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State v. Emuakpor

Superior Court of Rhode Island

January 10, 2017


         Providence County Superior Court

          For Plaintiff: John E. Corrigan, Esq.

          For Defendant: Collin M. Geiselman, Esq.


          PROCACCINI, J.

         ". . . [T]he single most important determinant of evidence accuracy is the police investigation."[1]

         Before the Court are Kenneth Emuakpor's (Mr. Emuakpor) motions to suppress evidence obtained during the course of a Christmas Day 2014 homicide investigation. Mr. Emuakpor contends that his arrest was unlawful, the initial search of his apartment was warrantless and not within any exception, and the search warrants subsequently obtained by the Central Falls Police Department were deficient. In his five separate motions, Mr. Emuakpor moves to suppress the following: (1) a bottle of bleach, a mop, and a bucket observed during the initial search of his apartment; (2) his clothes that were seized at the police station, including the hat, boot, and jeans with blood on them; (3) his cell phone and any evidence retrieved from that phone; (4) his statements made to detectives during two interrogations at the police station; and (5) an empty knife box, a knife, a police department ticket, and a paystub discovered in his apartment pursuant to a search warrant. The State of Rhode Island (the State) objects to all of Mr. Emuakpor's motions. Conversely, the State maintains that Mr. Emuakpor's arrest was supported by probable cause, the initial sweep of his apartment was justified under the exigency exception to the search warrant requirement, and the search warrants were based on probable cause. Jurisdiction is pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 8-2-15. For reasons discussed infra, the Court grants Mr. Emuakpor's motions to suppress the following evidence: his clothes, blood evidence found on his hat, boot, and jeans, and his statements made during interrogations at the police station. The Court denies his motions to suppress the bleach, mop, and bucket, [2] his cell phone and any evidence obtained from the phone, the knife, knife box, ticket, and paystub.


         Facts[3] and Travel

         The following narrative offers a timeline and description of the Central Falls Police Department police investigation surrounding a suspicious death that occurred on Christmas Day 2014.

         On December 25, 2014 at approximately 6:00 P.M., Officer Paul Savoie (Officer Savoie) of the Central Falls Police Department was dispatched to 17 Parker Street, Central Falls, Rhode Island following a 911 call reporting a male passed out with blood on him at that address. In 2014, Officer Savoie was a six-year veteran of the Central Falls Police Department (C.F.P.D.). According to the Crime Scene Time Log maintained by the C.F.P.D, Officer Savoie was the first law enforcement officer to arrive at the scene at 6:38 P.M.[4] Once he arrived at 17 Parker Street, Officer Savoie followed a walkway adjacent to the house that led toward the rear of the house where he came upon a bloodied body on the side entrance stairs. Standing in close proximity to the body were two rescue personnel and a third, unidentified man. The decedent, later identified as Cheikh Diop, had a severe laceration on the left side of his head and his white T-shirt was covered in wet blood. The door to the side entrance was open and the decedent's head was partially inside the doorway. Officer Savoie observed a wooden handle of what appeared to be a knife tucked into the decedent's waistband and a set of car keys in his left hand.

         Officer Savoie asked the man standing by the decedent's body some basic questions. The officer learned that this individual lived in the third floor apartment at 17 Parker Street and that he had made the 911 call to police. Officer Savoie requested that the man provide identification. The man handed over a motor vehicle operator's license that identified him as Kenneth Emuakpor, the Defendant. Officer Savoie ordered Mr. Emuakpor to extinguish a cigarette he was smoking, and he immediately complied. Officer Savoie then asked Mr. Emuakpor if he could pat down his outer clothing. Mr. Emuakpor consented, and no weapons or contraband were discovered on his person. During this period of interaction, Officer Savoie made several observations of Mr. Emuakpor: he did not appear disheveled; he was extremely calm; and he was slow to respond to basic questions which Officer Savoie attributed to evasiveness. Officer Savoie then asked Mr. Emuakpor to stand by on scene for approximately fifteen minutes.[5]Sometime within this fifteen minute window, Officer Savoie decided to place Mr. Emuakpor in handcuffs behind his back.[6]

         Meanwhile, the investigation continued as other officers arrived at the scene.[7] Almost immediately upon arrival, Officer DeCristofaro and Officer Crenshaw entered 17 Parker Street to conduct a protective sweep in search of other victims. On his way into the house, Officer DeCristofaro stopped briefly to ask Officer Savoie "what he has, " to which Officer Savoie replied, "I don't know."

         Once inside, Officers DeCristofaro and Crenshaw knocked on the doors of the first and second floor apartments, but found no answer at either apartment and no signs of suspicious activity. The officers proceeded to the third floor and found that apartment door ajar.[8] They entered, announced "police, " and performed a cursory sweep of the apartment for victims. During the sweep, an open door to the bathroom revealed, in plain view, a bottle of bleach, a mop, and a bucket. Upon entering the bathroom, Officer Crenshaw smelled an odor that she identified as bleach. The only person in the apartment was a woman sleeping on a couch.[9] The woman did not have any visible injuries, but the officers roused her. When she refused to accompany the officers to the police station, they handcuffed her and brought her to the station. This Court notes with interest that these officers, the second and third on scene, contributed no written statements to the police report for this investigation.

         While Officers Crenshaw and DeCristofaro were inside the house, Officer Savoie placed the handcuffed Mr. Emuakpor in the back seat of a police cruiser with the doors locked. Officer Savoie testified at the suppression hearing that at this point in time Mr. Emuakpor was not free to leave. Officer Savoie then conducted a canvas of the immediate area-this time with a flashlight. The flashlight illuminated a trail of blood and hair that led from the decedent's body to a Dodge Durango parked across the street. Upon closer inspection of the Dodge Durango, Officer Savoie, along with other officers, observed blood on the exterior of the vehicle and pools of blood on some of the interior surfaces.

         At this time, Officer Savoie relinquished any further investigation of the scene to other officers and transported Mr. Emuakpor to the police station. Once Mr. Emuakpor was inside the processing room of the police station, which Officer Savoie described as "well lit, " he observed what appeared to be blood on Mr. Emuakpor's hat, boot, and jeans. Upon this realization, Officer Savoie asked Mr. Emuakpor to remove those items of clothing. Officer Savoie then placed Mr. Emuakpor in a holding cell, leaving his hat, boot, and jeans on the floor of the processing room.

         At approximately 7:52 P.M., Detective Robinson arrived at the scene and conducted a second protective sweep of 17 Parker Street with another detective.[10] For some unknown and unexplained reason, the detectives were not informed that an earlier sweep had already been completed. Once inside, the detectives found the door to the first floor apartment ajar, heard loud music, and entered. No one was present inside, but the detectives observed a cell phone plugged into the wall. These observations, made after the first sweep and while Officer Savoie had already secured 17 Parker Street as a crime scene, are at odds with the observations of Officers DeCristofaro and Crenshaw's description of a quiet and secure first floor apartment made minutes before.

         At approximately 8:00 P.M., a neighbor, Ana Cruz (Ms. Cruz), returned home to 19 Parker Street from a family Christmas party. At that time, Ms. Cruz informed unknown officers about a fight she had witnessed earlier that day. Ms. Cruz was transported to the police station at approximately 9:00 P.M., and her official statement was taken by Detective Robinson at 12:26 A.M. She reported that at approximately 4:30 P.M. on December 25, 2014, she left her house at 19 Parker Street in Central Falls to attend a Christmas celebration at her daughter's home. As she was leaving, she saw three men and one woman arguing outside 17 Parker Street. In her car's rearview mirror, she watched "the tall guy with the white shirt and the guy on the third floor . . . fighting." Mot. to Suppress, Ex. C. She did not call the police because she thought "they may have been playing . . . [because] they are all friends [and] drink together every weekend." Id.

         Shortly thereafter, Detective Viens conducted two interrogations of Mr. Emuakpor at 9:41 P.M. and 11:26 P.M.[11] During this time, Mr. Emuakpor was given conflicting information about whether he was under arrest. He was read his Miranda warnings and subsequently waived those rights. Mr. Emuakpor informed detectives that he and his girlfriend[12] had been drinking earlier that day in his apartment, and that he was drunk when they decided to go to the store. He recounted that they went downstairs and walked by the decedent on the side door stairway. It was not until they returned and saw that the decedent was still on the stairs that Mr. Emuakpor called police. Throughout the interrogations, Mr. Emuakpor consistently denied knowing the decedent.

         Detective Robinson drafted the three search warrants Mr. Emuakpor is challenging in the instant motions-warrants for Mr. Emuakpor's clothes, cell phone, and apartment. Later that evening, Detective Rodriguez seized Mr. Emuakpor's clothes from the floor of the processing room. After midnight on December 26, 2014, Detective Rodriguez executed the search warrant for Mr. Emuakpor's apartment. During the suppression hearing, Detective Rodriguez testified that he did not look at the search warrant prior to executing the search. Items seized from the apartment included an empty Survivor knife box, a Survivor knife with a nine-inch blade located in the attic, a C.F.P.D. Violation Notice, and a paystub from Workers Mania. On December 29, 2014, an additional search warrant was issued for Mr. Emuakpor's cell phone, and the phone was subsequently seized.


         Standard of Review

         Mr. Emuakpor brings the instant motions pursuant to Super. R. Crim. P. 41(f). The State bears the burden of establishing that the evidence seized from Mr. Emuakpor's person and premises is admissible "by a fair preponderance of the evidence." State v. O'Dell, 576 A.2d 425, 427 (R.I. 1990) (citing United States v. Matlock, 415 U.S. 164, 177-78 n.14 (1974)); see also State v. Tavarez, 572 A.2d 276, 279 (R.I. 1990).



         Mr. Emuakpor contends that his constitutional rights were violated by members of the C.F.P.D. in several ways.[13] First, he claims that Officer Savoie did not possess reasonable suspicion that he was armed and dangerous to justify the pat-down of his outer clothing. Second, he contends that his arrest was unlawful because it was not supported by probable cause. Third, he contests the initial search of his apartment and argues that it was warrantless and not within any exception. Fourth, he alleges that the statements he made to detectives and the observation of blood on his clothes were directly related to and tainted by his unlawful arrest and should be suppressed as poisonous fruit. He further contends that the bleach, mop, and bucket observed during the initial search of his apartment are fruit of an unlawful search and should also be suppressed. Fifth, Mr. Emuakpor claims that the search warrants for his apartment, clothing, and cell phone were deficient. He contends the deficiencies render the subsequent searches and seizures to be unlawful for the following reasons: (1) the attic where a knife was discovered by police during the execution of the search warrant for his apartment was not particularly described in the warrant; (2) probable cause to search the apartment did not exist in the warrant; (3) the search warrant for his clothes lacks probable cause once the blood evidence that was observed on Mr. Emuakpor's hat, boot, and jeans is excised as illegal fruit; (4) the affidavits contained statements written in reckless disregard for the truth; and (5) the return of service on the warrants was delayed. Conversely, the State argues that Officer Savoie possessed probable cause to arrest Mr. Emuakpor, the initial search of his apartment was justified under the exigency exception to the search warrant requirement, and the search warrants are based on probable cause.

         A Arrest

         Mr. Emuakpor contends that Officer Savoie did not possess reasonable suspicion to believe he was armed and dangerous sufficient to support a pat-down of his outer clothing. However, since Mr. Emuakpor's motions to suppress focus on his arrest and not the pat-down, the Court finds it unnecessary to address that issue. In fact, the Court finds the circumstances surrounding the pat-down favorable to Mr. Emuakpor because he consented to and cooperated in the pat-down, and there were no weapons, contraband, or other evidence found on his person.

         Mr. Emuakpor also alleges that his arrest was not supported by probable cause and is therefore unlawful. When assessing the lawfulness of an arrest, the Court must first determine if an arrest actually occurred. Since Mr. Emuakpor moves to suppress evidence that was obtained at the police station, including the blood on his clothes and his statements to detectives, the Court must only determine whether an arrest had occurred by the time Officer Savoie brought Mr. Emuakpor through the station's processing room. In order to make that determination, the Court must evaluate "the extent to which the person's freedom of movement has been curtailed and the degree of force used by the police; the belief of a reasonable innocent person in the same circumstances; and whether the person had the option of not going with the police." State v. Bailey, 417 A.2d 915, 917-18 (R.I. 1980) (internal citation omitted).

         Here, the Court finds that Mr. Emuakpor's freedom was substantially curtailed when he was handcuffed behind his back, placed in the back seat of a locked police cruiser, involuntarily taken to the station, and brought through the station's processing room. A reasonable, innocent person in Mr. Emuakpor's shoes would not have felt free to leave.[14] One of the most telling indications that Mr. Emuakpor was under arrest is Officer Savoie's unequivocal testimony that when he walked Mr. Emuakpor to his cruiser, he was not free to leave at that time. See contra State v. Vieira, 913 A.2d 1015, 1021 (R.I. 2007) (determining that the defendant who was not handcuffed and agreed to go to the police station was not under arrest even though he was placed in a locked cruiser). The Court finds that Mr. Emuakpor was under arrest at the time he was brought through the processing room at the station.

         The Court turns to a determination of whether there was probable cause to justify Mr. Emuakpor's arrest. "Probable cause to arrest exists when the facts and circumstances within the police officer's knowledge . . . are sufficient to warrant a reasonable person's belief that a crime has been committed and that the person to be arrested has committed the crime." State v. Jenison, 442 A.2d 866, 873-74 (R.I. 1982). The reasonable belief "must be based on more than mere suspicion[.]" State v. Ortiz, 824 A.2d 473, 480 (R.I. 2003); see also Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471, 479 (1963). Furthermore, "if probable cause [is] absent at the time of arrest, 'then nothing that happened thereafter could make that arrest lawful . . . .'" State v. Flores, 996 A.2d 156, 161 (R.I. 2010) (quoting Rios v. United States, 364 U.S. 253, ...

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