from the EXTREME-SNIFFING-ACTION! dept
Another magical drug dog case has surfaced, showing yet again why cops like having “probable cause on four legs” on hand to turn stops into searches and searches into seizures. This forfeiture motion [PDF] — highlighted by Brad Heath — starts with a stop and quickly devolves into ridiculousness.
A drug investigation involving investigators working with ONSET (Ohio Northeast Smuggling Enforcement Team) culminated in the traffic stop of one of the targets, Emmanuel Trujillo Trujillo. Already suspected of drug trafficking, the stop got a whole lot more interesting for officers once some loose cash was spotted.
Deputy Spires approached the pick-up truck and made contact with the driver, Trujillo Trujillo. While speaking with Trujillo Trujillo, Deputy Spires learned that he did not possess a valid driver’s license.
Deputy Spires observed a large amount of United States currency below Trujillo Trujillo’s feet on the floorboard of the pick-up truck and requested assistance from Franklin County, Ohio Sheriff’s Office Canine Unit Deputy Zach Cooper (“Deputy Cooper”) and his canine partner “Indy” to conduct an open-air sniff of the pick-up truck.
Roughly twenty minutes later, the drug dog arrived. And failed to do what the deputies wanted it to do.
Deputy Cooper arrived at the traffic stop at approximately 6:22 p.m. and approached the pick-up truck with canine Indy. Deputy Cooper noticed that Indy showed an extreme change in behavior when sniffing around the passenger side door and its open window. Indy’s sniffing increased as he stayed and intently sniffed the passenger side door area. As the team moved on, Deputy Cooper noted similar behavior from Indy when he approached the tailgate area of the pick-up truck.
There was no alert from Indy. Just a lot of sniffing. But even the lack of an alert wasn’t going to keep these officers from searching Trujillo’s vehicle. Since the four-legged cop wouldn’t give them permission for a search, the deputies decided to give that permission to each other, with Indy’s apparently implicit consent.
Deputy Cooper advised Deputy Spires that Indy did not indicate on a pure odor source, but he believed that Indy’s extreme sniffing behavior indicated that a narcotic odor was present within the pick-up truck.
And with that the search was on. The deputies discovered more cash, receipts for cash transfers, some paperwork from a Chase Manhattan account, and a non-contractor 1099 miscellaneous income form showing $27,815 in compensation to Trujillo. The search did not, however, turn up any drugs, despite the extreme sniffing allegedly demonstrated by the drug dog.
The deputies took $19,104 from Trujillo at this stop. From there, they went to Trujillo’s storage unit and took another $32,050. Finally, law enforcement — using information gleaned from this extreme sniffing — searched Trujillo’s house, where officers found even more cash as well as the drugs the deputies assumed they would find during their initial search of the truck.
And, as if to prove the deputies were right to assume the drug dog had meant to give them explicit permission to search the truck for drugs, there’s this additional information in the forfeiture motion.
TFO Taylor changed gloves, obtained the bag containing the United States currency seized from the pick-up truck, and opened it. TFO Taylor took a MX908 test strip and wiped it on the rubber bands holding the currency together. TFO Taylor placed this test strip into the MX908 and received a positive result for the trace presence of cocaine.
So what? I’ll bet if TFO Taylor borrowed some cash from someone in the HSI (Homeland Security Investigations) office and tested it, he would very likely have rung up another positive result for the trace presence of cocaine. This is an unlisted “feature” of most US currency. A positive test means nothing more than the bill tested has been in circulation.
This is a stop worth challenging. The deputies admitted they did not see an alert from the drug dog before engaging in a search. That means it’s also a seizure worth seizing. And it’s yet another data point showing cops love drug dogs because their mere presence at a stop can be converted into probable cause. Even better, these “partners” can’t offer up testimony that might undercut assertions made by their handlers. Win-win. Apparently, the drug war needs all the wins it can get, even if certain combatants have to obtain them dishonestly.