Court of Appeals of Ohio, Seventh District, Belmont
Appeal from the Court of Common Pleas of Belmont County, Ohio
Case No. 15 CR 237
Defendant-Appellant: Atty. Dennis W. McNamara
Carol Ann Robb Hon. Cheryl L. Waite Hon. Mary DeGenaro
Defendant-Appellant Sharod Deshawn Nickelson appeals the
decision of the Belmont County Common Pleas Court overruling
his suppression motion. Appellant contends the warrantless
entry into his hotel room in order to evict him was unlawful.
He also argues the independent source rule did not justify
the subsequent search warrant, claiming the warrantless
search prompted the search warrant. If both of these
arguments are accepted, then he concludes the fruit of the
poisonous tree doctrine requires the suppression of evidence
discovered upon execution of the second search warrant, which
was obtained based on evidence found during the first search.
We conclude the warrantless entry was valid and the
independent source rule validated the subsequent search
conducted via a warrant in any event. For the following
reasons, the trial court's judgment is affirmed.
OF THE CASE
Appellant rented a room at Comfort Inn in St. Clairsville. On
October 14, 2015, hotel staff made various calls to law
enforcement to report unusual activity; numerous cars coming
in and out of the parking lot since Appellant's
occupancy. They observed suspected drug trafficking from
Appellant's room to cars in the parking lot of the hotel.
(Tr. 51-52, 54; 2d Tr. 30, 36, 47, 52). For instance,
Detective Starkey of the Martins Ferry Police Department
received a call from the manager of the hotel in the
afternoon. He advised her to record license plate numbers,
watch the situation, and report whether the increased traffic
in the parking lot continued. (Tr. 50-52). A few hours later,
a hotel employee called the detective to report the traffic
had increased while she watched the situation from
surveillance video. (Tr. 53-54). The detective was unable to
immediately take action, but he consulted with the assistant
prosecutor and began preparing an affidavit for a search
warrant. (Tr. 55, 70-71; 2d Tr. 54).
The hotel staff did not ask Appellant to leave but eventually
called 911. (Tr. 13, 58; 2d Tr. 34-35). They wanted the
police to escort Appellant off the premises. (Tr. 48-49).
Deputy Carpenter and Deputy Schwarck from the Belmont County
Sheriff's Department responded to the call in separate
vehicles. At the hotel, two hotel employees explained to the
deputies what they observed, including two people repeatedly
walking from Appellant's room to different vehicles that
pulled into the parking lot. (Tr. 14, 94). The employees
showed the deputies notes they had taken and video footage.
(Tr. 14, 102).
The hotel staff informed the deputies they wanted Appellant
evicted and removed from the premises. (Tr. 16, 95, 102). Due
to the suspected drug trafficking, the employees were fearful
of approaching Appellant. (Tr. 16). The deputies asked for an
employee to accompany them to the room, but both employees
adamantly refused to do so and referred to a recent robbery
at a nearby hotel. (Tr. 16-17, 89). The hotel employees gave
the deputies a keycard to open Appellant's hotel room.
(Tr. 17, 102).
The deputies proceeded to Appellant's third floor room.
Deputy Carpenter knocked multiple times, announcing he was
with the sheriff's department and was there for the hotel
staff. (Tr. 18-19). Deputy Schwarck testified they made it
clear they were present to remove Appellant from the room at
the request of hotel management. (Tr. 106). Deputy Carpenter
noted his recent responses to overdose cases and his concern
this could be such a case due to Appellant's failure to
respond to the knocking. (Tr. 19).
Deputy Carpenter used the room key and attempted to push the
door open. The interior latch stopped the door from opening
more than a few inches. (Tr. 20). Appellant voiced a sound,
and the deputy asked him to open the door as they needed to
talk to him. (Tr. 20). Appellant asked them to wait; the
deputy said "okay" and reiterated why he was there.
(Tr. 20). Appellant then noted he would not be able to
release the interior latch with the door pressing on the
latch. After the door was closed for a period, Deputy
Carpenter knocked again.
When there was no response, Deputy Carpenter pushed open the
door but the interior latch was still in place. Appellant had
moved to a place in the room where he could be seen through
the crack. Deputy Carpenter observed Appellant holding a bag
of pills which was illuminated by the light of
Appellant's phone. (Tr. 21). The bag was actually the
(tied-off) corner portion of a larger plastic bag (to form a
"V" shape), which is commonly utilized to store
narcotics. (Tr. 103-104). The deputy ordered Appellant to
open the door, and Appellant asked him to "wait a
minute" but did not then comply. Deputy Carpenter forced
open the door with his shoulder. (Tr. 22-23). Appellant was
still holding the bag of pills, which turned out to be a
schedule II controlled substance containing oxycodone. (Tr.
22, 43). Appellant was arrested at approximately 9:10 p.m.
When Detective Starkey was advised of Appellant's arrest,
he consulted with the assistant prosecutor who advised him to
submit his affidavit for the warrant without adding any new
details. (Tr. 70-71). The detective's affidavit used to
support the search warrant made reference only to what he was
told by the hotel employees when they called him. (Tr. 64; 2d
Tr. 63-64). The search warrant for Appellant's room at
Comfort Inn was issued by a judge at 11:17 p.m. Among items
discovered in Appellant's room at Comfort Inn were: two
keycards for the room at Comfort Inn; two keycards for a room
at another hotel; and $9, 181. (Tr. 65). Due to the presence
of room keys for another hotel, the police learned Appellant
had simultaneously rented a room at the nearby Days Inn. (Tr.
66). The detective then obtained a search warrant for the
room at Days Inn where cocaine was discovered.
Appellant was indicted on two counts drug trafficking. Count
one involved the cocaine (more than 100 grams) found in
Appellant's hotel room at Days Inn. Count two involved
the oxycodone pills (more than five times the bulk amount)
Appellant was holding when police entered his hotel room at