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United States v. Nava

United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division

September 1, 2017


          OPINION & ORDER


         Defendant Christian Nava is charged with Possession with Intent to Distribute Methamphetamine, Possession of Stolen Firearm, and Felon in Possession of a Firearm. (Doc. 2). Nava has moved to suppress evidence obtained from his arrest and government search on December 7, 2016. (Doc. 19).

         On August 22, 2017, the Court held an evidentiary hearing. The Court heard testimony from Montana Department of Corrections Probation and Parole Officer Jayson Baxter, and former Montana Violent Offender Task Force Officer Micky Eckart. Having read and reviewed the parties' submissions and having heard the testimony of the witnesses noted above, the Court DENIES Nava's motion.

         I. Statement of Facts

         In the fall of 2016, Nava was out on parole. In October, Nava's parole officer, Officer Pisk, issued a warrant for Nava's arrest. In November, Pisk requested assistance from the Montana Violent Offender Task Force (Task Force) in locating Nava. Nava's warrant was assigned to Task Force Officer Eckart. In an effort to locate Nava, Eckart conducted surveillance at Nava's residence for a couple of days. He did not see Nava. Eckart also called Nava's employer and determined that Nava had not been employed for approximately a month.

         In December, Eckart received an email from Montana Probation and Parole Officer Reede. In the email, Reede told Eckart that she supervised state probationer Brooke Brown. Reede said that Brown's landlord, Lindsey Bell, had reported often seeing Nava at Brown's apartment and suspected Nava lived there. Eckart testified that he saw a picture of Brown and Nava together on social media. His impression from the photograph was that they were in a relationship.

         Eckart talked to Bell the next day. Bell reported that she had seen Nava and his clothing in Brown's apartment. She told Eckart she believed that Nava had been living with Brown for several weeks. She also stated that although Brown had previously been a model tenant, recently Brown had been late on rent and Brown's neighbors complained about increased foot traffic within the last month. Bell gave Eckart keys to Brown's apartment. Eckart called Officer Baxter and discussed entering Brown's apartment to find Nava. Baxter authorized the probationary search of Brown's apartment and agreed to assist. Baxter was made aware, from Officer Reede, in a phone conversation either before or after he talked to Eckart, that Officer Reede had instructed Brown in late November 2016 not to have contact with Nava.

         At around seven a.m. the next morning, Eckart met Baxter and numerous other Task Force officers at Brown's apartment complex. Eckart told Baxter that Bell had texted him that morning. Bell reported that she had received several complaints from neighbors that morning about the noise and traffic at Brown's apartment. Baxter authorized the search of Brown's apartment. Eckart provided assignments to the officers and advised them that the last time the Task Force was involved with Nava, it was rumored he was armed.

         The Task Force officers entered Brown's apartment building, knocked on her apartment door, and announced themselves three times. When Brown did not answer, Eckart opened the door using the keys from Bell. Once inside, Task Force officers saw Brown standing at the top of the stairwell. Officers ordered her down the stairs and handcuffed her. She told the officers that Nava was upstairs and that he did not have a gun. While they were talking with Brown, Eckart testified that he heard thumping noises that sounded like furniture moving upstairs. Officers went upstairs, which consisted of a bedroom and a closet. In the bedroom was a mattress sitting on box springs which were sitting on the floor. Nava was nowhere to be seen. Officers found a .40 caliber handgun under the mattress and Nava under the box springs.

         Nava was arrested and taken to a patrol car. Because officers found a gun, Baxter requested a probationary search of Brown's apartment. During the search, officers found a ball of plastic containing methamphetamine when they pulled the bed away from the wall. Officers secured the drugs and gun. After running the gun through NCIC, officers discovered it had been stolen out of Mesa, Arizona. Brown was arrested for her probation violations based on Nava being in her apartment and finding the gun and drugs there.

         Baxter testified that, at the time, Nava and Brown were subject to the following 'search' condition due to their respective parolee and probationer status:

Upon reasonable suspicion, as ascertained by a Probation/Parole Officer, my person, vehicle, and/or residence may be searched at any time, day or night. Including my place of employment, without a warrant by a Probation/Parole Officer, ISP Officer or Law Enforcement Officer (at the direction of the Probation/Parole Officer). Any illegal property or contraband will be seized and may be destroyed.

(Doc. 21-1, Conditions of Probation and Parole)

         II. ...

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