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United States v. Baca

United States District Court, D. Colorado

July 12, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
(1.) KENNETH LAWRENCE BACA, Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING MOTION TO SUPPRESS

          WILLIAM J. MARTÍNEZ, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The Government charges Defendant Kenneth Lawrence Baca (“Baca”) with one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). This charge arose out of an October 26, 2018 traffic stop of the vehicle that Baca was driving. Baca moves to suppress all evidence seized as a result of that October 26 stop. (“Motion”; ECF No. 25.) The Court held an evidentiary hearing on the Motion on June 27, 2019. For the reasons explained below, the Court denies the Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         From the testimony and exhibits present at the suppression hearing, as well as the undisputed facts in the parties' briefs on the Motion, the Court finds as follows.

         On October 26, 2018, Pueblo Police Department Officers Manuel Pedraza and Christopher Prado asked Detective Sincerbox, also of the Pueblo Police Department, to surveil a red Ford Explorer outside 201 West Northern Avenue, Pueblo, Colorado. (Transcript of June 27, 2019 Hearing (“Tr.”) at 9:14-15.)[1] On other occasions, police had observed gang members at that location, received information that an individual with an active warrant frequented that residence, and had previously been dispatched to that location for potential narcotics and weapons violations. (Id. at 9:14; ECF No. 30 at 2.)

         Detective Sincerbox saw the red Ford Explorer pull away. (Tr. at 9:16.) As it did so, Detective Sincerbox read the license plate number from approximately a hundred yards away. (Id. at 9:16-17; ECF No. 25 at 2.) He cleared the number that he read, 044-DQK, through dispatch, which returned a red Ford Taurus whose registered owner had an active misdemeanor warrant. (Tr. at 9:16; ECF No. 25 at 2.) Detective Sincerbox attempted to catch up to the red Ford Explorer but was unable to do so. (ECF No. 25 at 2.) He informed Officers Pedraza and Prado that the red Ford Explorer's license plate did not match the vehicle and that the plate was associated with an active misdemeanor warrant. (Tr. at 9:18.)

         It is undisputed that Detective Sincerbox cleared the incorrect license plate number, 044-DQK, through dispatch, transposing the “K” and “Q.” (ECF No. 25 at 2; ECF No. 30 at 2.) The actual license plate number of the red Ford Explorer was 044-DKQ. (ECF No. 25 at 2; ECF No. 30 at 3.) The correct license plate number was a match for the red Ford Explorer and there were no outstanding warrants for the registered owner. (ECF No. 25 at 3; ECF No. 30 at 3-4.)

         At the suppression hearing, Officer Pedraza testified that after Detective Sincerbox contacted him, he drove along Mesa Avenue, parallel to Northern Avenue, to catch up to the red Ford Explorer and Detective Sincerbox. (Tr. at 9:20.) He and Office Prado stayed informed by radio of the location of the red Ford Explorer and Detective Sincerbox. (Id.) At approximately 5:16 p.m., Officers Pedraza and Prado caught up to the red Ford Explorer, and saw it pull into the Sunset Plaza parking lot. (ECF No. 25 at 2; ECF No. 30 at 2; Tr. 9:21-22.) Officer Pedraza testified that the red Ford Explorer pulled into a handicapped parking spot, and was parked for 10 to 15 seconds before he turned on his police lights and pulled behind the red Ford Explorer. (Tr. at 9:25.) His testimony was further confirmed by a recording of a jailhouse call in which Baca himself described the incident. (June 27, 2019 Hearing Gov. Ex. 2.) In that call, Baca states that he pulled into the parking lot, and then the officers made a u-turn, pulled in behind the red Ford Explorer, and activated their patrol lights. (Id. at 1:05-1:13.)[2]

         As Officer Pedraza got out of the police car, he activated his body camera, which automatically saved the last 30-seconds of video-only footage, and began recording video and audio footage. (Id. at 9:39-40; id. at 10:05.) The officers approached the vehicle on both the driver and passenger sides. (Id. at 9:41.) The driver, Baca, asked why he had been stopped and Officer Pedraza told him that the plates did not match the vehicle. (Id. at 9:31; June 27, 2019 Hearing Gov. Ex. 3 (“Body Camera”) at 0:41-0:50.) Officer Pedraza then asked for Baca's driver's license, proof of insurance, and registration. (Tr. at 9:31-32.) Baca provided the registration, which had the correct license plate number. (Id. at 9:32.) Officer Pedraza again asked for Baca's driver's license, and Baca informed him that his license had been suspended. (Id.) Baca did not provide proof of insurance, and explained that he would need to contact the owner of the vehicle for insurance information. (Id. at 9:33.)

         At approximately 5:19 p.m., the officers cleared the correct license plate number, which matched the red Ford Explorer and showed that the registered owner had insurance and no outstanding warrants. (Id. at 9:35-36; ECF No. 25 at 3; ECF No. 30 at 3.) At approximately 5:23 p.m., dispatch confirmed that Baca did not have any outstanding warrants. (ECF No. 25 at 3; ECF No. 30 at 3-4.) The officers were still waiting for Baca to contact the owner of the vehicle and provide proof of insurance. (Tr. at 9:37.)

         At approximately 5:28 p.m., Officer Pedraza noticed Baca “reach over to the front seat passenger and heard something drop inside the vehicle.” (ECF No. 30 at 4; Tr. at 10:20-21.) Officer Pedraza ordered Baca out of the vehicle. (Tr. at 10:21.) Officer Prado placed Baca in handcuffs. (ECF No. 25 at 3.)

         Officer Pedraza opened the driver side door and immediately found a firearm near the driver's seat. (ECF No. 25 at 3; ECF No. 30 at 4; Tr. at 10:22.)

         The officers then placed Baca in the back of their patrol car. (ECF No. 25 at 4.) Eventually, Baca was transported to jail and booked on firearm charges and possession of a small amount of methamphetamine. (Id.)

         II. ...


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