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United States v. Crawford

United States District Court, D. Montana, Butte Division

June 21, 2019



          Dana L. Christensen, Chief District Judge

         Before the Court is Defendant Robert Lee Crawford's Motion to Suppress Evidence (Doc. 25). Crawford is charged with two counts of being a prohibited person in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Crawford seeks to suppress evidence of the firearms and ammunition providing the basis for these charges on the grounds that the Butte Probation and Parole Officers who discovered the evidence lacked justification to search his residence and, later, to arrest him. (Doc. 26 at 2.) The Court held a hearing on this Motion on June 6, 2019. For the following reasons, the Motion will be denied.

         Factual Background After being released on parole from Montana State Prison, Crawford first reported to a probation and parole officer on January 10, 2018. (Doc. 26-5 at 1, 5.) Crawford's supervision was transferred to the Butte, Montana, division of parole services and he was ultimately assigned to Butte Probation and Parole Officer Dan Blando. (Id. at 1, 4-5.) Of importance in this case, Crawford's conditions of supervision included the following:

ILLEGAL DRUG USE: I will not possess or use illegal drugs. I will not be in control of or under the influence of illegal drugs, nor will I have in my possession any drug paraphernalia.
. . .
WEAPONS: I will not use, own, possess, transfer, or be in control of any firearms, ammunition (including black powder), or weapons. I will not possess chemical agents such as O.C. or pepper spray.
. . .
NO ASSOCIATION: I will not knowingly associate with probations, parolees, prison inmates, or persons in the custody of any law enforcement agency without prior approval from the Probation & Parole Officer outside a work, treatment, or self-help group setting. I will not associate with persons as ordered by the court or BOPP. The Defendant shall not associate with persons who abuse alcohol, use illegal drugs, or otherwise violate the law.

(Doc. 26-2 at 1-2.) In addition to these and other conditions, Probation Officer Blando restricted Crawford's ability to travel. Crawford was only permitted to leave Butte in order to report to work in Helena, Montana, and was required to return home to Butte daily after work. (Doc. 26-5 at 4-5.)

         Initially, Crawford appeared to be materially compliant with the conditions of his supervision and with the requests of Probation Officer Blando. However, it was not long before problems arose. On June 25, 2018, Crawford failed to report at the designated time. Crawford explained that he had stayed overnight in Helena, despite lacking permission to do so, and stated that he would report to Blando by the end of the day. However, Crawford again failed to report. The next day, Crawford finally appeared, “look[ing] terrible.” Suspecting drug abuse, Blando requested a urinalysis sample. Crawford eventually admitted to using THC, methamphetamine, and alcohol while camping out at Delmoe Lake. In response, Blando referred Crawford to the resources that had been set up to help him with his addiction and scheduled Crawford to report again on July 9, 2018. (Doc. 26-5 at 4.)

         Sometime around the June 25, 2018 incident, Blando's supervising officer, Probation Officer Tony Barrett received information from trusted informants indicating that Crawford was involved in selling drugs and was carrying a weapon. (Doc. 28-3 at 8-10.) Based on that information, Barrett told Blando not to have any contact with Crawford outside of the office and decided to watch Crawford more closely. (Doc. 26-5 at 4.) Additionally, Blando was informed that the ATF had begun to watch Crawford. (Docs. 26-7 at 63; 26-5 at 4.)

         On Saturday July 7, 2018, Lewis and Clark County Sheriff's Department received information indicating that individuals in a “white pickup” were at a known drug house in Helena and were involved in “running drugs.” (Doc. 26-4 at 1.) Lewis and Clark County Sheriff's Department officers surveilling the home observed a white Dodge Dakota pickup leave the residence. Officers followed the pickup and initiated a traffic stop when the driver of the vehicle, Crystal Gilbreath, failed to signal before turning. (Id.) Approaching the vehicle, officers noticed that there were gun cases in the back of the cab, and that there were two passengers, Crawford and Caitlin Dreesen. (Docs. 26-3 at 1-2; 26-4 at 1-2.) Crawford told the officers that he was on “probation” and it was soon discovered that Dreesen was a probation absconder with an outstanding warrant for her arrest. (Docs. 26-3 at 1; 26-4 at 1; 26-5 at 3.) Dreesen was arrested and placed in the back of a patrol car. (Doc. 26-3 at 2.)

         Gilbreath informed the officers that all of the guns in the vehicle were hers and “went on a long, rambling story” about how she carried them with her because she was locked out of her gun safe. (Docs. 26-3 at 1; 26-4 at 1-2.) However, when asked about what type of gun was in the top case in the vehicle, Gilbreath could provide no more detail than stating that it was “the cool one.” (Doc. 26-3 at 1.) Gilbreath informed the officers that there were two more handguns in her purse which was in the back of the vehicle and another between the front seats. (Docs. 26-3 at 1-2; 26-4 at 1-2.) Officers also noticed a butane torch on the floorboard of the vehicle. (Doc. 26-4 at 2.) Additionally, when officers brought a drug dog to the vehicle, the dog made positive indications that drugs were present in the vehicle. (Doc. 26-4 at 2.) Based on all of the information gathered at the scene, the officers seized and impounded the Dodge Dakota so that they could search it later, after obtaining a warrant. (Doc. 26-3 at 2-3.)

         Lewis and Clark County Sheriff's Department officers also called the Butte Probation and Parole office and spoke to Probation Officer Adolfo Tellez, the on-call probation officer that day. (Docs. 26-3 at 3; 26-7 at 11.) Tellez informed the officers that he wished to have Crawford detained for being a felon in a vehicle with a firearm and for unapproved travel outside of Butte. (Docs. 26-3 at 3; 26-5 at 3.) Accordingly, Crawford was arrested and taken to the Lewis & Clark Detention Center. (Doc. 26-3 at 3.)

         On Monday, July 9, 2018, Lewis and Clark County Sherriff's Department officers obtained a search warrant for the Dodge Dakota and arrived at the impound lot to find that the vehicle had been broken into over the weekend. The guns, cases, and luggage which had been seen in the vehicle during the stop had all been removed. Accordingly, the investigation was terminated and no charges were pursued as a result of the traffic stop. (Id.)

         Based on the information received from informants that Crawford was carrying a firearm and selling drugs, as well as the fact that Crawford had just been arrested in a vehicle with firearms in Helena, Probation Officer Barrett authorized a search of Crawford's residence in Butte. (Docs. 26-7 at 9-10; 28-3 at 4, 8-9.) Probation Officers Blando, Jacob Miller and James Cameron, as well as local police officers proceeded to Crawford's residence and gained access to the home through an open window. (Doc. 26-7 at 18.) Inside they found alcohol, a meth pipe, loose ammunition, a sword, and several long daggers. (Doc. 26-5 at 3; 26-7 at 22-23; 28-1 at 5-6; 28-2 at 8-9.) They also found a large gun safe in Crawford's bedroom. (Doc. 28-3 at 4.) Officers then proceeded to the garage, which was padlocked shut. (Doc. 26-7 at 30.) Probation Officer Cameron kicked the door in after receiving permission from Supervising Probation Officer Bud Walsh to gain access with force if necessary to complete their search. (Docs. 26-7 at 29; 28-2 at 42-43.) Inside, officers found chemicals known to be used in the process of manufacturing methamphetamine. (Docs. 26-5 at 3; 26-7 at 39.) Outside the garage, they also found a vehicle that was registered to a known absconder. (Doc. 26-7 at 41-42.)

         Concerned about what could be in the safe and unable to gain access to it, Crawford was contacted at the Lewis and Clark Detention Center and asked about the code. Crawford stated that “he did not know the code and that it was not his safe, ” it was his girlfriend's, but that she did not know the code either. (Docs. 26-5 at 3; 26-6 at 1.) Before leaving, Probation Officer Blando saw Crawford's girlfriend, Crystal Gilbreath, drive up to the house and he asked her about the safe. Gilbreath told Blando that it was not her safe and that she did not have the combination to it. (Doc. 26-6 at 1.) The officers decided ...

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