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United States v. Jones

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

October 27, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
MICHAEL JONES, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Michael F. Urbanski Chief United States District Judge.

         This matter comes before the court on defendant Jaymese Jones'[1] motion and supplemental motion to suppress statements she made to police following a traffic stop and investigation. ECF No. 560, 926. The government filed a response opposing the motion, ECF No. 907, and the court addressed the matter at a hearing held on October 17, 2017. For the reasons set forth below, the court denies Jaymese's motion to suppress.

         I.

         On September 16, 2016, Jaymese and a friend, Shonda Jones, were pulled over by police while they were driving on 1-95 in Virginia. Following the stop, Jaymese made various statements to the police, but she was never informed of her rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). Jaymese argues that the police took her into custody following the traffic stop, and that the failure of the police to advise her of her Miranda rights requires the suppression of her statements.

         At the October 17, 2017 suppression hearing, the government presented testimony from Virginia State Trooper Christopher Page. He testified to the following:

         He was on duty on September 16, 2016, when he received a call from his supervisor that the FBI was conducting an interdiction involving a narcotics controlled purchase by individuals in a grey Nissan sedan, which was part of a broader drug and gang investigation. Page was told that he would need to assist either by providing surveillance of the car or by pulling it over. He followed the car in his own police vehicle as it went to a trailer park; after some time the car left and exited onto 1-95 South. Page continued to follow the car and pulled the car over for following too close to the car in front of it. At some point, two other state troopers in unmarked vehicles pulled up behind Page's car.

         Page activated an audio and video surveillance system on his police car while pulling the car over, which was played, in part, for the court. Once the car stopped, Page made contact with Jaymese, the driver of the vehicle, and Shonda, the passenger. He got both of their licenses and learned that the car belonged to Shonda. Page asked Jaymese to enter his patrol vehicle. He asked her where she was coming from, and she said that she had been to Virginia Beach to visit her boyfriend. She told him that she worked as a correctional officer in a state jail and that Shonda was her cousin. Page got out of the vehicle and went to see Shonda who was still in the passenger seat of her vehicle. Page asked Shonda where they had driven from; Shonda answered that they had come from Hopewell, Virginia. Page then went back to his patrol car and ran Jaymese's information through his computer. He returned her license and registration, said that she was "good to go, " and that he was going to issue her a warning. Def. Ex. 1 at 5, ECF No. 936-1.

         Before Jaymese left the car, Page asked her if he could ask her a few more questions, and she said "okay." He asked if she was involved in any type of illegal activity-either drug or gun related-and she said "no." He asked if he could search the car, and she agreed. Jaymese got out of die car, and Page told her that he thought she was involved in illegal activity. He asked Shonda if she was related to Jaymese and Shonda said that they were not related and just friends. Jaymese and Shonda stood by the patrol car while Page searched Shonda's car; he did not find any contraband. He had a police dog in the back of his vehicle, which he walked around Shonda's car. The dog alerted to the odor of narcotics. Page sat Jaymese back in the passenger seat of the patrol car; he told her that the dog had alerted on the car and that he had "probable cause to hold you and the vehicle." Id. at 10. Page asked Jaymese if she had any contraband on her and she said no. Page told Jaymese that she could stay in the police vehicle or get out, but that she had to "hang tight for me, just don't go anywhere." Id. Jaymese asked if she could have her phone. Page told her "not yet." Id. at 11. Jaymese exited Page's vehicle and stood on the passenger side of it. The officers located narcotics in Shonda's shoe. Shonda asked whether she was under arrest. Page answered, "you are not under arrest, I'm just detaining you." Id. Shonda asked what Page meant and he said "We're still investigating. We'll be doing an investigation. Basically, you're not free to leave. . . . But you potentially could be." Id. Jaymese asked what was happening. Page explained that the officers had found drugs on Shonda and that an investigator was coming to talk to Shonda. About 35 minutes into the traffic stop, Jaymese asked how much longer the stop would take. Page answered that he was not sure how long "before you'll get out of here. It shouldn't be long." Id. at 16. Jaymese then asked Page what she was going to do with her dog, which was with her. He said that he did not know, he had never been in that situation before, but the dog might have to go to an animal shelter if she were arrested. The traffic stop and ensuing investigation on the side of I-95 lasted about an hour.

         Page and the other two officers were in contact with the FBI agents who were running the larger gang-related investigation. Once the FBI agents arrived at the scene, the officers decided that it would be better to relocate to a safer location somewhere off the highway. Page told Jaymese that they would be going to the parking lot behind Dance's Sporting Goods Store, which was off of the next exit where "very few people" go. Id. at 19. He told her to drive Shonda's car to the next exit: "Meet us up there, and don't go anywhere; don't do anything crazy." Id. By that, Page testified that he meant that Jaymese should not try to flee or start a pursuit because she was not free to leave at that time. Page remembered that Jaymese drove Shonda's car and Shonda was driven to the Dance's parking lot in one of the trooper's vehicles.

         The cars caravanned to Dance's, with Page in the lead, then Jaymese driving Shonda's car, then the two state troopers, and finally the various FBI agents in their vehicles. Page parked his car next to a dumpster and strip of grass. Jaymese parked a few parking spaces away. The other troopers and agents parked their cars in parking spaces facing those cars across an alleyway. Once in the Dance's parking lot, Page did not play an active role in the questioning of either Jaymese or Shonda. Page stood outside of his vehicle or sat inside it for the rest of the encounter between Jaymese and law enforcement. Page remembered that at one point, either Jaymese or Shonda or both were escorted to a convenience store to use the restroom and to buy a drink.

         The government also presented testimony from FBI Special Agent Stephen Duenas. He testified to the following:

         On September 16, 2016, he was a case agent on an investigation into various members of the Mad Stone Bloods ("MSB") gang. He was involved in an interdiction plan in which a confidential informant had made arrangements for an MSB gang member to sell drugs and a firearm to Shonda. Shonda was then planning on bringing the contraband into the prison where she and Jaymese worked as correctional officers. Duenas' role was to obtain the funds for the drug purchase, conduct surveillance, and interview Shonda once she was apprehended. Duenas was monitoring the movement of Shonda's car and was ready to stop the car after it left the trailer park, but Jaymese drove the car in the opposite direction from where Duenas was located and where he anticipated they would go. Accordingly, Page, a state trooper, conducted the stop. Duenas was in contact with one of the state troopers who came to aid Page with the traffic stop. When Duenas arrived at the scene of the traffic stop, Shonda's vehicle had been stopped for approximately an hour on the side of 1-95, and there were a total of three police vehicles parked behind her car.

         Duenas made contact with Shonda, told her that the troopers had found contraband items on her, and that he wanted to talk to her further. Duenas said that the current location was unsafe, and that he wanted to go to a different location to conduct the talk. Shonda said that she would be willing to go to a different location. Duenas remembered that Jaymese and Shonda drove in Shonda's car to the Dance's parking lot location, following Page. The remaining four law enforcement vehicles followed behind Shonda's car. The officers parked their cars across an alley from Shonda's car and facing her car. Duenas remembered that Shonda needed to go to the resttoom and his recollection was that she drove by herself to a nearby restaurant to use the restroom and then returned. Shonda then accompanied Duenas into his police truck; she sat in the front passenger seat, Duenas sat in the driver's seat, and another FBI agent sat behind her with the doors and windows closed. Duenas informed Shonda of her Miranda rights and interrogated her for about an hour. During that time Jaymese was sitting in Shonda's car, with the car keys and her phone. Jaymese also drove to the bathroom at some point; although Duenas could not remember with certainty, he thought that Jaymese drove to the bathroom unaccompanied.

         After interrogating Shonda, Duenas walked Shonda back to Shonda's car, and asked Jaymese if she would be willing to talk to him. Jaymese agreed and sat in the passenger seat of Duenas' truck, with Duenas again in the driver's seat and the same FBI agent seated behind. The doors and windows of the truck remained closed and no one entered or exited during the interview. Duenas began by telling Jaymese that "we've already got your information, ok, you understand that you are not in custody, ok, you know you can leave whenever you want." Def. Ex. 2 at 1, ECF No. 936-2. Jaymese responded, "I'm going to clear this before I leave, so you know I'm being honest." Id. Duenas replied, "But I just want to make sure you know that you're here, you can open that door ...


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