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United States v. MacDowell

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

August 19, 2019


          Zachary T. Lee and Lena L. Busscher, Assistant United States Attorneys, Abingdon, Virginia, for United States; Dennis H. Lee, Galumbeck & Kegley, Tazewell, Virginia, for Defendant.


          James P. Jones United States District Judge

         Defendant Louis Gardner MacDowell is charged with unlawful possession of firearms, explosives, and destructive devices. In advance of trial, he has moved to suppress items seized following a state search warrant executed at his residence, asserting, among other things, that the affidavit supporting the search warrant was based upon a prior unconstitutional search. After an evidentiary hearing and briefing by the parties, I will deny the motion for the reasons that follow.


         I make the following findings of fact, based upon the evidence presented at a hearing held on June 4, 2019. The basic facts are undisputed, but where there was a conflict in the testimonial evidence, I have taken into account the rationality and internal consistency of the testimony, the extent of detail and coherent nature of the testimony, the manner of testifying by the witnesses, and the degree to which the subject testimony is consistent or inconsistent with other evidence in the case.

         On January 7, 2018, Robert Baldridge, a Master Deputy with the Tazewell County Sheriff's Office, went to MacDowell's residence after receiving a call from MacDowell's mother, who had advised him that she had found narcotics and drug paraphernalia in the home. MacDowell's parents owned the home but lived in Florida. They allowed MacDowell to live there and visited him on occasion. McDowell lived alone in the house.

         When Baldridge arrived at the residence, MacDowell's mother handed him a case with a syringe and a spoon in it and a plate with pills on it. MacDowell told Baldridge that the items did not belong to him. Baldridge asked for MacDowell's consent to search his bedroom, which MacDowell granted. In the bedroom, Baldridge found a syringe between the bed's mattress and box springs. While in the residence, Baldridge saw multiple firearms, including several long guns and a handgun, along with accessories for them. MacDowell told Baldridge that one of the firearms belonged to him. As a result of this encounter, Baldridge issued a summons to MacDowell for possession of drug paraphernalia, but it was not prosecuted.

         On March 4, 2018, Baldridge received another call from MacDowell's mother. She told Baldridge that she believed her son was having “some kind of psychotic break, ” Tr. 7, ECF No. 90, and that she was concerned for his safety. She also told Baldridge that she had contacted one of her son's neighbors and had asked if she could borrow a firearm when she arrived from Florida. She also related that she had contacted another neighbor and asked the neighbor to leave because she believed MacDowell was fixated on the person. In addition, MacDowell's mother told Baldridge that there were firearms in the residence and she believed that MacDowell usually carried a firearm.

         In response to this call, Baldridge and Sergeant Travis Hayton attempted to perform a welfare check on MacDowell. They went to MacDowell's residence at approximately midnight, knocked on all of the doors, and received no answer. They then contacted a state prosecutor, who advised them to obtain an emergency custody order.[1] They obtained the Emergency Custody Order from a state magistrate and also attempted to obtain a search warrant from the magistrate, but the warrant was denied because they had not alleged any criminal violation.

         At approximately 3:00 a.m. on March 5, 2018, after obtaining the Emergency Custody Order, Baldridge, Hayton, and two other officers, Detective Harder and Corporal Harris, went back to MacDowell's residence, but again no one came to the door. They returned to the Sheriff's Office and transferred the Emergency Custody Order to Lieutenant Jonathan Hankins, the incoming day shift supervisor. A little before 6:00 a.m., Hankins made contact with MacDowell via telephone. Hankins told MacDowell that the officers needed to speak with him, and they would come to his residence. MacDowell's response was “very alarming, ” as if he had been hallucinating. Tr. 62, 66-67, ECF No. 90.

         Hankins, Baldridge, Hayton, and Harder returned to the residence at dawn, around 6:30 or 6:45 a.m. Upon arriving, Baldridge and Harder hid behind a truck near the residence to watch from a distance. Hayton and Hankins went up on the front porch of the residence, and Hankins knocked on the front door. Hayton walked to a window approximately 13 feet to the right of the front door and looked through it in an attempt to locate MacDowell in order to better protect the officers' safety. Hayton was able to see into the kitchen, where he saw white powder covering a few inches of a countertop approximately eight to 10 feet from the window. Based on his police experience, Hayton believed that the white powder was cocaine.

         Within a matter of moments of the officers' arrival, MacDowell came to the front door and stepped outside. At that time, Hayton walked back from the window to the front door, and he and Hankins handcuffed MacDowell. MacDowell cooperated with the officers and was not violent or aggressive. Hankins searched MacDowell and found a metal pill container, three vials containing a cloudy liquid substance, and multiple loose pills, some of which had been cut in half, and some of which Hayton could identify as Suboxone, a prescription opioid medication. Based on his training and experience, Hayton thought that the cloudy substance in the vials was dissolved narcotic pills, which he believed indicated illegal drug use by injection of the liquid.[2]

         After finding the pills and vials in MacDowell's possession, the officers sought a warrant from a state magistrate to search the residence for “narcotics and paraphernalia.” Hr'g, Gov't Ex. 6, ECF No. 86-6. In support of the application for the search warrant, Hayton executed an affidavit that stated as follows:

On 3/5/18 I responded to 163 Tumbling Creek Road to execute a ECO on Louis McDowell [sic]. Upon the subject exiting the residence to the porch area. [sic] He was detained and searched before being transported. Upon searching the subject several narcotics and paraphernalia were located on the subject. Also upon looking through a window in the kitchen area there was white powder on the counter which is consistent of McDowell [sic] using narcotics.

Id. A search warrant was issued pursuant to this affidavit, and upon its execution, the officers discovered material for making pipe bombs. The officers left the house, contacted the State Police Bomb Squad, and obtained additional search warrants, which led to the seizure of ...

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