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State v. Celaya

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Second District, Montgomery

July 5, 2019

STATE OF OHIO Plaintiff-Appellant
v.
ANTHONY CELAYA Defendant-Appellee

          Criminal Appeal from Common Pleas Court Trial Court Case No. 2018-CR-1295

          MATHIAS H. HECK, JR., by ANDREW T. FRENCH, Atty. Reg. No. 0069384, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Montgomery County Prosecutor's Office, Appellate Division, Montgomery County Attorney for Plaintiff-Appellee

          LUCAS W. WILDER, Atty. Attorney for Defendant-Appellee

          OPINION

          FROELICH, J.

         {¶ 1} Pursuant to R.C. 2945.67(A) and Crim.R. 12(K), the State of Ohio appeals from a judgment of the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas, which granted Anthony Celaya's motion to suppress. For the following reasons, the trial court's judgment will be affirmed.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         {¶ 2} The evidence at the suppression hearing established the following facts.

         {¶ 3} At approximately 1:30 a.m. on April 2, 2018, Dayton Police Officer Stephen Quigney was sitting in his cruiser in a residential area, talking to another officer (Officer Halley), who was seated in another cruiser. At that point, Quigney saw an individual crossing the street with a large object. It was cold and snowy, and the object was wrapped in plastic. Quigney was trying to figure out if the individual (Celaya) had just stolen something. Celaya went into an alley behind homes. Both cruisers pulled into in the alley and both officers (Quigney and Halley) got out. They saw Celaya digging into a trash can.

         {¶ 4} Quigney exited his cruiser, approached Celaya, and asked, "What's up man? What are we doing tonight?" Celaya responded that he was "scrapping." When this encounter occurred, Celaya was standing with a large trash can mostly, if not entirely, behind him and to his left; a fence and garage were also behind him. There were garages and fencing down the sides of the alley, and fencing was directly opposite Celaya, on the other side of the alley. The entrance to the alley to Celaya's right was blocked by the two police cars, and the left end of the alley (through which Celaya might have exited) was open. Both officers were standing next to Celaya, one in front, and one to his right (the side nearest the police cruisers). Quigney and Halley were in the uniform of the day and were armed. The trial court found that Celaya was blocked in on all sides by the police, a trash can, and a garage wall.

         {¶ 5} When Quigney was standing about four feet from Celaya, he said, "Got anything on you, bud? You know, a lot of scrappers got knives on them, you got any knives?" Celaya responded that he had a couple of knives. Quigney then asked, "Do you mind if I get them while I'm talking to you?" Celaya did not specifically give consent at this point, but pointed to his right front pants pocket and said he was pretty sure they were in there.

         {¶ 6} Officer Quigney again asked if Celaya would mind if he got the knives out, and Celaya said, "Go ahead." See State's Ex. 1. Quigney searched Celaya's right front pants pocket. Quigney testified that he "reached in and pulled out" a small Tupperware container; he stated that the Tupperware was the first item that he encountered and that he needed to remove the Tupperware to search the pocket for knives. Quigney further testified that he further searched the pocket and found a knife.

         {¶ 7} However, the cruiser video reflects that Quigney took one item out and placed it in his own pocket. Quigney then looked through Celaya's right jacket pocket, taking items out, looking at them, and reinserting them into the coat pocket. While searching at this point, Quigney also asked Celaya if he had anything in his backpack. There was no response that is material.

         {¶ 8} The video showed that Officer Quigney returned to Celaya's right front pants pocket and pulled out a small Tupperware container. The officer asked Celaya, "What's this?" Celaya said that he didn't know what it was and that he had found it in the trash. At this juncture, Quigney took off Celaya's backpack and handcuffed him. This was less than a minute after the encounter first began. Referring to the object he had taken out of the pants pocket, Quigney said, "I'm going to look at that in a minute. There's something in there." The container was clear and was not very large; it was about an inch and a half around, was squared at the top, and went down at an angle.

         {¶ 9} Quigney continued to search Celaya and to question him without administering Miranda warnings. During the questioning, Quigney asked Celaya if he had anything else on him. During this time, Celaya admitted that he had a couple of needles in his backpack.

         {¶ 10} Quigney also asked about the object Celaya had been carrying (a television, which turned out not to have been stolen). State's Ex. 1 at 1:34:23 a.m. In addition, Quigney asked questions about other items in Celaya's pockets. At 1:35:40 a.m. and before looking again at the container, Quigney said, "Just to let you know, the reason you're in handcuffs is because that looks to be crystal meth * * * in the tub." Id.

         {¶ 11} After the police finished searching Celaya, Officer Quigney placed Celaya in his police cruiser. The officers searched Celaya's backpack. They did not find any additional drugs, but they did find several syringes and some empty gel caps.

         {¶ 12} Celaya was then transported to jail and charged with possession of methamphetamine and possession of drug paraphernalia.

         {¶ 13} Celaya testified at the suppression hearing on his own behalf. He stated that when the police pulled up, he had been going through trash cans for scrap metal. He had been arrested many times before and had experience with how the police conduct stops. Celaya testified that, when he saw the police, he knew what was going to happen: he was going to be asked what he was doing and then searched. In addition, Celaya said that he did not feel free to leave or run in the opposite direction because of the way the officer presented himself. He stated that the officer was asking questions, walking straight at him, and that if he turned and left, it would not end well for him. According to Celaya, he had tried that before and had been grabbed immediately. Celaya testified that he did not give the officer consent to search his jacket pocket or backpack or to search for anything other than one pocketknife. Celaya stated that the Tupperware was removed from his jacket pocket.

         {¶ 14} In April 2018, the State filed an indictment charging Celaya with aggravated possession of drugs (methamphetamine), a fifth-degree felony, and possession of drug paraphernalia, a first-degree misdemeanor. Celaya subsequently filed a motion to suppress, alleging that he was detained without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, that the police search exceeded the scope of his consent, and that any evidence and statements should be suppressed as fruit of the poisonous tree. Celaya further claimed that his statements should be suppressed under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1996).

         {¶ 15} After hearing the evidence and watching the video, the trial court orally ruled that this was not a consensual encounter, that the police did not have a reasonable, articulable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot, and that the officers exceeded the scope of Celaya's consent. The trial court found that Officer Quigney had removed the Tupperware container of methamphetamine from Celaya's jacket pocket. The court filed a written judgment entry, which granted the motion to suppress for the reasons stated during the hearing.

         {¶ 16} The State appeals from the trial court's ruling, raising two assignments of error.

         I. Lawfulness of the Stop

         {¶ 17} In its first assignment of error, the State claims that the trial court "erred in finding that the initial contact between Celaya and the police was an unlawful investigatory detention and not a consensual encounter." The State further contends that, even if the encounter were an investigatory detention, the officers had a reasonable articulable suspicion of criminal activity to justify the stop.

         {¶ 18} In ruling on a motion to suppress, the trial court "assumes the role of the trier of fact, and, as such, is in the best position to resolve questions of fact and evaluate the credibility of the witnesses." State v. Retherford, 93 Ohio App.3d 586, 592, 639 N.E.2d 498 (2d Dist.1994); State v. Knisley, 2d Dist. Montgomery No. 22897, 2010-Ohio-116, ¶ 30. Accordingly, when we review suppression decisions, we must accept the trial court's findings of fact if they are supported by competent, credible evidence. Retherford at 592. "Accepting those facts as true, we must independently determine as a matter of law, without deference to the trial court's conclusion, whether they meet the applicable legal standard." Id.

         {¶ 19} The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 14 of the Ohio Constitution guarantee the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968); State v. Orr, 91 Ohio St.3d 389, 391, 745 N.E.2d 1036 (2001). The law recognizes three types of police-citizen interactions: 1) a consensual encounter, 2) a brief investigatory stop or detention, and 3) an arrest. State v. Millerton, 2015-Ohio-34, 26 N.E.3d 317, ¶ 20 (2d Dist.).

         {¶ 20} Consensual encounters occur when the police merely approach a person in a public place and engage the person in conversation, and the person remains free not to answer and to walk away. State v. Lewis, 2d Dist. Montgomery No. 22726, 2009-Ohio-158, ¶ 21, citing United States v. Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544, 553, 100 S.Ct. 1870, 64 L.Ed.2d 497 (1980). Consensual encounters are not seizures, and the Fourth Amendment guarantees are not implicated in such an encounter. State v. Taylor, 106 Ohio App.3d 741, 747-749, 667 N.E.2d 60 (2d Dist.1995), citing Mendenhall at 554.

         {¶ 21} Under Terry, police officers may briefly stop and/or temporarily detain individuals in order to investigate possible criminal activity if the officers have a reasonable, articulable suspicion that criminal activity may be afoot. State v. Swift, 2d Dist. Montgomery No. 27036, 2016-Ohio-8191, ¶ 10. "An individual is subject to an investigatory detention when, in view of all the circumstances surrounding the incident, by means of physical force or show of authority, a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave or [was] compelled to respond to questions." Lewis at ¶ 22, citing Mendenhall at 553 and Terry at 19. Fourth Amendment protections are implicated in an investigatory detention, i.e., a Terry stop.

         {¶ 22} In determining whether an individual engaged in a consensual encounter or was subject to an investigatory detention, the focus is on the police officer's conduct, not the subjective state of mind of the person stopped. State v. Ramey, 2d Dist. Montgomery No. 26705, 2016-Ohio-607, ¶ 25. As we stated in State v. Ward, 2017-Ohio-1391, 89 N.E.3d 124, ¶ 26 (2d Dist.):

"A consensual encounter remains consensual even if police officers ask questions, ask to see the person's identification, or ask to search the person's belongings, provided 'the police do not convey a message that compliance with their requests is required.'" [State v.] Westover, 2014-Ohio-1959, 10 N.E.3d 211, at ¶ 15 [(10th Dist.)], quoting [Florida v.] Bostick, [501 U.S. 429');">501 U.S. 429, 435, 111 S.Ct. 2382, 115 L.Ed.2d 389 (1991)]. In this regard, "the crucial test is whether, taking into account all of the circumstances surrounding the encounter, the police conduct would 'have communicated to a reasonable person that he was not at liberty to ignore the police presence and go about his business.'" Bostick at 437, 111 S.Ct. 2382, quoting Michigan v. Chesternut, 486 U.S. 567, 569, 108 S.Ct. 1975, 100 L.Ed.2d 565 (1988).

         {¶ 23} Whether a particular police encounter with a citizen is an investigative stop, as opposed to a consensual encounter, is fact-sensitive. Ward at ¶ 26; State v. Satterwhite, 2d Dist. Montgomery No. 15357, 1996 WL 156881, *3 (Apr. 5, 1996). "Factors that might indicate a seizure include the threatening presence of several police officers, the display of a weapon, some physical touching of the person, the use of language or tone of voice indicating that compliance with the officer's request might be required, approaching the person in a nonpublic place, and blocking the citizen's path." State v. Cosby, 177 Ohio App.3d 670, 2008-Ohio-3862, 895 N.E.2d 868, ¶ 13 (2d Dist.), citing Mendenhall.

         {¶ 24} The trial court concluded that the encounter between Celaya and the police was not a consensual encounter. It reasoned that the officers came upon Celaya, "had him against this garage," and Celaya had "nowhere to go. The garages are lined up and there are two officers right upon him." (Tr. at 36-37.) The trial court further found that the officers lacked a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to justify the stop. On appeal, the State contends that the encounter was consensual ...


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