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United States v. Hankins

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

June 9, 2014



JUSTIN L. QUACKENBUSH, Senior District Judge.

An evidentiary hearing on Defendant's Motion to Suppress (ECF No. 32) was held on May 16, 2014, and May 19, 2014. Defendant was present, in custody, and represented by appointed counsel John Gregory Lockwood. The Government was represented by Assistant United States Attorney Matthew Duggan. The court heard testimony from several witnesses, and argument of counsel. At the conclusion of the hearing, the court issued its oral decision denying the Motion. This Order memorializes and supplements the oral findings and conclusions of the court.

I. Introduction

Defendant, Adam Loren Hankins ("Defendant"), was arrested based on a Criminal Complaint on March 3, 2014. The grand jury subsequently returned an Indictment (ECF No. 19) charging him with one count of felon in possession of an explosive device in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 841(c), 842(i)(1), and 844(a)(1), and one count of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841. Defendant has filed a Motion to Suppress (ECF No. 32) arguing that the initial seizure of his truck and the subsequent search were in violation of his constitutional rights. Defendant contends there was not probable cause for the issuance of a search warrant for search of the truck and an insufficient nexus between the truck and the bombing investigation. The Government contends that the impound and inventory were proper, as the truck was used in the commission of a felony. The Government further argues there was probable cause for the issuance of the July 31, 2013 federal search warrant that resulted from an investigation of automobiles being blown up using explosive materials and blasting caps. The Government further argued that if probable cause was lacking, the officers relied on the warrant in good faith and under United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (1984), the evidence should not be suppressed.

II. Factual Findings and Conclusions

On July 5, 2013, law enforcement agents executed a federal search warrant at the residence of Robert Showers, located at 2128 E. Lacrosse Avenue, in Spokane, Washington to look for explosives. (Northcutt Aff. ¶ 6). Agents recovered 14 pounds of a blasting agent, a blasting cap, and an empty box for electric blasting caps. At the execution of the search warrant on July 5, 2013, Ella Jean Claassen was present. She gave consent for agents to look at her cell phone. One of the contacts in her phone was for "Hardcore Adam". (Northcutt Aff. ¶ 12). Defendant, Adam Hankins, is known by law enforcement to go by the nickname "Hardcore".

On July 20, 2013, Defendant was stopped while driving his White Dodge Dakota truck (hereafter "truck"), and arrested based on probable cause to believe he had been involved in an incident on July 9, 2013, involving an assault/false imprisonment of an individual who was attempting to repossess the truck.[1] The truck was seized by law enforcement, both as evidence of an alleged assault on the repossession man, and in order to obtain a search warrant for evidence of firearms and stolen property.

In the time period between July 20th and July 29, 2013, Robert Showers participated in jail house phone calls to Ms. Claassen that were recorded. Special Agent Northcutt, of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ("ATF"), reviewed these recorded phone calls. In some of the calls, Showers referred to "semiprecious stones" and asked Claassen if she had vacuumed them up. There is a reference that there should have been about 14 of "those stones" and Claassen told Hankins she got them out with tongs. (Northcutt Aff. ¶ 9). Based on these calls, agents obtained a second search warrant for the Showers' residence at 2128 E. Lacrosse, and that warrant was executed on July 30, 2013. Agents recovered six additional blasting caps. At the execution of this warrant, "Claassen corroborated the information provided by Showers' jail calls by confirming that Showers had instructed her to retrieve the blasting caps from a floor drain in the residence, and that she had retrieved them with tongs." (Northcutt Aff. ¶ 10). The fact that Claassen had corroborated this information was also confirmed by the testimony of ATF Senior Special Agent Christopher Todd Smith. (Transcript at ECF No. 48, hereafter "Tr." at p. 43, 53). Agent Smith testified that Claassen confirmed with him that "what was referred to as the semi-precious stones or jewels - was the blasting caps". (Tr. at p. 53). Agent Smith further testified that Claassen "named off people that she guessed she thought might have explosives that had been at Robert Showers' residence and Mr. Hankins was in fact one of those people." (Tr. at p. 54).

On July 29, 2013, Agent Northcutt had listened to another jail house call from Showers to Claassen. In this call, Showers referenced "Hardcore", the rocks that Claassen had been vacuuming, and Showers stated: "Evidently his [rocks] are messed up too. They just found some. I have to go see what the hell's up with that...I have to go talk to Hardcore." (Northcutt Aff. ¶ 11). Agent Northcutt believed this reference to rocks was a reference to blasting caps.

Based on this information, Agent Northcutt applied for a federal search warrant. His affidavit in support, stated in part: "Your affiant believes it is probable, based on the aforementioned information, and Showers' reference to Hankins having "stones" (blasting caps) that "they just found", that blasting caps are located in the Dodge Dakota pickup truck Hankins was driving, and that was impounded by Spokane police." (Northcutt Aff. ¶ 15).

At the suppresion hearing the court heard testimony from several witnesses. Spokane Police Department Sergeant Kurt Vigesaa testified as to his role in the initial stop of Defendant's truck on July 20, 2013. He testified that he stopped the vehicle because he had been informed by Officer Gately about the July 9, 2013 incident involving Defendant and the alleged felonious assault on the repossession man. Vigesaa testified that at the time of the arrest he observed several backpacks and laptop computers in the cab of the truck. From his experience on the burglary task force, this caused him to suspect that the truck contained stolen property. Vigesaa's belief concerning stolen property was further informed by the fact that he seized three "Quest" cards from Defendant, which did not bear Defendant's name. He testified that Defendant denied consent to search, and he decided to have the vehicle impounded. He testified that a visual inventory of the vehicle was done from outside the truck at the time of seizure.

ATF Senior Special Agent Christopher Todd Smith testified to his work on the Monroe Street bombing case, which included involvement in the execution of the July 30, 2013 search warrant at the Showers' residence. He testified to his belief that "semiprecious stones" was code for blasting caps. He knew that Defendant went by the nickname "Hardcore". He had prepared two affidavits in support of a July 5th and July 30th search warrant at the Showers' residence, and those affidavits were incorporated into the Northcutt affidavit and presented to the Magistrate Judge. (See Northcutt Aff. ¶ 4). He testified that at the execution of the July 30th search warrant, he spoke with Claassen and she corroborated some of the information from the recorded jail house calls. (Tr. at 43, 53-55).

Agent Northcutt similarly testified that he believed "stones" were blasting caps and that he knew Defendant to be "Hardcore". He testified that the truck was not searched prior to the execution of the federal search warrant on July 31, 2013. (Tr. at p. 60). He testified that prior to obtaining the search warrant, United States Marshal Hank Shafer had run a bomb detection dog around the truck, and that the dog had shown some interest but not alerted. (Tr. at p. 63). He testified to his belief that there was probable cause for a search warrant. He stated that the blasting cap was found, upon execution of the search warrant, in a small, green, plastic container in the bed of the pickup.

Spokane Police Department Senior Patrol Officer Jason Uberuaga assisted with the arrest of Defendant on July 20, 2013. He completed the Tow/Impound sheet (ECF No. 32-2). He wrote the following narrative description on the impound sheet: "Veh[icle] was involved in an assault on a repo man veh[icle] was towed for evidence of that and possible thefts/burglaries." He also checked a box indicating that the vehicle was impounded as "evidence". He also conducted the inventory, which he described as a "generalized look". He looked at the items in the bed of the truck, but did not open them, and his testimony was that he did not believe he opened the cab of the truck because he had written "doors locked" on the impound form.

Greg Thieschafer, a Detective with the Spokane Police Department, testified as to his involvement with the execution of the search warrant on July 31, 2013. He assisted with searching the cab of the truck and testified that he found blank checks and credit cards that were not in the Defendant's name. He also found methamphetamine.

Hank Shafer, with the United States Marshals Service, testified as to the involvement of a canine trained to sniff for explosives. He testified that the canine went into the cab of the truck, and then the back of the truck. He did not move or open objects during the canine search. The canine did not alert on anything, but did show some interest in the bed of the truck, where the container with the blasting cap was ultimately found. Shafer testified that he reviewed the search warrant prior to conducting the search.

Defense counsel stated he intended to call the Defendant's wife, Glo Hankins, to testify. She is sometimes referred to in the record as Glo Cowin-Mitchell. However, she was unavailable at the time he sought to call her. Defense counsel made a proffer, which was largely consistent with the Declaration of Glo Hankins (ECF No. 35) filed on May 14, 2014. Her proffered testimony was essentially that Defendant is careful with his tools, and that he usually kept the green plastic box containing tire repair materials under the passenger seat. She therefore believed it would have been "uncharacteristic" for the green box to be in the bed of the truck.

The court makes the following findings and conclusions:

1) Sergeant Vigesaa stopped Hankins in his truck on July 20, 2013, based on probable cause to believe Hankins had been involved in the unlawful imprisonment/assault ...

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