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United States v. Shields

United States District Court, D. Colorado

July 20, 2017

1. SHAWN SHIELDS, Defendant.


          Robert E. Blackburn United States District Judge

         The matters before me are defendant Shawn Shields's (1) Motion for Disclosure [#34], [1] filed September 26, 2016; and (2) Motion To Suppress Evidence [#35], filed September 26, 2016. The government filed responses to these motions [## 37 & 38, respectively], as well as a supplementary to the discovery motion [#39]. I heard these motions on June 22, 2017, and took the matters under advisement. I now deny the motion for discovery in part and deny it as moot in part, and deny the motion to suppress.

         In fashioning my ruling, I considered all relevant adjudicative facts in the file and record of this case pro tanto. I considered the testimony educed at the hearing. I considered, but did not necessarily accept, the reasons stated, arguments advanced, and authorities cited by counsel in their papers and during the hearing. I considered the totality of relevant circumstances.

         In assessing the credibility of the witnesses who testified during the hearing, I considered all facts and circumstances shown by the evidence that affected their credibility, including the following factors: the witness's means of knowledge, ability to observe, and strength of memory; the manner in which each witness might be affected by the outcome of the hearing; the relationship the witness had to either side in the case; the internal consistency vel non of the testimony; and the extent to which the witness was either supported or contradicted by other evidence presented during the hearing.

         My findings of fact are based on not less than a preponderance of the evidence. Based on the foregoing, I enter the following findings of fact, conclusions of law, and orders.


         On March 18, 2015, defendant Shawn Shields, an inmate at the United States Penitentiary - Administrative Maximum (ADX) in Florence, Colorado, was involved in a verbal altercation with another inmate, Donald Heisler, while the two were recreating in the J Unit of the prison.[2] On that morning, Special Investigative Service (“SIS”) Lieutenant Charles Alvarez was giving a morning briefing to several SIS technicians in their office. At approximately 8:10 a.m., Lieutenant Alvarez glanced at one of the three monitors in the office and observed Mr. Shields running up a stairwell to the second tier of J Unit, with Mr. Heisler in pursuit.

         A third inmate - identified at the hearing by Mr. Shields as Vincent Basciano - stopped Mr. Heisler and held him back. Mr. Shields, meanwhile, continued up the stairs to his cell, which was locked, as is standard protocol during inmate recreation time. Lieutenant Alvarez observed Mr. Shields kneel down in front of his cell and reach underneath the door, after which Mr. Shields continued down the corridor. The SIS unit then received a call for assistance from J Unit, and Lieutenant Alvarez and other SIS officers proceeded there.

         Although Lieutenant Alvarez testified that J Unit was locked down immediately following Messrs. Heisler's and Shields's altercation, Mr. Shields insisted some eighteen to twenty minutes elapsed before the unit was locked down, during which time, he testified, he and Mr. Heisler had further, calmer, discussions and purportedly resolved their differences. Regardless, the unit ultimately was locked down. All inmates were returned to their assigned cells, and prison staff interviewed individually each inmate who was present and performed a cell-by-cell search to ensure the unit was safe to be reopened. At some point, Mr. Shields was removed from his cell and questioned in an interview room within J Unit. Following this interview (the particulars of which are not specified and are irrelevant here), Mr. Shields was escorted to the Special Housing Unit (“SHU”).[3]

         Before an inmate enters the SHU, standard procedure requires he pass through a machine called the SecurPASS, similar to the full body x-ray scanners used to screen passengers at airports.[4] Following an initial scan, for which Lieutenant Alvarez was not present, another officer approached Lieutenant Alvarez and told him it appeared from the scan that there was something in Mr. Shields's lower abdominal region. Lieutenant Alvarez testified it appeared as if there was a 3.5-inch needle in Mr. Shields's lower abdominal region. The image, however, was “blurry, ” leaving the officers unsure what they were seeing. Lieutenant Alvarez therefore ordered a second scan. This image, too, was unclear, as was a subsequent scan.

         Following the third inconclusive scan, Lieutenant Alvarez directed Mr. Shields to slightly lift his hands, which were cuffed behind his back, and a fourth scan was performed. The image of this scan was clearer, but Lieutenant Alvarez still was not “100% sure if it was a weapon or what.” He asked Mr. Shields whether he had any surgical screws or plates in his lower back. Mr. Shields said he did have a medical screw in his spine, but when Lieutenant Alvarez checked Mr. Shields's lower back, he saw no evidence of a surgical scar to indicate Mr. Shields had undergone surgery for placement of such a device.

         Lieutenant Alvarez then left the SecurPASS room, intending to call the medical department to verify whether Mr. Shields had a metal screw or plate in his back. Before he could make that call, however, other officers alerted him that Mr. Shields had said he would surrender the object if Lieutenant Alvarez would show it to him on the screen. Lieutenant Alvarez returned to the SecurPASS room and ordered Mr. Shields to give him the object. Mr. Shields repeated he would do so if Lieutenant Alvarez would show him the scan.

         Confronted with the image, Mr. Shields said, according to Lieutenant Alvarez, “Okay you got me, and damn technology now a days is a bitch. Just escort me to a cell and I will give it to you. That's my word and plus I don't want Osagie[‘]s[5] fat fingers in my ass.” (Gov't Hrg. Exh. 1 at 1.)[6] Lieutenant Alvarez asked whether the object was metal and if in fact it was concealed in his rectum, and Mr. Shields responded “Yes.”

         Mr. Shields then was escorted to an observation cell. His restraints were removed and he was provided with a bedpan covered with a plastic trash bag. Mr. Shields removed the object from his rectum and placed it in the bedpan. On later examination, the objects consisted of two pieces of aluminum, one 4.5 inches long and the other 1.5 inches long, both sharpened to points. After Mr. Shields removed these items, he was returned to the scanner for a fifth and final time[7] to verify that nothing else was concealed inside his body. When that scan came back clear, Mr. Shields was escorted to a cell in the SHU.

         While Lieutenant Alvarez acknowledged that scanning an inmate entering the SHU five times was unusual, he testified he believed this course of action was required in the particular circumstances to ensure the safety and security of both staff and inmates. Lieutenant Alvarez estimated that the screening process took only five to ten minutes. The entire encounter, from the time Mr. Shields was escorted from J Unit to the time he reached a cell in the SHU, lasted approximately thirty minutes. Lieutenant Alvarez described Mr. Shields's demeanor as respectful and compliant throughout, and officers were not abusive, either verbally or physically. Standard security protocols and procedures were followed at each step.


         Following this incident, Mr. Shields was indicted on one count of knowingly possessing contraband in prison, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1791(a)(2). He has moved to suppress the evidence obtained as a result of the SecurPASS search, as well as the statements he made to officers in connection with that search. He also has filed a motion for discovery under Fed. R. Crim. P. 16(a). I consider these matters in reverse order.


         Mr. Shields moves for the disclosure of various categories of information pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 16(a)(1), as well as the opportunity to tour and videotape areas of ADX implicated by the incident and to interview certain specified inmates. By its response, the government agreed to some of these requests, [8] subject to certain protocols and restrictions, and as rehearsed in the supplement to the government's response, the parties have reached agreement as to these matters. To that extent, therefore, the motion is moot.

         The government continues to object, however, to providing discovery as to the following requested items:

a. all Bureau of Prisons [BOP] policies, procedures, rules, memoranda, and regulations governing
I. BOP personnel entering housing units, including SHU and Step-Down, in ADX Florence in response to disturbances in that unit;
ii. assignment of prisoners to BOP facilities and to specific housing units within those facilities based on points assigned by BOP to prisoners;
iii. the days and times prisoners may be out of their cells in all housing units at ADX Florence, including the SHU and Step-Down units; and iv. visits with ...

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