from the I-didn't-have-probable-cause-for-a-search-until-after-I-searched dept
It’s not often you see a court actually call a police officer a liar, but it happened in this case [PDF], via FourthAmendment.com. While investigating a murder, Puerto Rico PD Homicide Division Agent Pedro Medina-Negron performed a sweep of the house to ensure there were no more victims or dangerous perpetrators inside.
While performing his sweep of the scene, Agent Medina claimed to have seen several things in plain view:
He described seeing raw rice on the floor, a gun magazine on top of the dresser, a large amount of cash in a gray bag on the floor, and bags of rubber bands, boxes of ziplock bags, and empty instant coffee packets on the bed. He also described finding a large quantity of rice in plain view in the kitchen trashcan. Agent Medina explained that rice and coffee are often used to conceal the smell of drugs and that the size of the coffee packets he observed—approximately one pound bags—matched his professional experience with the size of coffee bags used in drug trafficking. He also noted that, in his experience, ziplock bags, rubber bands, firearms, and cash are associated with drug trafficking. He confirmed with defendants that they did not have gun permits.
Building from his supposed “plain view” observations, Agent Medina called in a drug dog to perform a search of the room. It alerted on a suitcase in the closet and officers discovered two guns in the closet after moving clothing to get to the suitcase. Medina then applied for a search warrant to search the home and open the suitcase, establishing probable cause with all the stuff he claimed he saw in plain sight when he performed the sweep. Eight hours after his first “observations,” Medina obtained a search warrant. This search turned up a large quantity of drugs and cash.
The search was challenged by the defendants, who were pretty sure everything Medina claimed to have seen in plain sight wasn’t actually out in the open. Utilizing the metadata from the ~600 photos the PD’s forensic team took of the house during their murder investigation, the defendants exposed Agent Medina for the liar he is.
This is only one of Medina’s many lies, undercut by the forensic team’s photos of the crime scene.
Although Agent Medina asserted in his sworn statement and evidentiary hearing testimony that he saw the grey bag of cash in plain view, he later testified to the opposite. He stated on cross?examination that he did not see the grey bag during his protective sweep. Rather, Agent Medina testified that the forensics officers alerted him to the bag while they were “working the room,” a phrase he clarified meant “searching.” According to a 4:54 p.m. photograph, officers found the bag on the bedroom floor, wedged between the wall and a large armchair and obscured by a floor?length curtain. The bag appears to be a small, nylon, reusable grocery tote. In a photograph taken at 5:29 p.m., the armchair had been pushed away from the wall, better revealing the gray bag, which was tied shut. Its contents were concealed. By 5:37 p.m., investigators had moved the gray bag onto a countertop and placed a yellow evidence tag next to it. The bag is still closed in that photo, but the photograph taken one minute later shows the bag open. Inside the bag is a roll of cash and what appears to be a brown paper bag containing a rectangular object. Agent Medina confirmed that he had to open the bag to ascertain its contents and he admitted that he opened the bag before obtaining a search warrant. Evidence on record shows that all cash had been seized, counted, displayed and a picture taken by 7:31 p.m.; hours prior to the request and issuance of the search warrant.
Photographs further proved Medina was lying about the gun magazine he claimed to have seen in plain sight, along with the coffee bags and rice he said he saw out in the open. Here’s the court being a bit more polite about Medina’s inability to tell the truth.
Agent Medina’s testimony about the items found in the locked bedroom is rather remarkable. He admitted he did not see the grey bag in his safety sweep and that its incriminating contents were also not in plain view. He testified that forensics found the bag around 4:54 p.m. while “searching” the locked room. And he affirmed that he opened the bag before obtaining the search warrant, so he could rely on its contents in support of his warrant application. He swore in the search warrant application that he observed a “large sum of money,” which is clearly refuted by the photographs and now by his testimony on cross?examination.
Every search performed by Puerto Rican law enforcement officers at the scene was tainted.
According to Agent Médina, the entire house was clear when he found the gun magazine on the dresser, coffee on the bed, and the grey bag of money behind the chair. The metadata on the photographs indicate that the government’s search occurred several hours after Agent Medina arrived on the scene, after the home was secured, took several hours, and was not limited to places where a person may be hiding, such as, e.g., inside a small reusable bag.
The government offers no other justification for the warrantless search of the bedroom and the Court finds none. The government’s rummaging in the locked bedroom, moving furniture, clothing, blankets, and draperies and opening cabinets and drawers, violated the defendants’ Fourth Amendment rights.
The court adds this rebuke to the Puerto Rican PD’s assertions, as well as to any others who believe all Constitutional bets are off if the crime is severe enough:
The Supreme Court has definitively rejected this argument, holding that there is no “murder scene exception” to the Fourth Amendment.
After blasting the PD as a whole, the court focuses again on Agent Medina. This is one of the most thorough benchslappings I’ve read, one that says the court thinks Medina is a habitual liar who should not be allowed to wear a badge.
[T]he Court admonishes Agent Medina’s flagrant dishonesty before this Court and the court issuing the search warrant. Indeed, the Court considers his behavior sufficiently egregious to warrant a perjury and/or obstruction of justice investigation. The Court has no means to determine if this is the first time that Agent Medina lied to this Court. However, as it relates to this case, he blatantly lied to the state judiciary while submitting a sworn statement with firsthand information he clearly knew to be false. Secondly, he appeared in federal court and after taking an oath to testify truthfully, he once again testified falsely. Agent Medina’s behavior and testimony may be suggestive of a routinary practice as a law enforcement officer to lie under oath and mischaracterize evidence to serve his investigatory purposes. If so, Agent Medina’s disregard of constitutional rights and basic rules of criminal procedure and investigation, poses a threat to individual’s rights and to the community he purports to serve and needs to be addressed and investigated.
Everything Medina claimed to have seen with his own eyes out in the open is suppressed. So is everything else discovered during the warrantless searches of the house and the minimal amount of rummaging that occurred after the warrant finally showed up eight hours after Medina did. All the drugs. All the guns. Everything. And all because one officer, who was already on a murder scene, lied about his “plain view” discoveries to fraudulently obtain a warrant.
Filed Under: 4th amendment, pedro media-negron, police, puerto rico, puerto rico police department, warrantless search