USA v. Walter Bridges, Jr.
OPINION filed : We AFFIRM the district court's judgment, decision not for publication. Richard F. Suhrheinrich and Richard Allen Griffin (Authoring), Circuit Judges; and William H. Stafford, District Judge, FLND.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR PUBLICATION
File Name: 15a0637n.06
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
WALTER LOUIS BRIDGES, JR.,
Sep 14, 2015
DEBORAH S. HUNT, Clerk
ON APPEAL FROM THE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT
COURT FOR THE EASTERN
DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
BEFORE: SUHRHEINRICH and GRIFFIN, Circuit Judges; and STAFFORD, District Judge.*
GRIFFIN, Circuit Judge.
Defendant Walter Louis Bridges, Jr. appeals his convictions for being a felon in
possession of a firearm and ammunition, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), possessing a stolen firearm,
18 U.S.C. § 922(j), possessing with intent to distribute a controlled substance, 21 U.S.C.
§ 841(a)(1), and possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, 18 U.S.C.
§ 924(c)(1)(A). Before trial, defendant moved to suppress evidence seized from him during a
Terry1 stop as the fruits of an unlawful search. On appeal, defendant challenges the district
court’s ruling denying the motion, arguing the police lacked reasonable suspicion to conduct the
investigatory stop. We disagree and affirm.
The Honorable William H. Stafford, Jr., Senior United States District Judge for the
Northern District of Florida, sitting by designation.
Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968).
United States v. Bridges
On a December evening in 2013, Corporal Jeffrey Neese of the Wayne County Sheriff’s
Department was on routine patrol with a partner in the City of Detroit. About 5:30 p.m., the
officers passed through a “known crime area” on Charlotte Street in their fully marked police
cruiser. Officer Neese, a fourteen-year veteran of the department, described the neighborhood as
a “high narcotics area” where “[a]ll types of crime” occurred, including “misdemeanors, traffic
infractions [and] firearm-related offenses.”
Approaching a stop sign at the intersection of
Charlotte and Second Avenue, Neese noticed a car parked less than one-half block down on
Charlotte. He could see the silhouette of a person sitting upright on the driver’s side of the car,
and “presumably the person in the [car could] see [the police cruiser].” Neese proceeded slowly
through the intersection, but when he looked at the car again, the silhouette was gone. Pulling
closer to the car, Neese saw defendant “leaning back and hunched to the right” of the driver’s
seat. It appeared to Neese that defendant had noticed the police cruiser and “leaned over” to
“hide and not be detected.”
Believing there may be “a motor vehicle theft in progress,” Neese pulled over near the
front of the parked car, blocking defendant’s ability to drive away, and pointed his spotlight on
the vehicle. He exited the police cruiser and ordered defendant to show his hands. Defendant
complied, but grew irate when Neese asked him to come out of the car. Eventually, defendant
got out of the car and “immediately swung” at Neese with “a closed fist.” Neese and his partner
tackled defendant and a loaded magazine fell from defendant’s person.
After the officers
secured defendant, Neese performed a pat-down search and recovered a second loaded magazine,
along with two loaded “speed loaders.” From inside defendant’s car, Officer Neese recovered
two handguns and a pill bottle containing seventeen rocks of cocaine, all in plain view.
United States v. Bridges
The district court denied defendant’s motion to suppress the seized evidence, identifying
several “contextual considerations” in support of its finding of reasonable suspicion. First,
defendant was “sitting in a parked car in this high-crime area while it was dark outside during a
cold winter evening.” Second, defendant reacted to the police cruiser evasively, by slouching
down in his seat. Third, upon taking a closer look at defendant’s vehicle, Neese confirmed that
defendant “appeared to be trying to hide from view of the patrol car,” and was not slouching for
any other discernible reason. The district court found that these circumstances, coupled with
Neese’s “training and experience,” created reasonable suspicion that defendant may be stealing
the car. Accordingly, the court ruled Neese had a “sufficient basis for temporarily detaining
[d]efendant to determine whether or not he was actually engaged in wrongdoing.”
A jury subsequently convicted defendant on all counts. The district court sentenced him
to a total of 116 months’ imprisonment. Defendant timely appealed.
“The grant or denial of a motion to suppress is a mixed question of fact and law. On
appeal, we review the district court’s findings of fact for clear error and its conclusions of law de
novo.” United States v. Ellis, 497 F.3d 606, 611 (6th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). A factual
finding is clearly erroneous when, although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court is
left with a firm and definite conviction that a mistake has been made. Id. We consider the
evidence in a light most favorable to the district court’s decision. Id. “With regard to Terry-stop
analysis in particular, although the standard of review on the ultimate reasonable suspicion
inquiry is de novo, the district court is at an institutional advantage, having observed the
testimony of the witnesses and understanding local conditions, in making this determination.
Accordingly, ‘due weight’ should be given to the inferences drawn from the facts by ‘resident
United States v. Bridges
judges.’” United States v. Caruthers, 458 F.3d 459, 464 (6th Cir. 2006) (quoting United States v.
Foster, 376 F.3d 577, 583 (6th Cir. 2004)).
Defendant first contends that the district court clearly erred in finding that: (1) the area in
which the stop occurred was a “high crime area”; and (2) Neese relied on his training and
experience in assessing defendant’s conduct. Defendant is incorrect in both respects.
Neese testified the intersection of Charlotte and Second was a “high narcotics area,”
where “[a]ll types of crime” occurred, and where Neese had made prior arrests. He agreed with
the prosecutor’s characterization of the intersection as a “known crime area.”
defendant urges there is a “distinction between an area where crime is known to occur and a high
crime area,” this is a distinction based on semantics, not substance. See Illinois v. Wardlow,
528 U.S. 119, 124 (2000) (alternately referring to the area of the defendant’s arrest as “an area
known for heavy narcotics trafficking,” “an area of expected criminal activity,” and a “high
crime area”). Neese’s testimony that the area was “known” for a “high” level of criminal
activity was sufficient to support the district court’s finding that the location of arrest was a high
Evidence also supports the district court’s finding regarding Neese’s training and
experience. Neese testified that he had fourteen years’ experience in law enforcement and was
familiar with the criminal activity in the area. The district court could no doubt infer that Neese
brought his years of training and experience to bear in deciding to stop defendant for further
United States v. Bridges
Next, defendant argues that his seizure was not supported by reasonable suspicion. We
“The Fourth Amendment prohibits ‘unreasonable searches and seizures’ by the
Government, and its protections extend to brief investigatory stops of persons or vehicles that
fall short of traditional arrest.” United States v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 273 (2002) (quoting Terry
v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 9 (1968)). An officer may conduct an investigatory stop if he has a
reasonable suspicion that a person has been, or is about to engage in, criminal activity. United
States v. Place, 462 U.S. 696, 702 (1983); Terry, 392 U.S. at 21–22. “Reasonable suspicion
exists where the officer can articulate specific, particularized facts that amount to more than a
‘hunch’ that criminal activity may be afoot.” United States v. Jeter, 721 F.3d 746, 751 (6th Cir.
2013). In evaluating whether the officer had reasonable suspicion, this court examines the
totality of the facts and circumstances of which the officer was aware, including the contextual
factor of the area’s crime level. United States v. Davis, 514 F.3d 596, 608 (6th Cir. 2008).
“Additionally, the experience of the law enforcement officer must be taken into account in the
reasonable suspicion analysis[.]” United States v. McCauley, 548 F.3d 440, 445 (6th Cir. 2008).
Reasonable suspicion is judged from the moment of seizure, and here Neese seized
defendant when Neese pulled up to the front of his car, preventing defendant from driving away.
See United States v. Gross, 662 F.3d 393, 398–99 (6th Cir. 2011). Defendant argues Neese
lacked reasonable suspicion at the time of the stop because Officer Neese was acting on the high
crime character of the intersection and motivated by a “hunch.”
To be sure, “[a]n individual’s presence in an area of expected criminal activity, standing
alone, is not enough to support a reasonable, particularized suspicion that the person is
United States v. Bridges
committing a crime.” Wardlow, 528 U.S. at 124. See, e.g., United States v. Johnson, 620 F.3d
685, 692–96 (6th Cir. 2010) (reasonable suspicion lacking despite the defendant’s presence in a
high crime area around 4:00 a.m., where the officer received a 9-1-1 call alleging no criminal
activity, the defendant was walking near a vehicle mentioned in the call, he did not stop when
called by the police, and threw a duffle bag into a different car); United States v. See, 574 F.3d
309, 314–15 (6th Cir. 2009) (suppressing evidence where a group of men were parked in a car in
a dimly lit, high crime area at 4:30 a.m., the car did not have a front license plate, the officer did
not witness any criminal activity, and suspects did not “do anything suspicious” or try to flee the
scene upon seeing the officer).
Yet “officers are not required to ignore the relevant
characteristics of a location” in assessing reasonable suspicion. Wardlow, 528 U.S. at 124. And
“the fact that the stop occur[s] in a ‘high crime area’ [is] among the relevant contextual
considerations in a Terry analysis.” Id.
The present case involves more than an officer’s hunch in a bad neighborhood.
Specifically, defendant’s “[f]urtive movements made in response to a police presence” heavily
contributed to Neese’s suspicions. Caruthers, 458 F.3d at 466. After noticing defendant’s
silhouette, Officer Neese pulled forward into the intersection and saw defendant slouch down as
the police cruiser drew closer to his vehicle. While Neese did not testify to seeing defendant
look at the police cruiser, it was reasonable for Neese to infer as much; the cruiser was fully
marked and traveling at five to ten miles per hour. Defendant responds that he offered an
“innocuous basis for his slumped posture,” testifying he had been checking his cellular phone.
But an “innocuous” explanation does not negate an officer’s suspicions. “Terry accepts the risk
that officers may stop innocent people.” Wardlow, 528 U.S. at 126. For that reason, “the
question is not whether there is a possible innocent explanation for each of the factors, but
United States v. Bridges
whether all of them taken together give rise to a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity may
be afoot.” United States v. Jacob, 377 F.3d 573, 577 (6th Cir. 2004) (citing Arvizu, 534 U.S. at
274–75). Moreover, the district court did not accept defendant’s explanation. The district court
instead credited Neese’s testimony that when he pulled closer to defendant’s car, it “appeared” to
him that defendant leaned over to avoid detection, not for some other purpose such as looking at
his cellular phone. Defendant does not challenge this finding. Ducking out of an officer’s view,
in conjunction with other factors, can supply reasonable suspicion of illegal activity.
See Caruthers, 458 F.3d at 465–68 (finding reasonable suspicion where the defendant matched a
general description in an anonymous call, was in a high crime area, hurried away from police,
and “hunched down” by a wall as if to conceal contraband or a weapon); see also United States
v. Finley, 239 F. App’x 248, 252 (6th Cir. 2007) (stop justified where car occupants in high
crime area slumped down after seeing officers pass, and then exited the car when the officers
turned around to re-approach them).
At the time of the stop in this case, Neese (1) witnessed defendant engage in an evasive
behavior, (2) for which Neese perceived no innocent explanation, (3) in a high crime area, and
(4) on a cold winter evening. The district court also noted that it was getting dark outside, but
this contextual factor carries less weight because it was only 5:30 p.m., a time at which many
people are in their cars arriving home from work. Still, Neese’s training and experience led him
to believe defendant was slouching to avoid police detection and may have been attempting to
steal the car. The district court was entitled to credit that belief. See Arvizu, 534 U.S. at 273
(officers may “draw on their own experience and specialized training to make inferences from
and deductions about the cumulative information available to them that ‘might well elude an
untrained person’”) (quoting United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S. 411, 418 (1981)). Further, “in
United States v. Bridges
close cases such as this, we have consistently stressed that we must ‘review the evidence in a
light most likely to support the district court’s decision.’” United States v. Winters, 782 F.3d
289, 301 (6th Cir. 2015) (quoting United States v. Braggs, 23 F.3d 1047, 1049 (6th Cir. 1994)).
In so doing, we agree that Neese could reasonably infer possible criminal activity and thus had
reasonable suspicion to conduct a Terry stop.
Defendant relies on our decision in Gross, but Gross does not compel a contrary
conclusion. In that case, the defendant was sitting in a parked car in a high crime area at an early
morning hour when an officer parked behind the defendant and turned on his headlights.
662 F.3d at 396. Reacting to the lights, the defendant “abruptly” sat up, and then “slump[ped]
down further in his seat.” Id. at 396–97. However, the Terry stop in Gross began at the moment
the officer parked behind the defendant and blocked him from leaving; thus, the defendant’s
slouching in reaction to the lights occurred after the seizure and was not a factor in determining
whether the officer had reasonable suspicion to initiate the stop.
Id. at 399–400.
circumstances here are different because defendant slouched in response to the police presence
before Neese initiated the stop.
Additionally, when Neese took a closer look, defendant
appeared to have no reason for slouching except to avoid detection.
To the extent that
defendant’s conduct was ambiguous, Terry permitted Neese to detain defendant “to resolve the
ambiguity.” Wardlow, 528 U.S. at 125.
Because Neese had reasonable suspicion to investigate, we need not address the
government’s unpreserved argument that defendant’s attempt to assault Neese purged the taint of
any impermissible investigatory stop. See Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471, 488 (1963).
For these reasons, we affirm the district court’s judgment.
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?