United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division
DECISION AND ENTRY OVERRULING DEFENDANT SYREETA
SCRUGGS' MOTION TO SUPPRESS (DOC. #36) AND DEFENDANT
BRIANNA REID'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS STATEMENTS (DOC.
H. RICE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Syreeta Scruggs and Brianna Reid were indicted, along with
three others, on charges of conspiracy to possess with intent
to distribute in excess of one kilogram of a mixture or
substance containing a detectable amount of heroin, in
violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846, This matter is currently
before the Court on two motions: (1) Defendant Syreeta
Scruggs' Motion to Suppress, Doc. #36; and (2) Defendant
Brianna Reid's Motion to Suppress Statements, Doc. #44.
Both motions are fully briefed. The Court held an evidentiary
hearing on these motions on September 23, 2019. Doc. #55.
Background and Procedural History
Agent Rob Mullins, of the Internal Revenue Service, and
Special Agent Dave Ashley, of the Drug Enforcement Agency,
interviewed Syreeta Scruggs and Brianna Reid as part of an
ongoing drug trafficking investigation. Mullins and Ashley
interviewed Reid on August 24, 2016, at a county jail in
Greenwood, West Virginia, where she was being held on an
unrelated charge. They interviewed Scruggs at the Franklin
County Probation Department on September 1, 2016, after she
met with her Probation Officer. The agents did not read
Scruggs or Reid their Miranda rights prior to
questioning them. During those interviews, each woman made
certain incriminating statements which they now seek to
issue is whether Scruggs and Reid were "in custody"
such that the agents were required to read them their
Miranda rights prior to questioning them. See
Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966) (holding that,
in order to protect the Fifth Amendment right against
self-incrimination, law enforcement officers must give
certain warnings before interrogating individuals who have
been placed in custody).
Supreme Court noted in Howes v. Fields, 565 U.S. 499
(2012), "'custody' is a term of art that
specifies circumstances that are thought generally to present
a serious danger of coercion." Id. at 508.
Examining all of the circumstances surrounding the
interrogation, the question is whether a reasonable person
would have felt that he or she could terminate the
interrogation and leave. Id. Relevant factors may
include: (1) the location of the questioning; (2) the
duration of the questioning; (3) statements made during the
interview; (4) the presence or absence of physical restraints
during the interview; and (5) the release of the interviewee
at the end of the questioning. Id.
reviewed all evidence relevant to the circumstances
surrounding Syreeta Scruggs' interview at the Franklin
County Probation Office, the Court concludes that hers was
not a custodial interrogation subject to the requirements of
Agents Rob Mullins and Dave Ashley interviewed Syreeta
Scruggs in a conference room at the Franklin County Probation
Office. Because their previous efforts to contact her at her
residence had been unsuccessful, they contacted her Probation
Officer Jason Otterbacher. He told them that she was
scheduled to first report to him on September 1, 2016, and
offered to let them speak with her then. Doc. #55,
arrived at the Probation Office and met with Otterbacher as
planned. He then told her that there were some gentlemen who
wanted to talk to her. He escorted her back to the conference
room where Mullins and Ashley were waiting. Id. at
PagelD##290-291, 298, 304. Scruggs was not physically
restrained at any time. Id. at PagelD#290.
Otterbacher left after Mullins and Ashley introduced
themselves to Scruggs. Id. at PagelD#291. He did not
lock the conference room. Id. at PagelD#295. The
agents interviewed Scruggs for approximately 30-40 minutes.
Id. at PagelD#307. She refused to answer some of
their questions, and ultimately told them that she no longer
wanted to speak to them, at which point she walked out of the
conference room and left the building, Id. at
location of Scruggs' interview may be deemed somewhat
intimidating. It was conducted in the conference room in a
secured portion of the Probation Office. She was escorted
there by her Probation Officer during her first visit with
him and had no advance notice that Mullins and Ashley were
waiting for her. Nevertheless, Otterbacher did not remain in
the room, Scruggs was not physically restrained, and the door
to the conference room remained unlocked at all times.
Id. at PagelD#307. She walked into the room of her
own volition. Id. at PagelD#291. Moreover, the
interview lasted only 30-40 minutes, a duration that is
typically viewed as non-custodial. See United States v.
Panak, 552 F.3d 462, 467 (6th Cir. 2009).
did not tell Scruggs that she was required to speak to the
agents before she left or indicate that she would suffer any
adverse consequences if she refused to do so. But neither did
he tell her that she was free to leave without speaking to
them. Doc. #55, PagelD##290-91, 298. Likewise, the federal
agents did not tell her that she was required to speak to
them, but neither did they tell her that she was free to
leave at any time. Id. at PagelD#31 5. They did not
tell Scruggs that she was under arrest. Nor did they threaten
to charge her with any crimes during the interview, even when
she refused to answer all of their questions, Id. at
Otterbacher, Mullins or Ashley explicitly told Scruggs that
she was not required to talk to them and was free to leave at
any time, it is unlikely that Scruggs could be deemed to be
"in custody." Panak, 552 F.3d at 468.
However, the absence of such instructions does not
automatically "transform!] the meeting into an
arrest-like situation." Id. As the Sixth
Circuit noted in Panak, "[i]t would be strange,
indeed, to say that a telltale sign of whether an individual
must be Mirandized is whether the officer gave the individual
one of the Miranda warnings that she need not answer
the questions." Id. at 467. All relevant
circumstances surrounding the interview must be considered,
In the Court's view, given the circumstances presented
here, a reasonable person in Scruggs' position would have
felt free ...