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United States v. Thomas

United States District Court, D. Idaho

May 1, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
SCOTT ARLIS THOMAS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          B. Lynn Winmill Chief Judge.

         INTRODUCTION

         The Court has before it defendant Thomas's motion to suppress. Thomas seeks to suppress a firearm and drugs - seized during a search of the clubhouse of a motorcycle gang - that form the basis for a two-count indictment against him. The Court held a two-day evidentiary hearing on March 23 and 24, 2017, and allowed further briefing that was received on April 24, 2017. The motion is now fully submitted. For the reasons explained below, the Court finds that the search of the clubhouse violated Thomas's Fourth Amendment rights.[1]

         FINDINGS OF FACT

         On August 28, 2014, the Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole (“Commission”) granted Scott Thomas parole on sentences imposed on drug trafficking and firearms charges. As a parolee, Thomas was under the supervision of the Board of Correction (“Board”), and assigned to a Parole Officer (“PO”), Clayton Duin.

         PO Duin knew that Thomas was a member of a motorcycle gang known as the “Devils Diciples” (“DD”), [2] and that this gang was being investigated for criminal activity by the Treasure Valley Metro Violent Crime Task Force (“Task Force”). Although PO Duin was not a member of the Task Force, another Parole Officer - Daniel Geisel - was a Task Force member, and so PO Duin transferred supervision of Thomas to PO Geisel.

         As a Task Force member, PO Geisel was part of a team including the FBI, the Caldwell Police Department, and selected Parole Officers. Their mission was to investigate criminal enterprises responsible for drug trafficking and gang activity. They were actively investigating DD for conducting illegal activity.

         When the Commission placed Thomas on parole, they imposed on him a set of conditions, including a waiver that affected his Fourth Amendment rights. More specifically, he agreed to submit to a search of his “residence” at any time and place. See Commission Conditions (Dkt. No. 19-2)

         After the Commission granted parole and passed the supervision of Thomas to the Board, Thomas signed a separate set of conditions drafted by the Board that, among other things, expanded the scope of the Fourth Amendment waiver imposed by the Commission. Under the Board's conditions, Thomas agreed not only to submit to a search of his residence but also to a search of any “structures . . . for which the defendant is the controlling authority.” See Agreement of Supervision (Dkt. No. 23-1).

         On January 12, 2016, PO Geisel received notice that Thomas had been stopped while riding his motorcycle and wearing three items (a vest, hat, and bandana) that signified DD membership. Officer Bendewald had pulled Thomas over, and called the Board to see if they wanted to take any action against Thomas for wearing DD material. He recalls he talked to a Parole Officer (but not which one) who told him that he should confiscate the hat and bandana, but not the vest. The Parole Officer also told Officer Bendewald that Thomas should not be charged with a parole violation for wearing these items.

         After learning about this incident, PO Geisel decided to conduct a search of Thomas's residence on January 14, 2016. At that time, Thomas was living on Colorado Avenue in Caldwell. In searching that residence, PO Geisel was accompanied by Task Force Officer Anthony Ostrander and FBI Special Agent Scott Smith, also a member of the Task Force. As PO Geisel searched the house, the Task Force officers questioned Thomas, and obtained from him a set of Bylaws for the DD. PO Geisel's notes of his search results state that Thomas “admitted to being an active member of [DD] and is currently president.” See Offender History (Dkt. No. 19-3) at p. 54. PO Geisel did not violate Thomas's parole for that admission.

         PO Geisel testified that during that visit on January 14, 2016, to Thomas's residence on Colorado Ave., he saw parked out front a gold-colored Ford Expedition, a camper trailer on the back of a pickup, and a large white trailer. These items all belonged to Thomas. In addition, he saw Thomas's dog.

         On April 7, 2016, Thomas told PO Geisel that he needed to move because the house on Colorado Ave. was being sold. See Offender History, supra. Later that same day, Thomas reported to PO Geisel that he was now residing at 16965 Ten Lane in Nampa. Id. Although PO Geisel's notes state that he “verified” that address, id., he testified that only meant that he entered it into the system, not that he had “verified” that Thomas was in fact residing there. When he did visit the Ten Lane address to determine if Thomas was living there, he did not see Thomas.

         PO Geisel's first attempt was on April 21, 2016, and he was accompanied by Task Force officers. When they knocked on the door, there was no answer. PO Geisel did not see any of the property - the gold Ford Expedition, camper, and white trailer - that had been at Thomas's residence on Colorado Ave. PO Geisel and the Task Force members then left the Ten Lane address and eventually found Thomas and other “gang members” at another residence. Id.

         PO Geisel testified that he made a second attempt to locate Thomas at the Ten Lane address on or about April 28, 2016, but again did not find him there, and did not see any of the items such as the gold Expedition, camper, and white trailer. Both attempts were unannounced and prior to curfew so there was no requirement that Thomas be at home. PO Geisel did not attempt to verify that Thomas was living there by contacting Thomas's wife (although he had her email address and phone number).

         PO Geisel asked Task Force member Anthony Ostrander if he had any information on where Thomas was living. Ostrander knew from listening to intercepted jail phone calls between Thomas and his nephew Derrick Reilly that Thomas was spending a significant amount of time at the DD clubhouse performing repairs and framing walls, and he passed this information along to PO Geisel. He did not explain to PO Geisel his source for this tip.

         The Search of the DDMC Clubhouse

         The DD clubhouse was located at 204 West Main Street in Caldwell, Idaho. As of May 13, 2016, the main floor was leased by Jacob Quick, a DD member. The basement was leased by an owner of a hot tub business (“Nate”).

         On May 13, 2016, Thomas and two fellow motorcyclists - Quick and Brandon Rambow - made a brief stop at the clubhouse to pick up an extra helmet. The group was confronted by Nate, who accused them of damaging his property. Nate's wife called 911 and falsely reported that a “motorcycle gang” was destroying her property and “murdering” her husband. This call understandably caused several officers to respond.

         The officers took statements from Nate and the owner of the building, and then took statements from Thomas and his friends. Everyone cooperated with the officers. Officer Gallup concluded that no criminal conduct had occurred. The time was 12:02 p.m.

         As Officer Gallup concluded his investigation of the 911 call, Officer Randy Deleon asked Thomas if he was on felony supervision. When Thomas confirmed his status, law enforcement searched him and frisked Quick and Rambow, justifying the searches based on Thomas's status as a parolee and a concern for weapons, respectively. The Officers found no evidence of criminal conduct or parole violations. The time was now 12:03 p.m.

         Lieutenant Joey Hoadley asked Thomas whether it was a violation of his parole to hang out with the DD. Thomas indicated that it was not, and that his parole officer and the FBI knew he was active with the DD. Lt. Hoadley asked if PO Geisel knew that Thomas was “hanging out” at the clubhouse, to which Thomas responded that they were not doing anything wrong and had just come by to pick up a helmet.

         Lt. Hoadley then attempted to open the clubhouse door, but it was locked and so he asked Quick to open the door to ensure nobody was inside and there were no parole violations.

         Quick responded that there was nobody inside, that there were no violations, and that he must have locked himself out. Lt. Hoadley became agitated, turned his attention back to Thomas and exclaimed, “See how this starts to look when you're on felony probation.” Lt. Hoadley's then asked “How is your UA going to look today?” Thomas responded that it would be fine. Lt. Hoadley then departed to contact the Parole Department. The time was 12:05 p.m.

         Lt. Hoadley contacted PO Matt Thomas who acts as the liaison with the Metro Task Force. Lt. Hoadley informed him that he had contacted Scott Thomas while responding to a 911 call of “murder in progress” and that Thomas was wearing a DD vest. PO ...


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