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United States v. Gomez

United States District Court, D. Utah, Central Division

June 7, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
GREGORIO EFRAIN GOMEZ, Defendant.

          ORDER AND MEMORANDUM DECISION

          Robert J. Shelby, U.S. District Court Judge

         Defendant Gregorio Efrain Gomez, who has been indicted for robbing a bank, moves the court to suppress evidence found during a warrantless search of his car on May 20, 2017, in Wellington, Utah. During the traffic stop (and before the officers obtained evidence of bank robbery), he was arrested for falsely identifying himself to the police officer who pulled him over. Following the arrest and a conversation between Mr. Gomez and the officer, the officers searched the entire car. According to Mr. Gomez, the officers had no right to conduct that search.

         In response, the Government asserts the search was valid because Mr. Gomez gave consent to search the car, and, alternatively, the officer legally obtained the evidence during a search incident to arrest. Mr. Gomez argues his consent was not voluntary because the officer coerced it, the officer could not reasonably have believed evidence of the crime of arrest-giving a false name to a police officer-would be found in the car, and the scope of the search exceeded any consent that was ostensibly given.

         Based on the totality of the circumstances, the court finds that Mr. Gomez voluntarily consented to a search of the entire car.[1] Accordingly, the motion to suppress is denied.

         FACTS

         On the afternoon of May 20, 2017, Officer Andrew Olson of the Price City Police Department was on routine patrol in his car. While in the parking lot of Wal-Mart, he noticed two men (the Defendants) in a Mitsubishi car with Colorado license plates. Their behavior, in his opinion, was suspicious. Defendant Gregorio Efrain Gomez was the driver and his co-defendant Nicholas Mobley was the passenger. Officer Olson, who suspected illegal drug trafficking, followed the car out of the parking lot.

         He drove alongside the Mitsubishi for a time, and neither man looked his way. That increased his suspicion: “I looked at them as I matched our windows together, and they - we have what's called locked at the wheel, where the driver appeared - they appeared as statues to me. They didn't look at me, stayed looking forward, which was another indicator to me . . . [o]f suspicious activity.” (Tr. of Dec. 12, 2017 Evidentiary Hr'g at 16, ECF No. 35.)

         He followed them for about seven miles into Wellington, Utah, the town next to Price City. When the car slowed down to turn into a gas station, the driver braked and the third brake light did not light up. In Utah, it is illegal to drive with a broken brake light. Officer Olson saw his chance to pull the men over, so he turned his emergency lights on.[2] That activated the dashboard camera, which recorded the encounter Officer Olson had with Mr. Gomez and Mr. Mobley.[3]

         The car came to a stop, and Officer Olson, who was wearing a body camera, [4] walked up to the driver's side of the car. He explained why he had pulled them over. He then asked Mr. Gomez for his driver's license. Officer Olson also asked what brought them to Utah and received what he believed to be an evasive answer. He asked Mr. Mobley for identification, but Mr. Mobley responded that he had none. (Later in the stop he produced a valid identification card from the State of Colorado.)

         Mr. Gomez looked through his backpack but did not produce a driver's license or any other proof of identity. Officer Olson asked him for his name. Mr. Gomez lied and said his name was Bryant Anthony Reyez and that he was born on September 9, 1992.

         When Officer Olson asked Mr. Mobley for his name, Mr. Mobley declined to provide his name. At that point, Officer Olson said he needed to identify the two men and if they could not provide evidence of their identities, he would have to take them to the jail and fingerprint them. Mr. Mobley then gave his name and date of birth.

         Officer Olson asked for registration and proof of insurance. Mr. Gomez searched through papers in the car and although he eventually produced an insurance card and the registration, both were expired. In the meantime, Officer Olson saw Mr. Mobley unhook his seat belt. Concerned that Mr. Mobley was attempting to run away, Officer Olson ordered Mr. Mobley to put the seat belt back on. Although Mr. Mobley complied, Officer Olson called for backup.

         In an attempt to confirm the driver's and passenger's identities, Officer Olson gave Mr. Mobley's name and Mr. Gomez's alias to his dispatch operators. Dispatch could not confirm Mr. Gomez's identity based on the false information he provided. Officer Olson continued to press Mr. Gomez for other information that would confirm his identity, such as information on his phone or a social security number, but Mr. Gomez only provided an address.

         Soon after that, other officers arrived. Two officers positioned themselves by the car, one behind the car and the other next to the passenger-side door. Both were holding their guns just above their holsters, but not in a way that Mr. Gomez and Mr. Mobley could see. Mr. Gomez and Mr. Mobley were calm and cooperative and did not appear to pose an immediate threat. After a few minutes, the backup officers put their guns back in their holsters. At that point, four patrol cars were parked behind the Mitsubishi.

         About ten minutes after stopping the car, and unable to confirm Mr. Gomez's identity, Officer Olson told Mr. Gomez to get out of the car.[5] While Officer Olson conducted a Terry frisk looking for weapons, Mr. Gomez said something to the effect of “Can I be honest with you sir?” (Body-Cam Video at 11:20.) He then confessed that he lied about his identity and that his real name was Gregory Gomez. Officer Olson handcuffed Mr. Gomez and said he was being detained for falsely identifying himself to a police officer.

         Taking Mr. Gomez to the hood of the patrol car (where Mr. Gomez could see all of the police cars and officers), Officer Olson searched him and asked him again whether they had anything illegal in the car. During a rapid colloquy, Officer Olson obtained what he believed to be consent to search the entire car. That discussion can be heard on the video recording taken from Officer Olson's body-cam:[6]

Officer Olson: Anything illegal in the vehicle?
Mr. Gomez: No.
Officer Olson: Is it okay if I take a look?
Mr. Gomez: There's nothing in there.
Officer Olson: Well, I'm going to take a look, where, I can take a look where you were seated ‘cause that's search incident to arrest, so I'm asking for your permission man, because cooperation goes a long way with me. Okay?
Mr. Gomez: Okay, sir.
Officer Olson: So it's up to you.
Mr. Gomez: I, I have nothing illegal. You ...

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