officers found Kalayjian at the Ronan Street property. Kalayjian was arrested on his state arrest warrant. Another individual on the property at the time informed local police that she had seen Kalayjian in possession of firearms just before the search warrant was executed. During the course of the search, the officers found two guns and a number of drug-related items. (Docs. 35-1 at 13-16, 37-3.)

         Kalayjian now faces multiple felony drug- and gun-related charges stemming largely from the physical evidence found in the ...


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