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United States v. Butler

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 19, 2017



          Alvin W. Thompson, United States District Judge.

         Defendant Asti Butler (“Butler”) is charged in a one-count indictment with possession of a firearm by a felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Butler has moved to suppress all evidence obtained from the entry into and search of 730 George Street, Apartment 307, New Haven on May 19, 2016, as well as all statements made by Butler on May 19, 2016.

         For the reasons set forth below, the motion to suppress is being granted.


         On May 19, 2016, at approximately 6:36 a.m., eight officers on the United States Marshals Service Violent Crime Fugitive Task Force arrived at 730 George Street, New Haven. The Task Force, which is comprised in part of police officers from local police departments, is responsible for executing federal and state arrest warrants. The members of the task force at the scene that morning included New Haven Police Officer Ryan Przybylski (“Przybylski”) who was the lead officer, Hamden Detective Raymond Quinn (“Quinn”), Hartford Detective Zack Sherry (“Sherry”), and West Haven Police Officer Jason Aklin (“Aklin”).

         The Task Force was there to execute three arrest warrants for Butler. One warrant was in connection with an armed robbery in which another individual, not Butler, possessed a firearm. The other two warrants were in connection with domestic disputes. One involved Butler's ex-girlfriend, and the police report included a statement from the victim that she had previously seen Butler with a firearm. The second domestic dispute warrant involved Butler's significant other, Wilmeka Cogdell (“Cogdell”), and the incident had taken place in Cogdell's apartment. Cogdell had obtained a protective order, but Butler was not prohibited from being with her.

         At approximately 6:39 a.m., several of the officers arrived outside third-floor apartment 307, which was the residence of Butler's significant other, Cogdell, and their six-month-old daughter. The task force officers were in full tactical gear with vests clearly identifying them as police officers, and they were armed with firearms. The officers knocked and announced their presence. At first there was no answer. As Officer Przybylski continued to knock, the officers heard voices inside the apartment, one male and one female. Around that time, the officers used a reverse peephole device to look inside the apartment. At approximately 6:42 a.m., Butler spoke to the officers, and they conversed with him through the door. Butler informed them that he was coming out but that he wanted to brush his teeth first. Butler's delay in opening the door, his prior involvement with firearms, and the fact that one of the warrants charged Butler with domestic violence against Cogdell, who was in the apartment, caused the officers to become concerned about their safety and the safety of others. One officer left the hallway outside Apartment 307 to retrieve a battering ram from one of the police vehicles. He returned with the battering ram, which ultimately was not used.

         At approximately 6:51 a.m., Butler opened the door and presented himself in the doorway for arrest, hands first, as directed by the officers. Butler was immediately pulled out of the apartment doorway and put onto the floor of the hallway, where he was handcuffed. Cogdell was standing just inside the apartment, in full view of the officers, holding their daughter. As Butler was being put onto the floor and handcuffed, at 6:51 a.m., four of the officers entered Cogdell's apartment to conduct a protective sweep. The officers told Cogdell to stay to the side and asked her whether anyone else was in the apartment. She told them that no one else was there, and the officers had not heard any noises coming from the apartment other than the two voices, one male and one female. The officers directed Cogdell to stand in the kitchen, near the door to the apartment, while the officers conducted a protective sweep of the apartment. She had not invited them in, nor had they sought permission to enter. Cogdell understood, though, that the officers were searching the apartment “because they wanted to make sure no one else was in the apartment.” Hr'g Tr. 173:5-6. According to the officers, it took four officers approximately five minutes to do a protective sweep of the small apartment, which consists of one bedroom, one bathroom, and an open kitchen and living room area. The officers conducted the protective sweep because they were going to be on the scene for a short period after arresting Butler, to clear the scene. Officer Przybylski testified: “When we arrested him in the hallway, we always expect to be on the scene just for safety purposes . . . . It always takes a length of time after you effect an arrest to clear the scene.” Hr'g Tr. 58:9 - 58:20. The officers believed that it is standard police procedure to enter an apartment for the purpose of conducting a protective sweep when a person is arrested outside that apartment. Officer Aklin testified:

Q. And you testified that's just police procedure?
A. Yes.
Q. When someone is arrested outside the apartment, you enter the apartment?
A. Uh-huh.
Q. A matter of routine?
A. Yes.
Q. Don't even need to think about it?
A. Yes.
Q. So then you conducted a protective sweep?
A. Correct.

Hr'g Tr. 156:24 - 157:9 (Aklin).

         When the officers finished the protective sweep, Cogdell thought they were going to leave the apartment. However, they did not.

         Meanwhile, at approximately 6:52 a.m., other officers led Butler to an elevator and out of the building. They put Butler into the back of a police vehicle. Upon concluding the protective sweep, Detective Quinn went downstairs to interrogate Butler, who was still in handcuffs and sitting in the back of the police vehicle. Butler was clearly in custody. Quinn initiated the conversation, but at no point did Quinn give Butler a Miranda warning. Quinn told Butler that if the officers found anything in the apartment, they would charge Cogdell. Butler then stated that there was a firearm in the apartment and told Quinn where to find it. Quinn relayed the information to the officers who were in the apartment via phone or radio.

         After the protective sweep was completed, Officer Przybylski remained inside the apartment to speak with Cogdell. He testified that he elected to conduct the interview in the privacy of the apartment, as opposed to outside in the hallway. Several other officers were also in the apartment, including Detective Sherry, who described himself as being “on standby, ” Hr'g Tr. [cite], and Officer Aklin. Some officers came ...

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