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United States v. Ashbach

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

October 5, 2017

TODD ASHBACH, Defendant.



         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Todd Ashbach's motion to suppress (Dkt. No. 30). Having thoroughly considered the parties' briefing and the relevant record, the Court DENIES the motion for the reasons explained herein.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Ashbach is charged with one count each of Felon in Possession of a Firearm; Possession of an Unregistered Device, a silencer; Possession of Heroin with Intent to Distribute; and Possession of Methamphetamine with Intent to Distribute. (Dkt. No. 15 at 1-3.) Police seized all of the items while searching Ashbach's motel room and two vehicles in his possession. (Dkt. Nos. 31 at 5, 35 at 5-6.) Police conducted the searches after obtaining a search warrant. (Dkt. No. 32.) Officer Justin Gann of the Lynwood Police Department requested the warrant based upon probable cause evidence the officer collected the day prior that the weapons and drugs would be located in Ashbach's vehicles and the motel room. (Id.)

         Officer Gann was on patrol the day prior for the Special Operations Section of the Lynwood Police Department. (Dkt. No. 31 at 1-2.) He noticed a Volkswagen parked in a handicapped spot at a motel without a visible handicap placard. (Id.) Upon the officer's inquiry, motel staff indicated that the vehicle belonged to someone in Ashbach's room, and there had been significant foot traffic to and from the room throughout the day. (Id. at 2.) Officer Gann knocked on the door, and an unidentified female, later identified as J.E., answered. (Id.) She said the car was hers and she would move it. (Id.) J.E. and the officer proceeded to the parking lot, where the officer observed Ashbach come downstairs and place a bag into a BMW. (Id.) Ashbach then approach J.E. and the officer, who were still discussing the car and J.E.'s identity. (Id.) The officer asked Ashbach and J.E. to produce some identification relating to them and/or the illegally parked Volkswagen. (Id. at 3.) Ashbach produced a fake I.D. (Id.) Based on the fake I.D., the officer arrested Ashbach. (Id. at 4.) During a resulting search incident to Ashbach's arrest, the officer recovered $9, 000 in cash and a bank debit card with Ashbach's true name on it. (Id. at 4.)

         Ashbach and J.E. later consented to a search of Ashbach's room, signing a statement to that effect. (Id.) During the search, Officer Gann, along with assisting officers, recovered drug paraphernalia, body armor, and a jacket bearing a Seattle police badge. (Id. at 5.) They also recovered a small amount of drugs from J.E.'s purse. (Id.) Based upon this evidence, Officer Gann arrested Ashbach's companion. (Id.) J.E. told officers after she arrived at the station that they missed a handgun with a silencer and armor piercing ammunition in the motel room. (Id.) She also indicated there were guns in the Volkswagen and a large quantity of drugs in the BMW. (Id.) Officer Gann impounded the vehicles and instructed the motel to secure the room until he could acquire a search warrant. (Dkt. No. 32 at 9.) Another officer deployed a drug-sniffing dog on the impounded vehicles. (Id.) The dog detected drugs on both vehicles. (Id.)

         Based upon the evidence described above, Officer Gann sought a warrant to search the impounded vehicles and to reenter and search the motel room. (Dkt. No. 32) (copy of search warrant). The resulting search led to the discovery of three handguns, a silencer, a sawed-off shotgun, fully loaded ammunition magazines, armor piercing bullets, 900 grams of heroin and 498 grams of methamphetamine. (Dkt. No. 35 at 5-6.)

         Ashbach moves to suppress the evidence on the basis that they were the fruits of an unlawful Terry stop and/or supported by a search warrant issued without probable cause. (Dkt. No. 31 at 8-9.) He also requests an evidentiary hearing on the matter. (Dkt. No. 30.)[1]


         A. Search Incident to Arrest

         Ashbach asserts that his arrest was unlawful because it was based on an impermissible Terry stop. (Id. at 6.) He claims the Terry stop was impermissible because Officer Gann lacked reasonable suspicion to detain him at the time the stop commenced and that his detention lasted too long. (Id. at 6-7.) Under Terry, an officer has reasonable suspicion supporting a brief investigatory detention when “specific, articulable facts . . . together with rational inferences from those facts” warrant detention. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21 (1968). Further, the detention period cannot extend beyond the time necessary to investigate whether a crime has been committed. Florida v. Royer, 460 U.S. 491, 500 (1983).

         Both of Ashbach's assertions suffer from the same logical infirmity-that Ashbach's detention commenced when the officer first knocked on his motel room door. (Dkt. No. 31 at 2.) Detention begins when “in view of all the circumstances surrounding the incident, a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave.” I.N.S. v. Delgado, 466 U.S. 210, 215 (1984) (internal quotation omitted). Here, a reasonable person would conclude that detention occurred much later than when the officer first knocked on Ashbach's door.

         By Ashbach's own admission, after Officer Gann knocked on his door, the officer followed J.E. into the hall to discuss the car situation. (Dkt. No. 31 at 2.) At some point later, Ashbach stepped out of the room, first encountering the officer while he was speaking with J.E. about the car. (Id.) After briefly participating in the discussion, Ashbach left. (Id.) He went to his BMW and placed a bag into it. (Id.) Ashbach again briefly spoke with the officer after doing so. (Id. at 3.) Again, Ashbach left. (Id.) He went to his room to produce the “paperwork or ID's about themselves or the vehicle” that the officer requested. (Id.)[2] After handing the officer his identification, Ashbach left again, heading initially to a soda machine and when he found that it was not working, to the motel lobby. (Id. at 3.)

         Officer Gann suspected the identification was fake. (Id.) It could easily be torn, the bar code was misaligned, and the graphics were not fully see through. (Dkt. No. 35 at 3). Furthermore, the physical description did not match Ashbach. (Dkt. No. 31 at 3.) The officer sought out Ashbach. (Id.) He found him in the motel lobby, and instructed him to “take a seat” while he continued to investigate the matter. (Id.) This is the point where a reasonable person would believe he was being detained, as the officer commanded him to stay put. Further, at that point, detention was lawful. Officer Gann had reasonable suspicion that Ashbach had committed a crime. See U.S. v. Hensley, 469 U.S. 221, 226 (1985) (describing reasonable suspicion); Wash. Rev. Code § 66.20.200 (possession of fake identification is a misdemeanor); Wash. Rev. Code. § 46.61.020 (giving a false name to an officer while “in charge” of a vehicle is a misdemeanor). Then, once Officer Gann confirmed with dispatch that Ashbach's identification ...

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