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United States v. Contreras

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

June 10, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
ROMAN GABRIEL CONTRERAS, Defendant.

ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT ROMAN GABRIEL CONTRERAS' MOTION TO SUPPRESS EVIDENCE AND STATEMENTS

DERRICK K. WATSON, District Judge.

Defendant Roman Gabriel Contreras ("Contreras") is charged with knowingly and intentionally attempting to possess with the intent to distribute five-hundred grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine, a Schedule II controlled substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. ยงยง 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(A). Dkt. No. 14. The charge stems from an investigation and subsequent March 24, 2015 arrest of Contreras at Lihue Airport on the island of Kauai.

Contreras moves to suppress the evidence seized by, and his statements made to, law enforcement on March 24 and 25, 2015. Dkt. No. 26; Dkt. No. 26-3. Contreras argues that (1) law enforcement lacked probable cause to arrest him and to seize his one carry-on and two checked bags that accompanied him from Los Angeles to Lihue; (2) law enforcement lacked probable cause to obtain the search warrant for his bags that was issued by the Magistrate Judge on March 25, 2015; and (3) his statements to law enforcement at Lihue Airport were given in violation of Miranda . Dkt. No. 26-2 at 4-9.

Following briefing and an evidentiary hearing held across three days, the Court finds that the investigatory stop and subsequent arrest of Contreras was supported by reasonable suspicion and probable cause. The Court further concludes that the Magistrate Judge's decision to issue the search warrant for Contreras' bags, in which the methamphetamine was found, was likewise based on probable cause. Lastly, the Court concludes that Contreras' statements to law enforcement on March 24, 2015 at Lihue Airport were not given in violation of Miranda . Accordingly, Contreras' Motion to Suppress Evidence and Statements ("Motion to Suppress") (Dkt. No. 26) is DENIED.

BACKGROUND

Contreras' Motion to Suppress came on for hearing before this Court on May 14, 2015, May 18, 2015, and June 1, 2015. Five witnesses testified: Drug Enforcement Agency ("DEA") Special Agent Richard Jones, Sergeant Danny Oliveira of the Kauai Police Department, Task Force Officer Arnold Cayabyab of the Kauai Police Department, Herbert Nakamura, and Defendant Contreras. The witnesses presented testimony relating to a February-March 2015 drug investigation that originated with tips from two sources and culminated in the arrest of Contreras on March 24, 2015 at Lihue Airport. Contreras' arrest occurred after airport surveillance in both Los Angeles and Lihue corroborated the law enforcement sources, and a narcotics detection dog, Simon, positively alerted to a narcotics odor emanating from one of Contreras' bags.

In carefully assessing the testimony of the witnesses, including the substance of the testimony as well as the demeanor and manner in which the witnesses testified, the Court finds the testimony of Special Agent Jones, Sergeant Oliveira, Officer Cayabyab, and Mr. Nakamura to be credible and consistent with the other evidence in the record as to material details. The Court does not find credible those portions of Contreras' testimony that contradicted that of the law enforcement witnesses. Specifically, Contreras hesitated in response to numerous questions on cross-examination and evasively responded to the government's questions regarding ownership of the bags.

Based upon its review of the evidence and the testimony presented at the hearing, the Court finds the following facts supported by the record.

I. Initial Investigation

During the months of February and March of 2015, the Kauai Police Department obtained information from two different sources of a subject operating a black-colored tow truck on the east side of Kauai dealing methamphetamine. The first source did not know the name of the subject, but described him as a person of Mexican descent with a tan complexion, approximately 5'05" tall, and having a "fat belly, " a mustache, a beard, and long, shoulder length hair.[1] The source further reported that the Mexican male subject operated a black-colored tow truck, and that he paid women to travel to the mainland and bring back to Hawaii up to $10, 000 worth of methamphetamine.

A second source of information related that a subject by the name of "Roman Contreras" had been commuting between Los Angeles and Lihue[2] transporting methamphetamine using Delta Airlines or American Airlines. The Kauai Police Department conducted a background check on "Roman Contreras" using Hawaii's statewide criminal history record information system (CJIS). The background check revealed that Contreras has an extensive criminal history, including at least one prior felony conviction for the possession of a controlled substance, and generated a photograph of Contreras that generally matched the first source's physical description. Subsequent law enforcement surveillance of Contreras prior to March 24, 2015 revealed that he operated a black-colored tow truck and matched the general physical description contained in both Contreras' CJIS photograph and in the information provided by source one.[3]

II. March 24, 2015 Airport Surveillance and Arrest

On March 24, 2015, the Kauai Police Department received information from source two that Contreras would be transporting methamphetamine from Los Angeles to Lihue that very day. The second informant further stated that the methamphetamine was contained in a black non-leather briefcase. A check with Delta Airlines revealed that Contreras was booked on Delta Flight 1735, with an arrival time at Lihue Airport of approximately 8:35 p.m. on March 24.

That afternoon, Sergeant Oliveira conveyed this information to Special Agent Jones. After receiving this information and a photograph of Contreras at LAX checking into his flight for Lihue, Special Agent Jones traveled to Lihue to await Contreras' arrival. Delta advised Special Agent Jones that Contreras had checked two bags.

Law enforcement established surveillance at Lihue Airport. Upon arrival of Delta Flight 1735, Special Agent Jones observed Contreras exiting the jetway, walking slowly towards baggage claim, and looking over his shoulder multiple times. According to Special Agent Jones, Contreras carried with him a black briefcase, which fit the description provided by one of the informants of the bag containing methamphetamine. Special Agent Jones approached Contreras near the Lihue baggage claim area, identified himself as a law enforcement officer, and asked Contreras if he could ask a few questions. It is undisputed that, at this time, Special Agent Jones advised Contreras that he was not under arrest and could leave at any time. When Special Agent Jones asked Contreras if he could see his driver's license and plane ticket, Contreras responded that he was in a hurry and attempted to walk away.[4] Special Agent Jones then advised Contreras that he was being detained and that a narcotics canine was going to examine his carry-on bag. As Special Agent Jones directed Contreras to a circular bench between curbside and baggage claim, Contreras allegedly stated that he wanted to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights.

Within a few minutes, Officer Cayabyab and his narcotics detection canine, Simon, arrived on scene. Officer Cayabyab and Simon had worked together as a unit for the Kauai Police Department since February 2008 and had completed quarterly trainings and successful annual certifications since that time. As recently as February 2015, Officer Cayabyab and Simon had been certified by Herbert Nakamura, a certifying official for the California Narcotics Canine Association and the American Working Dog Association, as competent and reliable to detect the odor of methamphetamine (among other substances). Mr. Nakamura has carried out detection training for four of the police departments in the State of Hawaii since 2008 and currently performs the annual certifications for the entire State of Hawaii. The certification process required Officer Cayabyab and Simon to annually complete a blind test under controlled conditions, which involved successfully identifying ...


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