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United States v. Hastings

United States District Court, E.D. Texas

March 23, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
RYAN LEE HASTINGS

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          MARCIA A. CRONE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Came on for consideration the report of the United States Magistrate Judge (the “Report”) in this action, this matter having been heretofore referred to the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636.

         On October 31, 2016, Ryan Lee Hastings (“Hastings”) filed a Motion to Suppress (#21). The Magistrate Judge held hearings on the issue of suppression on November 21, 2016, and November 29, 2016. On January 20, 2017, the Report (#44) was entered containing a recommendation that Defendant's Motion to Suppress be granted. On February 3, 2017, the Government filed objections (#45) raising six issues, each of which is addressed below. Hastings filed a response (#47) on February 13, 2017.

         The court has made a de novo review of the objections raised by the Government, and is of the opinion that the findings and conclusions of the Magistrate Judge are correct and the objections are without merit as to the ultimate findings of the Magistrate Judge. The court hereby adopts the findings and conclusions of the Magistrate Judge as the findings and conclusions of this court.

         I. Analysis

         A. Characterization of Testimony

         The Government's initial objection concerns the characterization of testimony in the Report. See Doc. No. 45, at 2-4. The Court notes that as the finder of fact, the Magistrate Judge has discretion to give weight to the testimony and evidence presented, and it appears that the Magistrate Judge exercised that discretion appropriately here. As to the specific objection concerning the testimony of Officer Nathan Reed (“Officer Reed”), the Government does not rely upon testimony from Officer Reed but from another officer.[1] The actual testimony by Officer Reed supports the Magistrate Judge's findings and conclusions. See Doc. No. 37, at 51, 60.

         The Court similarly finds the Government's remaining arguments contained in this objection are not well taken in that the Magistrate Judge's findings and conclusions are consistent with the evidence adduced in this case, as demonstrated by the citations contained in the Report. Accordingly, this objection is overruled.

         B. An Imminent Safety Risk

         The Government contends that “suicide by cop” is an imminent safety risk. The “possible threat an individual poses to himself is not a blanket grant, but rather, ‘[l]aw enforcement officers may enter a home without a warrant to render emergency assistance to an injured occupant or to protect an occupant from imminent injury.'” Rockwell v. Brown, 664 F.3d 985, 994 (5th Cir. 2011) (emphasis added) (citations omitted). “Immediate safety risks to police officers and others are exigent circumstances that may excuse a warrantless entry into a residence.” Gates v. Tex. Dep't of Protective & Regulatory Servs., 537 F.3d 404, 421 (5th Cir. 2008) (emphasis added).

         While the Government presents definitions of the term “suicide by cop, ” it fails to demonstrate that the mere possibility of suicide by cop presents an imminent safety risk. The Government cites Rockwell as supporting an officer's entry into an individual's room. 664 F.3d at 985. Rockwell, however, is readily distinguishable. In Rockwell, the court found the officers were entitled to qualified immunity following a warrantless entry into a locked door to a private bedroom of a suspect who was bi-polar, schizophrenic, and off his medication. At the time the officers entered the room, the suspect had “barricaded himself in his room, and his mental instability was becoming increasingly apparent as he pounded the walls, shook the door, and hurled foul threats at the officers.” See Id. at 988, 995.

         Here, officers were aware Hastings suffers from mental illness and had discussed suicide at some point in his life, but unlike Rockwell, Hastings had not barricaded himself in a room, was not displaying any increasing mental instability, and was not threatening officers or others. The officers entered Hastings's room without communicating with him or gauging his mental state and thus, this objection is overruled.

         The Government invokes the inherent danger of suicide and, in particular, suicide by cop, but suicide by cop requires engagement with law enforcement. The officers chose the time and place that Hastings encountered law enforcement. The Government fails to show that any threat by Hastings to himself or the officers was imminent at the time they entered the hotel room.

         C. Inevit ...


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