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United States v. Goins

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 5, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
STEPHEN GOINS, Defendant.

RULING ON DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO SUPPRESS

VICTOR A. BOLDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Defendant, Stephen Goins, has been charged with one count of unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§922(g)(1) and 942(a)(2). Indictment, ECF No. 1. The charge arises out of a stop and search that occurred on June 26, 2014 around 7 p.m., while Mr. Goins was driving in his fiancé’s car through Bridgeport, Connecticut. After stopping him, Bridgeport police officers recovered a gun that was in the glove compartment of the car and obtained two confessions from Mr. Goins that the gun belonged to him.

Mr. Goins has filed a Motion to Suppress, ECF No. 21, seeking to exclude both the gun and the two confessions from evidence in his upcoming criminal trial. He argues that the stop and search violated the Fourth Amendment and that the confessions were involuntary. On October, 21, 2015, the Court held an evidentiary hearing on Mr. Goins’s suppression motion.

The Court finds that the police officers recovered the gun during a lawful traffic stop and protective search consistent with Michigan v. Long, 463 U.S. 1032 (1983), and that Mr. Goins’s confessions to possessing the gun were not involuntary. Accordingly, as explained further below, the motion is DENIED.

I. RELEVANT FACTS

The parties dispute a number of relevant facts surrounding the stop, recovery of the gun, and subsequent confessions. Mr. Goins argues that there are factual inconsistencies in the Government’s version of events that render its story generally unworthy of credence. Def.’s Suppl. Br. 4, ECF No. 49; Def.’s Br. 10, ECF No. 24. In addition, Mr. Goins argues that police officers have a duty to file complete and accurate police reports, and that their omission of several facts from their initial reports make any subsequent testimony about the stop and the reports themselves not credible at this time. Def.’s Suppl. Br. 1, 5, ECF No. 49; Def.’s Br. 4, ECF No. 24. The Government argues that the reports did not include certain information in order to protect the role and identity of a confidential informant. Gov’t Suppl. Br. 4, 11, ECF No. 50. All of the officers who testified at the evidentiary hearing confirmed that it was often necessary to leave details about confidential informants out of reports. Hr’g Tr. 27:24-28:5, 66:22-7, 89:20-90:2, 100:25-3, ECF No. 48.

The Court first will provide an overview of its factual findings and then address and resolve any factual disputes necessary for deciding the suppression motion.

A. Findings of Fact

Based on a review of the parties’ briefs and exhibits submitted in connection with the Motion to Suppress, ECF No. 21, as well as the evidence presented during the evidentiary hearing held on October 21, 2015 and Mr. Goins’s objections and arguments, the Court concludes that the Government has proved the following facts by a preponderance of the evidence. See United States v. Matlock, 415 U.S. 164, 177 & n. 14 (1974) (noting that the Government must prove facts by a preponderance of the evidence at a suppression motion hearing to carry its burden).

In mid-2014, the Bridgeport Police Department employed Officer Paul Scillia as a member of a task force addressing violent crime. Hr'g Tr. 5:2-15, ECF No. 48. On June 26, 2014, just before 7 p.m., Officer Scillia was at the Bridgeport Police Station's front desk booking evidence for one of his cases. Id. at 6:20-7:25. While he was there, he learned from the front desk officer[1] that a car containing two individuals and a firearm was driving into Bridgeport to a specific address on Fairfield Avenue. Id. at 6:20-22, 7:16-20, 8:1-14. Officer Scillia knew that this information came from a New Britain task force officer, who received the tip from a confidential informant, and that the front desk officer had recently spoken to the task force officer by phone. Id. at 8:3-14, 9:8-10, 11:13-17.[2]

The front desk officer was frustrated because he had been unable to reach Sergeant Amato with the information about the car containing the gun. Id. at 8:3-19, 12:1-3. Sergeant Amato was a gang task force sergeant at the time and was an appropriate person to act on such information. Id. The front desk officer turned to Officer Scillia for guidance on how to handle the situation. Id. at 8:7-8. Officer Scillia felt that they shouldn't "just [ ] let this happen" because the front desk officer could not reach Sergeant Amato. Id. at 5:2-15, 8:15-22. He obtained the approval of his supervisor, Sergeant Jersey, to pursue the car. Id. at 15:2-8.

The front desk officer provided Officer Scillia with a description of the make and model of the car, the full license plate, and an anticipated destination for the car on Fairfield Avenue. Id. at 9:5-22, 10:3-6, 12:1-10, 13:15-20, 19:7-20:16. The front desk officer also told him that drugs were possibly inside the car and that a confidential informant had reported the existence of a gun in the car's glove compartment. Id. at 12:1-10, 20:24-21:6, 30:18-21, 35:5-6. At some point prior to the stop, Officer Scillia also learned that the car's driver was the Defendant, Stephen Goins. Def.'s Ex. E, Police Dispatch Warning.[3] He did not learn the identity of the informant, who was Mr. Goins's mother, or any history of her reliability as an informant until after the stop. Hr'g Tr. 35:3-6, ECF No. 48.

It is unclear whether Officer Scillia knew that the confidential informant who had provided the information about the gun was riding in the car at the time he left the precinct to pursue it. Officer Scillia testified that he knew that the confidential informant was female and riding in the car at the time. Hr'g Tr. 30:18-21, 34:21-35:6, ECF No. 48. However, Sergeant Amato testified that Officer Scillia told him at the scene of the stop that he did not know the car's passenger was a confidential informant. Id. at 92:14-18. As a matter of fact, the confidential informant, Mrs. Goins, was riding in the car at the time the stop occurred. Id. at 104:25-105:36.

Officer Scillia recruited two other officers, Officers Roscoe and Delgado, and drove with them in separate cars on Interstate-95 to the location on Fairfield Avenue, where the front desk officer had indicated the car was heading. Id. at 15:10-20, 15:25-16:2. When exiting the Interstate near the car's destination, Officer Scillia testified that he saw a vehicle directly in front of him make a left turn without signaling. Id. at 16:25-17:4, 21:16-23. He also memorialized this observation in the Incident Report he filed about the stop later that same day. Def.'s Ex. A, Incident Report Filed by Officer Scillia dated 6/26/2014, ECF No. 23-1. Mr. Goins argues that, as a matter of fact, he did use his turn signal. Because the Officers Delgado and Roscoe were in separate cars behind Officer Scillia, none of them had a clear view of the signal on this car. Hr'g Tr. 16:7-13, 54:11-16, 62:23-63:5, ECF No. 48. As a result, none of them can confirm or deny that Mr. Goins signaled. As will be discussed in more detail below, the Court finds that the Government has shown by a preponderance of the evidence that Officer Scillia observed a traffic violation.

When Officer Scillia took a closer look at the car that turned without a signal, he realized that it matched the description of the vehicle he had left the precinct to pursue. Id. at 16:25-17:4, 17:9-11. Officer Scillia activated his siren. Id. at 17:11-19. Mr. Goins's car moved slowly for "over a block, " and Officer Scillia saw the driver "moving towards the center" of the car and "doing something." Id. at 18:10-18, 54:21-55:1. He also included a description of these movements in his Incident Report and noted that "[t]hese movements are frequently associated with parties hiding contraband, or possibly readying a weapon[ ]." Def.'s Ex. A, Incident Report Filed by Officer Scillia dated 6/26/2014, ECF No. 23-1. Officer Scillia testified that these movements made him fear for his safety because, based on his discussion with the front desk officer, he believed that a gun was in the glove compartment. Hr'g Tr. 18:21-19:3, 46:2-24, ECF No. 48.

When the car stopped, Officer Scillia approached the driver's side and asked the driver, Mr. Goins, for his "paperwork, " by which he meant his license, registration and insurance card. Id. at 22:5-8, 23:6-11. Officer Roscoe approached the passenger side, and while Officer Scillia was discussing the "paperwork" with Mr. Goins, the passenger whispered to Officer Roscoe that there was a gun in the glove compartment. Id. at 55:22-56:20. There is no evidence that Officer Roscoe conveyed this statement to Officer Scillia, and it does not appear in Officer Scillia's report. Def.'s Ex. A, Incident Report Filed by Officer Scillia dated 6/26/2014, ECF No. 23-1. Because Mr. Goins did not have the "paperwork" in his hand, Officer Scillia asked him and the passenger to step out of the car. Hr'g Tr. 23:13-16, 24:13-15, ECF No. 48. Officer Scillia testified that he wanted Mr. Goins to step out of the car in order to separate him from the gun that he believed was in the glove compartment. Id. at 23:19-25.

Once the pair exited the car, Officers Scillia and Delgado moved Mr. Goins to the rear of the car, and Officer Roscoe and the passenger walked toward the front. Id. at 57:10-15, 57:25-58:6.[4] Officer Scillia then walked from the rear of the car to the front and recovered a loaded gun in a holster from the glove compartment. Id. at 25:14-15, 58:12-14. Officer Scillia asked Mr. Goins if the gun had a permit, and he said no. Id. at 58:20-21. Officer Scillia also called dispatch and confirmed that Mr. Goins was on parole. Def.'s Ex. A, Incident Report Filed by Officer Scillia dated 6/26/2014, ECF No. 23-1. A subsequent search of the car revealed no narcotics or other contraband in the car. Hr'g Tr. 25:16-17; 47:12-48:5, ECF No. 48.

A few minutes after the stop and after Officer Scillia recovered the gun, Sergeant Amato arrived on the scene. At some point after Officer Scillia had left the precinct, the front desk officer had reached Sergeant Amato and conveyed to him the information from the New Britain task force officer about the car and the gun. Id. at 69:24-70:8.[5] After discussing the tip with the New Britain police officer, Sergeant Amato came up with a "game plan" to stop the car, unaware that Officer Scillia was already out to apprehend the car. Id. at 70:12-71:2, 72:9-14, 90:21-25. While he was waiting to stop the car, he learned that it had already been stopped and went to the location of the stop. Id. at 73:2-6, 91:1-8.

Sergeant Amato had some concerns about how the stop was executed. He worried that it revealed the identity of the source of the information, namely the passenger, Mrs. Goins. Id. at 92:5-9. He expressed these concerns to Officer Scillia at the scene of the stop. Id. at 26:21-27:5, 92:10-12, 92:19-21, 94:25-95:6. He then instructed Officer Scillia to omit any information about the confidential informant and the information from the New Britain Task Force officer in his police report. Id. at 100:19-101:3. He indicated to Officer Scillia that including information about the confidential informant in his report could jeopardize her safety. Id. at 27:12-15, 101:2-3. Sergeant Amato also indicated that he would document information about the tip separately. Id. at 27:12-18. At the time, Sergeant Amato was the superior commanding officer at the scene. Id. at 101:4-8. Consistent with Sergeant Amato's testimony, Officer Scillia's Incident Report contains no information about the ...


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