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United States v. Daniel

United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division

November 5, 2019



          Dana L. Christensen, Chief Judge

         Before the Court is Defendant Seth William Daniel's Motion to Suppress Evidence. (Doc. 23.) Daniel stands charged with one count of prohibited person in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(8). He seeks suppression of evidence on the basis of an alleged illegal entry into his home, during which time law enforcement officers viewed him carrying an AR-15 assault rifle. An evidentiary hearing was held on October 29, 2019. Having considered the testimony at the hearing, an audio recording of the relevant interaction, and the police reports and other exhibits submitted by the parties, the Court denies the motion.


         Shortly before dusk on June 30, 2019, Billings City Police Officers Jayden Romero and Travis Fjetland responded to a complaint of a disturbance in a South Side neighborhood. (Doc. 28-1.) When they exited their vehicle, they could hear a man shouting from inside a house. Approaching the house, they saw children in a car parked outside the residence and Daniel, inside and visible through the open doorway, screaming at a woman. As the officers neared the door, the woman- Daniel's girlfriend, Xena-left the house.

         Officer Fjetland spoke with Xena very briefly as she moved into the yard. She told them that Daniel was inside the house along with his father, Sam, and that Daniel was not doing well. Xena stepped down the stairs from the entryway, the door open behind her. Officer Fjetland called to Sam, who was visible from the entryway, and asked to speak with Daniel.

         Daniel began to direct his attention and anger toward the officers. Officer Romero's personal microphone captured the audio of the exchange. Daniel unleashed a stream of invectives toward the officers, which was echoed at times by his father. As the officers made initial contact, Daniel yelled, "No habla ingles! Get out! No trespassing allowed!" (Doc. 30.) The officers announced themselves as Billings police, and Daniel replied, "Fuck the police, man! Come back with a warrant, motherfuckers!" (Id.)

         An officer can be heard talking to Sam, calmly asking, "How are you doing? We're just here to talk with him." (Id.) Daniel continued to scream in the background, claiming that the officers are trespassing-a recurring theme during the confrontation. (Id.) On this point, Daniel was partially correct, as the residence was technically outside city limits. The complainant who made the initial call had mentioned a man yelling from inside his house and a silver car parked outside, but the wrong address was given. When police arrived on the scene, they found that the altercation was not happening at the anticipated address-within city limits-but across the street. However, Officer Romero testified that a five-mile buffer zone surrounds the city, where there may not be official jurisdiction but the city policy still has an obligation to the communities within the zone.

         About thirty seconds after Daniel and his father initially became aware of the officers' presence, Sam can be heard saying, "Get your foot out of my door." (Id.) Sam had attempted to close the door, but Officer Fjetland had placed his boot next to the doorjamb to keep it from latching. At the hearing, he testified that he may have shoved the door open to place his foot.

         As Daniel continued to scream, Sam insisted that the officers get out of the doorway, and Xena attempted to intercede and calm Daniel down. (Id.) She did not succeed. A minute or so into the interaction, Sam repeated his belief that the officers were there illegally. He pointed out that the officers "are not pursuing me into my house," to which an officer responded, "You're right; I'm not. We have an obligation to make sure that everything's fine." (Id.) In response, Sam asked Xena if everything was fine, and she said, "Yeah." (Id.) From the house, Daniel can be heard yelling that someone was "a piece of shit" and yelling, "I see you putting your foot in my fucking dad's door. You don't have no warrant." (Id.)

         Despite the officers' multiple enjoinders to "calm down" and "pump the brakes," the situation escalated. (Id.) As demonstrated by the audio recording, Daniel's voice grew louder and angrier, with his attention jumping from the officers ("Get the fuck out of here!") to Xena ("Fuck you! Fuck you!") and back again. (Id.)

         Approximately five minutes after officers arrived at the residence, Sam asked Officer Fjetland to remove his foot from the door. (Id.) He replied that he wouldn't, adding "Calm down." (Id.) Within seconds, while his foot was still in the door, Officer Fjetland saw Daniel inside carrying an AR-15, loaded with what appeared to be a large capacity magazine. In the audio recording, the officer can be heard yelling, clearly agitated for the first time during the encounter, "Put the fucking gun down now!" (Id.) Within the next minute, the officers were able to get Sam out of the house and onto the ground. Daniel refused to drop the gun, and the officers allowed the door to close.

         Xena (and the children in the car) had not yet left the yard at this point. Even after Officer Fjetland saw the gun and left the threshold of the residence, Daniel continued to scream at Xena. She can be heard on the audio recording, saying, "He won't let me leave!" (Id.) Shortly after, though, the officers were able to get Xena out of immediate harm.

         When Xena and the children were safe, the officers took cover and attempted to negotiate with Daniel, as additional law enforcement resources- including Yellowstone County Sheriffs deputies-arrived on the scene. They did not attempt to reenter the home, even as Sam got up off the porch and repeatedly walked in and out of the residence. Ultimately, after the officers were satisfied that only Daniel and Sam remained in the residence, the officers left the scene because they feared that they would be unable to effectuate an arrest without threatening officer safety. They ...

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