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United States v. Vasquez

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

June 2, 2016

United States of America, Plaintiff,
Jose Vasquez, Defendant.


          Michael P. Shea, U.S.D.J.

         Early on the morning of July 15, 2015, police officers with an arrest warrant for Jose Vasquez knocked on the door to his apartment and announced their presence and purpose. After a short wait, they broke through the door, entered, and found Mr. Vasquez and his wife in bed. While assisting Mr. Vazquez to dress, the police saw heroin and cash fall from pants pockets or become exposed to plain view in a clothes hamper.

         Mr. Vasquez, who is charged with heroin distribution offenses, has moved to suppress the evidence found in the apartment, as well as statements he made that day, on the ground that the officers violated the Fourth Amendment’s "knock-and-announce" rule before forcibly entering his home. His motion requires me to decide whether the officers waited an adequate amount of time before breaking into his home to comply with the rule, and if not, whether suppression is the proper remedy for the violation.

         After considering the evidence introduced at a two-day hearing, I find that the police did not wait long enough to give Mr. Vasquez an opportunity to come to the door and thus violated the knock-and-announce rule. Further, in the absence of an applicable Second Circuit precedent, I adopt the reasoning of the D.C. Circuit in United States v. Weaver, 808 F.3d 26 (D.C. Cir. 2015), as to why the exclusionary rule should apply to a knock-and-announce violation committed while executing an arrest warrant at a suspect’s home, even though it does not apply to one committed while executing a search warrant at the home under Michigan v. Hudson, 547 U.S. 586 (2006). I therefore find that the unlawful entry into Mr. Vasquez’s home calls for suppression of the evidence obtained during execution of the warrant, including statements he made at the home. I do not find, however, that it calls for the suppression of the separate admission made later by Mr. Vasquez at the command post during booking. I therefore GRANT in part and DENY in part Mr. Vasquez’s motion to suppress (ECF No. 44).

         I. Findings of Fact

         At the evidentiary hearing, the government called Connecticut State Police Detective Christopher Walsh, Connecticut State Police Sergeant Charles Burns, and Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Supervisory Special Agent John Rubinstein as witnesses. Mr. Vasquez called his wife, Elizabeth Vasquez, as a witness. Based on the parties’ evidentiary presentations, I make the following findings of fact.

         A. Events Before Knock and Announcement

         Early in the morning on July 15, 2015, officers from the Connecticut State Police and the DEA gathered to execute a series of approximately 19 warrants relating to alleged drug trafficking crimes. (Hr’g Tr. Vol. I[1] at 15-19.) One of the warrants called for the arrest of Jose Vasquez, who was known to reside at 100-102 Washington Street in West Haven, Connecticut. (Id. at 150-52.) Detective Walsh, Sergeant Burns, and Special Agent Rubinstein were assigned to a team responsible for executing Mr. Vasquez’s arrest warrant. (Id. at 12, 18.) During the pre-execution briefing, the officers discussed the manner in which they would enter Mr. Vasquez’s residence. (Id. at 102.) The officers had no specific information that Mr. Vasquez possessed or used weapons, that there would likely be weapons inside Mr. Vasquez’s residence, or that Mr. Vasquez was a dangerous person. Detective Walsh’s testified that he "believed" he received information about "particular concerns" about the group of 19 individuals to be arrested, but identified no such information other than a general association between drug crimes and firearms:

Q: And was there any part of the briefing in which either the DEA personnel advised you and the other people present about any particular concerns or steps you should take in approaching any of the suspects that you might be having to execute process on?
A: I believe they did. The particulars, I’m not sure. But basically at the end of the day that anyone involved in this type of organization we look at as a dangerous person. Just through training and experience, the connection with firearms is always there. So regardless of the past or what they said, we would consider these persons as possibly dangerous.
Q: And is that your practice customarily when you’re doing state warrants for the State Police?
A: It is.
Q: In a drug case, large scale drug trafficking organization?
A: That’s correct.
THE COURT: Can I just follow-up with one question? . . . At this briefing, did you receive any specific information about [Vasquez] in that regard?
THE WITNESS: I may have, Your Honor. I just don’t recall.
THE COURT: So as you sit here, you don’t know?
THE WITNESS: That’s correct.
. . .
A: . . . And there was also some of [other warrant targets] who did have violence in their past, their past police records, et cetera. However, I don’t know which ones did and which ones didn’t.
Q: But you’re clear I think in saying that you were not given, as the Judge asked you, specific information that Mr. Vasquez was known to carry a weapon, for example, or was known to have engaged in gun play or something in the past?
A: That’s correct.
Q: So any concern that you would have with him was really based on your general experience with these cases?
A: That’s correct.

(Id. at 17-18, 22.) Sergeant Burns repeated this assertion on cross-examination:

Q: And as you said earlier, you don’t recall there being anything specific about him being dangerous or having a propensity to use guns or anything like that?
A: Correct.
Q: It’s just your general training that sometimes there are guns even when we don’t expect it?
A: Yes, sir, tool of the trade.

(Id. at 72.) Nor did the officers receive specific information suggesting that they should anticipate to find narcotics in Mr. Vasquez’s residence:

Q: Going into the apartment that day, other than what you had heard generally about the investigation, there was no indication that Mr. Vasquez was going to have a large quantity of drugs with him, is that right?
A: I expect nothing and anticipate everything.
. . .
Q: In your experience . . ., you’ve done buy/bust cases, correct?
A: Yes.
Q: Where a transaction occurs and you go in immediately to see what’s there, right?
A: Not a lot. That’s not a level that we deal with.
. . .
Q: With Mr. Vasquez, is that what had happened before this?
A: No.
Q: No one had made a delivery, as far as you knew, right before you crashed the door in, right?
A: Not to my knowledge, ...

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