United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
L. RUSSELL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Dennis Lee moves the Court to suppress evidence found in the
search of his residence. Doc. 83. The Government has
responded, Doc. 84, and the Defendant has replied, Doc. 85.
For the reasons that follow, Defendant's Motion is
events culminating in the search of Defendant Dennis
Lee's residence began with the arrest of three persons
believed to be a part of an interstate theft ring. Following
these arrests, some cooperation by the conspirators, and the
recovery of several pieces of stolen property, the Government
applied for, and was granted, a search warrant for Mr.
Lee's residence in Newcastle, Oklahoma. The search of the
home's wall safe revealed guns and ammunition, for which
the Government subsequently charged Mr. Lee for illegally
possessing a firearm as a felon, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g).
to suppress this evidence, Mr. Lee argues the Government
lacked probable cause to search his home and that the warrant
was so facially deficient that officers could not have acted
in good faith in executing it.
Fourth Amendment demands that probable cause support the
warrant that authorized the Government's search of Mr.
Lee's residence. See U.S. Const. amend. IV.
(stating “no warrants shall issue, but upon probable
cause”). “Indeed, the physical entry of the home
is the chief evil against which the wording of the Fourth
Amendment is directed.” United States v.
Biglow, 562 F.3d 1272, 1275 (10th Cir. 2009) (citing
United States v. U.S. Dist. Court, 407 U.S. 297,
313, 92 S.Ct. 2125 (1972)). As a result, probable cause
requires some nexus between the suspected criminal activity
and the place to be searched, id. at 1278, a
question that “depends upon the facts of each
case.” Biglow, 562 F.3d at 1279 (citing
Maryland v. Pringle, 540 U.S. 366, 371, 124 S.Ct.
795 (2003)). There are, however, certain
“non-exhaustive factors” that may determine
whether the nexus is present: (1) the type of crime at issue,
(2) the extent of a suspect's opportunity for
concealment, (3) the nature of the evidence sought, and (4)
all reasonable inferences as to where a criminal would likely
keep such evidence.” Biglow, 562 F.3d at 1279.
factors, Mr. Lee contends, do not establish any nexus between
his participation in the interstate theft ring and his
residence. The first question, then, is whether there was
probable cause to search Mr. Lee's residence-that is,
whether the “affidavit in support of [the] search
warrant [contained] facts sufficient to lead a prudent person
to believe that a search would uncover contraband or evidence
of criminal activity.” United States v.
Danhauer, 229 F.3d 1002, 1006 (10th Cir. 2000). The
Magistrate Judge believed so, and the Court affords that
determination great deference so long as there is a
“substantial basis for concluding that probable cause
there is a second, equally important question: if the warrant
lacked probable cause, did officers act in good faith in
relying on the warrant? If so, the Government may introduce
that evidence nonetheless, save for a few narrow exceptions.
See United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 945, 104
S.Ct. 3405 (10th Cir. 1984).
the whole of Mr. Lee's argument is that the application
for the search warrant-consisting solely of FBI Agent Kenneth
Thompson's affidavit-failed to establish probable cause,
the Court's analysis begins and ends with a summary of
the affidavit's allegations.
affidavit first introduces the alleged interstate theft ring
and describes Oklahoma City police officers' arrests on
July 21, 2016, of three persons believed to be involved in
the conspiracy: Dakota Epperly, Dakotah Henderson, and Amanda
Czermak. That day, undercover officers purchased from the
suspects an ATV and lawnmower that police had reason to
believe the suspects had stolen from Kansas. Doc. 83, Ex. 1,
Affidavit, at 4. Searches of the suspects pursuant to the
arrest uncovered multiple master keys to tractors, ATVs,
utility task vehicles, and lawn mowers. Affidavit, at 4.
little over two months later, Czermak, whom the affidavit
characterized as “very reliable, ” began to
cooperate with law enforcement-cooperation that, as the
affidavit explained-had led to the recovery of 12 separate
stolen items worth in total more than $100, 000. Czermak
outlined the workings of an interstate theft ring covering
four states. Czermak, along with her boyfriend, Dakotah
Henderson, would travel outside Oklahoma to steal tractors,
trailers, ATVs, UTVs, golf carts, and lawn mowers. Their
thefts, though were not spontaneous; rather, Dakota Epperly
(their co-arrestee) would instruct Czermak and Hendeson via
phone call or text on which items to steal and their
locations. Epperly also provided the couple with master keys
for equipment so they could operate and load the stolen
equipment into their vehicle before hauling it back to
Oklahoma. Affidavit, at 5.
along with a co-conspirator Auston Slater, then arranged to
sell these items, with Henderson getting a cut of the sale.
Defendant Lee was one frequent buyer, according to Czermak.
During the course of the conspiracy, Mr. Lee purchased
approximately $300, 000 worth of property for roughly $60,
000. Czermak and Henderson would deliver the property to Mr.
Lee, many times dropping it at locations owned by him,
including his business, Richardson Homes, in Tuttle,