County Superior Court
Plaintiff: John E. Corrigan, Esq.
Defendant: Collin M. Geiselman, Esq.
. . [T]he single most important determinant of evidence
accuracy is the police investigation."
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,  his cell phone and any evidence
obtained from the phone, the knife, knife box, ticket, and
Facts and Travel
following narrative offers a timeline and description of the
Central Falls Police Department police investigation
surrounding a suspicious death that occurred on Christmas Day
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. 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.
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.Sometime within this fifteen minute window,
Officer Savoie decided to place Mr. Emuakpor in handcuffs
behind his back.
the investigation continued as other officers arrived at the
scene. 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."
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. 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. 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.
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.
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.
approximately 7:52 P.M., Detective Robinson arrived at the
scene and conducted a second protective sweep of 17 Parker
Street with another detective. 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.
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
thereafter, Detective Viens conducted two interrogations of
Mr. Emuakpor at 9:41 P.M. and 11:26 P.M. 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 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.
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.
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).
Emuakpor contends that his constitutional rights were
violated by members of the C.F.P.D. in several
ways. 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.
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.
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).
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. 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.
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, ...