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United States of America v. Martin Cantu Ruiz

April 25, 2012

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MARTIN CANTU RUIZ, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable B. Lynn Winmill Chief U. S. District Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

The Court has before it a motion to suppress filed by defendant Cantu-Ruiz. The Court held an evidentiary hearing on April 23, 2012, hearing testimony from Officers John Plaza and KayAnn Smith. For the reasons explained below, the Court will deny the motion.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Cantu-Ruiz is charged with unlawful possession of a shotgun. He seeks to suppress the shotgun on the ground that it was seized in a search pursuant to an invalid warrant. In obtaining that warrant, Cantu-Ruiz alleges, the Government omitted crucial facts that, if revealed to the issuing magistrate, would have prevented the Government from obtaining a warrant.

The events culminating in the issuance of the warrant started early in the morning of March 21, 2011, when Payette Police Officers responded to a 911 call from Charlene Scales reporting a shooting at her trailer home. Scales was the girlfriend of the shooting victim, Emmett Mills, who sustained a leg wound.

Both Mills and Scales told the Officers that the attacker knocked on the door of their trailer at about 4:20 a.m., asking for Jessica and identifying himself as "McDog" (or "Mick-Dog" as stated in some Officers' reports). Mills opened the front door and "McDog" tried to push his way into the trailer. Mills pushed "McDog" out the door into a second assailant waiting outside who was wearing a clown mask and holding an assault rifle. The masked assailant fired two shots; one bullet struck Mills in the left leg. Both the intruder and the masked assailant ran from the scene immediately after firing the gunshots.

During the attack, Scales was sitting at her computer. The front door of the trailer opened toward her, and thus the door itself partially blocked her view, but she saw the intruder through the crack between the door and the wall where the door's hinges were attached. She did not know the attacker but saw that he was a Hispanic male wearing dark clothing and speaking clear English. The police reports do not indicate that Scales provided any identifying tattoos or other markings on the intruder, and she could not describe the other assailant. Mills stated he did not know either of his attackers. He described the intruder as a Hispanic male, in his 30's with short hair, and the other assailant as wearing a clown mask.

While interviewing witnesses and looking for evidence at the crime scene, the Officers concluded that, as they put it in their report, "some information was being withheld by the subjects involved." So they obtained consent to search the trailer for weapons. Although they were told there were no weapons, they found a .357 Ruger handgun and drug evidence.

This was not the first time the Payette Police had been called to this trailer. About a month earlier, police undercover agents had purchased methamphetamine there from Mills and Scales. On at least two occasions before the break-in, undercover agents had purchased methamphetamine from Scales at the trailer.

Later on the same day of the shooting -- March 21, 2011 -- Detective Walker of the Payette City Police, acting undercover and wearing a wire, purchased 3.5 grams of methamphetamine from Scales. Listening nearby to the wire transmission was Officer KayAnn Smith. As Detective Walker left Scales' residence, and confirmed by text to Officer Smith that the deal took place, Officer Smith and three other Officers confronted Scales, who admitted to the drug dealing, and expressed a willingness to cooperate to reduce the impact of the charges against her. She consented to a search of her residence, and Officers discovered another 10.9 grams of methamphetamine and 20 Norco pills. Officer Smith states in her report that "[Scales] advised that she wanted to fully cooperate and was advised consideration could be given for her charges."

Two days later, on March 23, 2011, Detectives Smith, Freeman, and Plaza showed a photo line-up to Scales that included a photograph of Cantu-Ruiz. Scales identified Cantu-Ruiz as the person who fought his way into her trailer. When asked by the officers how sure she was of that identification, "she said she was 90% sure this was the person."

That same day -- March 23, 2011 -- the Officers went before Idaho Magistrate Judge A. Lynne Krogh to obtain a search warrant for the residence of Cantu-Ruiz. At the hearing, Officer Plaza testified that (1) Mills and Scales stated that the attacker identified himself as "McDog," an alias that had been used by Cantu-Ruiz in the past, according to his criminal history file; and (2) Scales had identified Cantu-Ruiz from a photo line-up as the attacker. The Magistrate Judge issued the warrant, and in searching Cantu-Ruiz's residence pursuant to that warrant, the Officers discovered the weapon that forms the basis for the felon-in-possession charge in this case.

Cantu-Ruiz argues that Scales' credibility was indispensable to the finding of probable cause, and yet Officer Plaza failed to inform the Magistrate Judge about key facts bearing directly on Scale's credibility such as her drug history and her agreement to cooperate with law enforcement. Cantu-Ruiz argues that these and other ...


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