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United States v. Bell

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

May 9, 2019




         Before the Court is Defendant Corey Jevon Bell's Motion to Suppress (the “Motion”) (Doc. No. 135). The Court held a hearing on the Motion on April 3, 2019. As the Court noted in its minute entry for the hearing (Doc. No. 157), its order was forthcoming. After considering the Motion, the response to the Motion, the arguments and evidence presented at the suppression hearing, and the applicable law, the Court GRANTS the Motion. The good-faith exception does not apply to the officers' search of 206 W. Laureland Road because the affidavit supporting the relevant warrant was so lacking in indicia of probable cause to provide the basis for a normal inference that a nexus existed between the defendant's drug trafficking and the 206 W. Laureland Road residence, and probable cause to support the warrant did not exist because no additional evidence outside of the affidavit supported the probable cause determination. Therefore, the evidence recovered from that search will be suppressed.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         The Motion in this case seeks to suppress evidence recovered from a residence located at 206 W. Laureland Road (the “Laureland Residence”) on the basis that the search violated the Fourth Amendment. The evidence recovered from the property included controlled substances, drug paraphernalia, and a 20-gauge shotgun. For purposes of this Motion, the government and Defendant Corey Jevon Bell (“Bell”) do not dispute any of the material facts; rather, the parties dispute whether the search of the Laureland Residence violated the Fourth Amendment and if the good-faith exception should nonetheless apply. The Court addresses the investigation into Bell to the extent it provides helpful context for the arguments presented by the parties concerning the Motion.

         In 2015, the Dallas Police Department investigated Bell and his co-defendant girlfriend, Amber Faith Pavatt (“Pavatt”), on a suspicion of drug trafficking. Detective Dustin Kelly (“Detective Kelly”), an undercover narcotics detective at the time, was one of the officers investigating Bell and Pavatt. In the course of his undercover work, Detective Kelly completed three separate drug transactions for methamphetamine with Bell. The first transaction occurred on May 20, 2015, and both Bell and Pavatt arrived at the location of the transaction in a silver Pontiac G6 vehicle. The second transaction occurred on June 25, 2015, and both Bell and Pavatt arrived at the location of the transaction in a maroon Cadillac vehicle. At some point during his investigation, Detective Kelly determined the identity of both Bell and Pavatt through open internet sources. Detective Kelly also alleges that he determined that Bell had a last known address of 206 W. Laureland Road through police arrest records.

         The third drug transaction occurred on August 5, 2015. Detective Kelly arranged a drug transaction with Bell for August 5, 2015. After arranging the transaction, undercover officers went to the Laureland Residence to conduct surveillance. At approximately 4:20 P.M., the undercover officers observed a maroon Cadillac arrive at the Laureland Residence, and an individual fitting Bell's description exited the Cadillac and entered the Laureland Residence. Detective Kelly arrived at the arranged meet location for the drug transaction at approximately 5:15 P.M. and contacted Bell over the phone to let Bell know that Detective Kelly was at the meet location. The individual fitting Bell's description left the Laureland Residence shortly after the time of the call and drove the silver Pontiac vehicle to the meet location. The surveilling undercover detectives observed the individual in the silver Pontiac travel to the meet location. Upon arriving at the meet location, Bell called Detective Kelly, met Detective Kelly in Detective Kelly's car, and completed a transaction for methamphetamine. When Bell left the meet location after the transaction, officers pulled Bell over and arrested him. Detective Kelly performed a field test on the suspected methamphetamine and confirmed that it was indeed methamphetamine.

         After the arrest of Bell, Detective Kelly drafted an application for a search warrant for the Laureland Residence. In his affidavit, Detective Kelly asserted that based on his “training, experience, and [his] participation in [the] investigation and other investigations involving drug trafficking, ” individuals that traffic narcotics often keep other evidence relevant to drug trafficking within their residences. Detective Kelly further swears the following facts relevant to his investigation of Bell in the affidavit for the search warrant:

I, the Affiant, am conducting a narcotics investigation for the purchase of Methamphetamine which involves Suspect #1 and Suspect #2 who are described in paragraph #2 over the course of the past 4 months of 2015. I was introduced to Suspect Corey Bell and Amber Pavitt [sic] ¶ 5/20/2015 at which time I conducted a narcotics transaction for 3.4 grams of Methamphetamine. This transaction was documented on case number 113877-2015. During this transaction I observed Suspect #1 and Suspect #2 arrive at the meet location inside a silver Pontiac G6 Texas License plate FNJ9140. On 6/25/2015 I again met Suspect #1 and conducted a narcotics transaction for the purchase of 3.3 grams of Methamphetamine which was documented on case number 145076-2015. During this transaction I observed Suspect #1 and Suspect #2 arrive at the meet location together inside of a Maroon Cadillac Texas License Plate FBG7312. During the course of my investigation I discovered the identity of both Suspect #1 and Suspect #2 through open internet sources that not only contained the names of the suspects but also photos of them together. I also discovered through police arrest records that Suspect #1 was presenting a last known address of 206 W. Laureland Road.
Upon discovering this location was the residence for Suspect #1 I traveled to this location where I observed both the Silver Pontiac and the Cadillac parked in front of the residence that is described in Paragraph #1. On 8/05/2015 I and Suspect #1 [sic] arranged to meet and conduct a narcotics transaction for the purchase of 7 grams of Methamphetamine. After arranging this transaction, undercover narcotic detectives were sent to area [sic] surrounding 206 W. Laureland Road in order to conduct surveillance on that location. At approximately 4:20 PM unmarked units observed a Maroon in color Cadillac arrive at 206 W. Laureland and a B/M fitting the suspect's description get out of the vehicle and enter the front door of the residence where he stayed. Upon arriving approximately [sic] 5:15 PM at the meet location, which was scheduled to be at the McDonalds parking lot that is located at 125 W. Camp wisdom Road, Dallas, Dallas County Texas, I made contact with Suspect #1 via phone and stated that I was at the meet location. Suspect #1 stated that he was around the corner and would arrive shortly. Shortly after this phone call Detectives observed a B/M fitting Suspect #1's description exit the front door of 206 W. Laureland, wearing a black t-shirt and red shorts, enter a silver Pontiac G6 and drive eastbound on Laureland to the IH 35 service road. At the service road Suspect #1 turned southbound and traveled to Camp Wisdom where he turned westbound and entered into the McDonalds parking lot. Since he exited the front door of 206 W. Laureland, undercover detectives never lost sight of Suspect #1, and Suspect #1 never stopped or went to any other locations except for the meet location. Upon arrival to the McDonalds parking lot, Suspect #1 got out of his vehicle, called me, looked around, and was directed to my vehicle. The suspect got into my vehicle through the passenger side door and sat in the passenger seat of my vehicle. At this time the suspect exchanged a clear plastic baggie that contained a white crystalline substance that I believed to be Methamphetamine for $175.00 U.S. currency that was previously photographed to complete the narcotic transaction. After conducting the transaction Suspect #1 exited my vehicle and returned to the Pontiac G6. Suspect #1 left the location and was stopped and arrested for the drug transaction that had just occurred.
The drug evidence was weighed and processed at the Narcotics Division. Detective D. Fogle # 8704 conducted a presumptive field test of the suspected [sic] which yielded positive results for the presence of Methamphetamine witnessed by Sgt. P. Mora # 8705.

         The weight of the Methamphetamine was 7.1 grams.

         Bell argues in his Motion that probable cause to search the Laureland Residence did not exist and that an objective officer could not rely upon the warrant in good faith. Detective Kelly's testimony did not reflect that any additional evidence, other than the affidavit, was presented to Judge McDowell, the judge who reviewed and issued the warrant. Accordingly, facts outside of the affidavit in the application for the warrant are irrelevant for this Court's determination of the Motion; however, the Court nevertheless details some other related facts, as presented in the hearing the Court held on the Motion, in an effort to provide a fuller context because, importantly, none of the facts detailed below were included in the affidavit.

         At the hearing on the Motion, Detective Kelly testified that the Laureland Residence was in an area known for narcotics trafficking. Detective Kelly also testified that part of his desire for obtaining the warrant to search the Laureland Residence related to statements made by Bell that implied Bell had more methamphetamine that he could sell to Detective Kelly immediately.

         During cross-examination, Detective Kelly testified that no transactions with Bell ever occurred at the Laureland Residence. Detective Kelly also testified that the address listed as Bell's residence on Bell's driver's license was not the Laureland Residence, and Bell's driver's license had been issued on June 15, 2015. The investigating officers only observed the Laureland Residence for part of one day, and during their observation, the officers never saw any indication that the Laureland Residence operated as a “trap house.” Furthermore, the extent of the connection between Bell and the Laureland Residence that was known to the officers was the 55 minutes that officers observed Bell at the Laureland Residence immediately proceeding the August 5, 2015 drug transaction. Detecitve Kelly could not ...

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