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United States v. Salazar

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Amarillo Division

April 6, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
ARTURO SALAZAR JR. Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          SIDNEY A. FITZWATER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Defendant Arturo Salazar Jr. (“Salazar”) moves to suppress and preclude the government from introducing as evidence at trial contraband (24 bundles of a substance alleged to be methamphetamine) seized during a November 4, 2016 traffic stop, and all evidence, photographs, and statements made by Salazar. Following an evidentiary hearing, and for the reasons that follow, [1] the court denies the motion.

         I

         On November 4, 2016 Max Honesto (“Trooper Honesto”), a trooper employed by the Texas Department of Public Safety (“DPS”), was on patrol on Interstate Highway 40 (“I-40”) in Carson County, Texas. I-40 is a known high drug trafficking corridor. Trooper Honesto has been a DPS trooper for more than 14½ years, and he has 2½ years of prior experience as a local police officer. In both positions he has had experience interdicting narcotics. As a DPS trooper, he has served for approximately two years as an instructor of other officers and law enforcement agencies. Trooper Honesto has made more than 100 traffic stops resulting in narcotics seizures, including approximately 80 drug interdictions on I-40.

         On November 4, 2016, at approximately 4:57 p.m., Trooper Honesto was traveling westbound on I-40 near mile marker 96 in Carson County, when he observed a silver 2012 Nissan Maxima (“Maxima”) traveling eastbound that appeared to be speeding. The radar in Trooper Honesto's DPS unit clocked the vehicle at 81 m.p.h. when the posted speed limit was 75 m.p.h.

         Trooper Honesto did a U-turn and pursued the speeding Maxima, which was traveling in the left-hand (passing) lane. As Trooper Honesto approached the Maxima, the driver changed from the left-hand lane to the right-hand lane, in front of a semi-truck, and then exited the freeway at the first available exit. Trooper Honesto moved in behind the semi in case the driver of the Maxima exited the freeway. When the Maxima did exit, Trooper Honesto took the same exit, activated his emergency lights, and effected a traffic stop based on the speeding violation. According to Trooper Honesto, it is suspicious when a driver takes the first exit. In his experience, narcotics traffickers attempt to avoid police contact, and it is common that they try to get off the highway at the very next exit.

         After effecting the traffic stop, Trooper Honesto observed that the Maxima bore an Arizona specialty license plate. He ran the plate and learned that the vehicle was registered to someone named Sylvia Camarillo. Based on Trooper Honesto's experience, it is common for drugs to be transported in a vehicle owned by a third party who is not an occupant of the vehicle. Arizona is a known source of narcotics, and Trooper Honesto has stopped several people on I-40 who were traveling from Arizona and transporting drugs.

         Trooper Honesto approached the vehicle from the passenger side, speaking first to the driver (Salazar) and then with the passenger, later identified as Taylor Willoughby (“Willoughby”). After identifying himself, Trooper Honesto told Salazar to “watch your speed, alright?” At that point, Trooper Honesto first noticed that Salazar appeared to be sweaty. Salazar and Willoughby informed Trooper Honesto that Salazar was trying to get to a restroom.

         Trooper Honesto asked Salazar for his license and proof of insurance. He also asked Salazar to step out of the vehicle. Trooper Honesto asked Salazar in Spanish whom the vehicle belonged to, and Salazar responded that it belonged to his wife. Trooper Honesto informed Salazar that he would try to be quick since Salazar needed to use the restroom.

         After Salazar exited the vehicle, Trooper Honesto questioned Willoughby about a radar detector that, based on the presence of a suction cup mark, appeared to have been removed from the windshield. The radar detector was situated on the floorboard and was beeping. At that point in time, Trooper Honesto considered the driver's decision to take the first exit and to use a radar detector to be suspicious conduct.

         In response to Trooper Honesto's questions, Willoughby advised that she and Salazar were just friends, that she had known him a couple of months, and that she “thought” he worked with the railroad. She stated that she was a school nurse who had some time off of work because she had just had surgery. Willoughby said that she and Salazar were on their way to Oklahoma because “his friends are over there.” When Trooper Honesto mentioned Salazar's wife, Willoughby seemed surprised to learn that he was married. In Trooper Honesto's experience, it is common for two people who do not know each other to transport drugs. It was suspicious that the vehicle was registered to a third person who was not present, and that Willoughby did not know that Salazar was married.

         Trooper Honesto then met separately with Salazar. As Trooper Honesto approached his DPS unit, he observed that Salazar had left on the right turn signal on the Maxima. Trooper Honesto interpreted this as a sign of a high level of nervousness-an indication that Salazar's mind was on something else. He also noticed sweat beads on Salazar's forehead, and he asked Willoughby about that.

         After Trooper Honesto requested that Salazar have a seat in his DPS unit, he asked Salazar how he was doing and why he was sweating so badly. Salazar responded that he was not sweating and that he was doing fine. Trooper Honesto also asked Salazar where they were traveling to, and Salazar responded that they were going to Kansas City so that he could work for the railroad. Trooper Honesto considered it suspicious that Willoughby had said they were traveling to Oklahoma to visit Salazar's friends there, and that Salazar said they were traveling to Kansas City so that he could work for the railroad, without mentioning a visit to friends. Additionally, Salazar told Trooper Honesto that Willoughby was a friend of his who had come along for the ride so that he would not fall asleep, and that she was a school nurse who was not working because she had been suspended due to an incident with a child. But Willoughby had said she was on vacation. Salazar said three times that he was going to Kansas City, and he never mentioned Oklahoma or visiting friends. In Trooper Honesto's experience, it is common for persons transporting drugs to give conflicting stories about their plans.

         When Trooper Honesto asked Salazar if he was married, Salazar responded that he was separated. Trooper Honesto found it suspicious that the Maxima was registered to a person whose last name and address were different from Salazar's. And in response to Trooper Honesto's question about whether Salazar was married, Salazar volunteered information about the length of his marriage and the number of children and grandchildren he has. In Trooper Honesto's experience, conduct of this type (i.e., giving more information than is requested) is indicative of someone who is trying to distract the officer and get the stop over with.

         When Trooper Honesto asked Salazar if he had ever been arrested, Salazar responded that he had received another speeding ticket but that he had never been arrested. When Trooper Honesto then contacted Amarillo DPS dispatch to request that they check on Salazar's criminal history, Salazar became more dramatic in his complaints about his stomach ailment. Trooper Honesto noticed that Salazar was moving around and had a strange expression on his face. Trooper Honesto asked Salazar, “What's the matter, man, ” and Salazar responded that he had eaten a burrito in Albuquerque and did not feel well. Trooper Honesto found this to be suspicious because, at this point, Salazar was over 200 miles from Albuquerque and had traveled through numerous places where he could have stopped to use the restroom. When Trooper Honesto joked about Willoughby's being a nurse, Salazar laughed loudly and in a way that Trooper Honesto believed was fake.

         Trooper Honesto then asked Salazar what the passenger's name was. Salazar provided her first name, but stated that he did not know her last name and had just met her about two weeks prior. This conflicted with Willoughby's statement that she and Salazar were friends and had known each other for two months. Trooper Honesto found it suspicious that Salazar and Willoughby had not known each other long (and Salazar did not even know Willoughby's last name) ...


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