UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, )
v. ) No. 3:10-CR-73
DARREN WESLEY HUFF )
UNITED STATES’ RESPONSE IN OPPOSITION TO
THE DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO SUPPRESS EVIDENCE
COMES NOW the United States of America, this 3rd day of September, 2010, by and
through the undersigned Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee,
and hereby submits for consideration by this Honorable Court a Response in Opposition to the
Defendant’s Motion to Suppress Evidence (Doc. 22, the “Motion to Suppress”) as follows:
THE DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO SUPPRESS
The Defendant grounds his Motion to Suppress on the assertion that the law enforcement
officer who initiated the April 20, 2010, traffic stop of the Defendant at issue in this case “lacked
probable cause under the law to stop the vehicle.” The Defendant argues that he was unlawfully
seized under the Fourth Amendment and, as such, that all evidence associated with that traffic
stop, including all related or associated statements made by the Defendant, should be suppressed.
The government responds that the traffic stop of the Defendant at issue was initiated by a
law enforcement officer who had probable cause to believe, based upon personal observations,
that the Defendant had just then committed two specific state traffic offenses. Accordingly, the
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temporary detention of the Defendant associated with the traffic stop was lawful and any
evidence relating to that stop, including any observations of law enforcement officers at the
scene and statements made by the Defendant during and subsequent to his temporary detention
should not be suppressed. Moreover, any statements made by the Defendant that may have
occurred during the course of his consensual conversations with law enforcement officers,
especially after he had been informed that he was free to leave, were voluntarily made should not
be suppressed. Wherefore, the Defendant’s Motion to Suppress Evidence should be denied.
In late April 2009, law enforcement officials in Georgia and Tennessee received specific
information deemed to be credible from identified persons who personally knew the Defendant
to the effect that the Defendant had recently made multiple statements evidencing his intent to
travel on April 20, 2009, from Georgia to Madisonville TN with firearms in order to “take over
the city” or “take over the courthouse” in connection with a scheduled court appearance of a
person named Walter Fitzpatrick. By April 20, this information had been shared with several
local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, including the Madisonville Police Department,
the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the Tennessee
Highway Patrol (THP) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
By April 19, law enforcement officials had confirmed that, in fact, a person known as
Walter Francis Fitzpatrick III had been previously been arrested in Madisonville for attempting
to “arrest” a Monroe County grand jury foreman and that he was schedule for a court hearing on
that charge at the Monroe County Courthouse at 9:00 am on the morning of April 20. Mr
Fitzpatrick had been arrested in connection with his attempt to “arrest” a Monroe County grand
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jury foreman based upon an “arrest warrant” that Mr. Fitzpatrick had drawn up against those he
perceived as “Declared Domestic Enemies.” Further, it was known by April 20 that the
Defendant had recently been associated with Mr. Fitzpatrick, had previously accompanied Mr.
Fitzpatrick to Madisonville in connection with the execution of the “arrest warrant” Mr.
Fitzpatrick had created against various Monroe County officials, and that he had expressed his
intention of doing all he could to support Mr. Fitzpatrick and his “cause.” The Defendant had
personally acknowledged as much on the evening of April 19 during an interview with law
Early on the morning of April 20 law enforcement agents observed the Defendant
departing his residence in Dallas, Georgia, while driving a black GMC pickup truck (the “GMC
Truck”) in the company of another vehicle and proceeding via Interstate Highway I-75 until he
crossed over the Georgia-Tennessee border.
Early on the morning of April 20, Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper Michael W.
Wilson (“TRP Wilson”) was working on assignment to patrol in the general area between
Madisonville TN and I-75 as part of an effort to monitor activity that might be related to any
efforts by various unknown persons to congregate at the Monroe County Courthouse in
connection with the Walter Fitzpatrick court appearance. TRP Wilson was driving north on I-75
and exiting the ramp leading to state Highway 68 (“Hwy 68") in Monroe County when he
observed in front of him a black GMC pickup truck (the “GMC Truck”) exiting northward on the
same I-75 – Hwy 68 exit ramp. While following the GMC Truck, TRP Wilson observed this
vehicle driving so close behind another car that it appeared to TRP Wilson to be operating in an
unsafe manner; specifically he observed the GMC Truck almost strike a car in the rear as both
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cars crossed into the Hwy 68 intersection. Based on his training and experience, TRP Wilson
believed that operating a vehicle in such close proximity to another car in an unsafe manner
constituted a violation of Tenn. Code Ann. 55-8-124. As this was happening, TRP Wilson
noticed that when the GMC Truck had made the sudden, brief stop behind the lead car, the GMC
Truck had already rolled well past the point of a painted white safety stop margin and stop sign
at the Hwy 68 intersection, which constituted a violation of Tenn. Code Ann. 55-8-149. Based
on these observations, TRP Wilson thereupon initiated a traffic stop of the GMC Truck. At that
point, TRP Wilson did not know that the GMC Truck was being driven by the Defendant or had
yet checked the license plate registration.
While exiting his patrol car, TRP Wilson observed the Defendant stepping out of the
GMC Truck onto the roadside and purposefully displaying that he was carrying a firearm. TRP
Wilson directed the Defendant to approach him and hand over the firearm, which was a .45
caliber handgun. At this point he informed the Defendant of the nature and reason for the stop.
TRP Wilson requested that the Defendant provide his driver’s license and proof of vehicle
registration. The Defendant gave over a Georgia Driver’s License but was not able to provide
proof of registration; he also handed over a card that he stated was a Georgia hand gun carry
permit. TRP Wilson requested permission to search the truck for the presence of other firearms,
explosives or drugs; the Defendant did not consent. During the time while TRP Wilson ran a
check of the Defendant’s license, vehicle tag and registration, and another check of both the
firearm to determine if had been reported as stolen and the Georgia firearm carry permit, a K-9
police dog was deployed to check for any possible drugs or explosives, and none were detected.
While waiting for a response to his requests for a records check as to both the vehicle and
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the firearm, TRP Wilson filled out three Warning Tickets with regard to (i) “Following Too
Closely” (Tenn. Code Ann. 55-8-124, following too closely to another vehicle); (ii) “Traffic
Control Device” (Tenn. Code Ann. 55-8-149, failure to stop at a stop sign); and “Registration
Law” (Tenn. Code Ann. 55-4-108, failure to provide proof of vehicle registration). After TRP
Wilson confirmed that the Defendant did not have any outstanding warrants or otherwise was in
violation of the law (apart from the subject of the Warning Tickets), he handed the Defendant the
Warning Tickets, Driver’s License and handgun. TRP Wilson then informed the Defendant that
he was free to leave.
While TRP Wilson was writing up the Warning Tickets, THP Trooper Kelly Smith, who
was assisting TRP Wilson, starting talking with the Defendant by first asking him where he was
going. The Defendant stated that he was traveling to Monroe County to support Walter
Fitzpatrick who had a court appearance that morning. The Defendant then began to discuss at
length why he was coming to Madisonville and for what purpose. This conversation continued
on for some time even after the Defendant was informed clearly that he was free to leave. The
Defendant voluntarily remained on the scene and continued his extended conversation with TRP
Smith and some other the law enforcement officers who were present. This discussion involved
a number of topics, including the Defendant talking about his involvement with the Georgia
Militia and an organization called the “Oath Keepers,” his belief that there was widespread
public corruption in Monroe County, his desire act in an “enforcement capacity” in assisting the
service of certain “arrest warrant” on several officials in Monroe County, and his belief that
these “arrests” would be more effective if over a hundred “armed men” were to show up.
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At no time was the Defendant detained beyond the time period necessary to complete a
check of his license and registration, gun permit status, and for any outstanding warrants, and to
issue the Warning Tickets. During this time period, the Defendant on his own volition decided
converse with law enforcement agents and in that course made a series of voluntary statements.
The Defendant’s Motion to Suppress should be denied as the traffic stop in question did
not violate the Fourth Amendment as THP Wilson had probable cause to believe that the
Defendant had committed two traffic violations. THP Wilson initiated a lawful traffic stop of
the Defendant (who was driving the vehicle in question) based upon probable cause, detained the
Defendant only for the brief duration of time necessary to issue three Warning Tickets and
thereafter informed the Defendant that he was free to leave. No law enforcement officer seized
or retained any property from the Defendant during this encounter. The Defendant voluntarily
engaged in discussions with both THP Wilson, Smith and other law enforcement agents who
were at the scene. Any evidence in the form of observations by law enforcement agents or any
statements made by the Defendant emanating from the traffic stop and thereafter was, therefore,
not obtained in violation of the Defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights.
A police office may stop and temporarily detain a motorist upon probable cause to
believe that this individual has committed or is committing a traffic violation. Whren v. United
States, 517 U.S. 806 (1996).; United States v. Ferguson, 8 F.3d 363, 391 (6th Cir. 1993)(en banc).
“Probable cause is defined as ‘reasonable grounds for belief, supported by less than prima facie
proof but more than mere suspicion.’” Ferguson, 8 F.3d at 392 (quoting United States v.
Bennnett, 905 F.2d 931, 934 (6th Cir. 1990)). Whether or not an officer had probable cause to
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support a belief is a fact-specific question that turns on what the officer knew at the time he
made the stop. Id. at 391. “The establishment of probable cause ‘requires only a probability or
substantial chance’” that a traffic violation occurred or is occurring and does not require “an
actual showing of such activity.” Id. at 392 (quoting Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 244 n.13
(1983)). “Probable cause is a flexible, commonsense standard” that there is a reasonable
probability based upon the totality of the circumstances to support the officer’s belief and “it
does not demand any showing that such belief be correct or more likely true than false.” Id.
(quoting Texas v. Brown, 460 U.S. 730, 742 (1983)). Any probable cause analysis should
include “a realistic assessment of the situation from a law enforcement officer’s perspective.” Id.
In this case, Wilson observed a GMC Truck driving in close proximity to a vehicle in an
unsafe manner that, in his training and experience, created a higher risk of collision,
and also failing to come to a full stop at a stop marker and sign. Both following a vehicle too
closely and failure to stop at a stop sign constitute violations of Tennessee law. See Tenn. Code
Ann. §55-8-124 (following a vehicle too closely); Tenn. Code Ann. §55-8-149 (“shall stop at a
clearly marked stop line”).
The law is well established that a police officer may temporarily detain a motorist when
there is probable cause to believe that motorist has committed a traffic violation, even a minor
one. United States v. Palomino, 100 F.3d 446, 449 (6th Cir. 1996). The stop of an automobile
and the temporary detention of a motorist or other occupant constitutes a seizure even if the
purpose of the stop is limited and the detention is brief. Whren, 517 U.S. at 809-10. The
Defendant was temporarily detained for the time period that TRP Wilson conducted his initial
check of the Defendant’s license and registration and while he wrote up the Warning Tickets.
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The Supreme Court has directed that courts should disregard a law enforcement officer’s
subjective intentions and focus on determining whether the traffic stop was justified by probable
cause. See, e.g., Devenpeck v. Alford, 543 U.S. 146, 153 (2004)(officer’s state of mind–except
for the facts he knows–is irrelevant to the existence of probable cause); Whren, 517 U.S. at 813
(“Subjective intentions play no role in ordinary, probable cause Fourth Amendment analysis.”);
United States v. Townsend, 305 F.3d 537, 541 (6th Cir. 2002)(an officer may conduct “a traffic
stop for any traffic infraction, even if the officer’s true motive is to detect more extensive
criminal conduct.”). In other words, a traffic stop supported by probable cause “may not be
invalidated under the Fourth (and Fourteenth) Amendment on the ground the officers stopped the
car for ‘pretextual’ reasons.’” United States v. Herbin, 343 F.3d 807, 809 (6th Cir. 2003).
TRP Wilson had probable cause to believe that the operator of the GMC Truck (who was
the Defendant) had committed state traffic violations at the time of the stop. Because he had
probable cause to make the traffic stop, it is of no consequence whether he may or may not have
also been stopping the truck to investigate any other aspect of what the driver might have been
doing. In this instance, TRP Wilson did not know that the GMC Truck was being driven by the
Defendant. That being said, even if TRP Wilson had such knowledge the law is clear that he is
permitted to “act upon a violation of one set of laws (e.g., run-of-the-mill traffic laws) in order
subjectively to enforce another set of laws (e.g., drug-trafficking laws).” Herbin, 343 F.3d at
809. This traffic stop in question was justified and lawful, was initiated based upon probable
cause and was in no manner fabricated, extended or prolonged for the purpose of illegally
detaining Defendant or subjecting him to an illegal interrogation. In fact, the Defendant choose
to voluntarily engage in an extended conversation with law enforcement officers from the
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beginning and for a lengthy time period even after he was informed that he was free to go.
Consequently, any evidence derived from this entire encounter with Defendant is not subject to
suppression due to any violation of the Defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights.
WHEREFORE, for the reasons and authorities noted above, the United States
respectfully requests that the Court deny the Defendant’s Motion to Suppress Evidence.
Respectfully submitted this 3rd day of September, 2010.
GREGG L. SULLIVAN
Acting United States Attorney
By: s/ A. Wm. Mackie
A. WM. MACKIE
Assistant United States Attorney
800 Market Street, Suite 211
Knoxville, Tennessee 37902
CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE
I hereby certify that on the 3rd day of August, 2010, a copy of the foregoing Response
was filed electronically. Notice of this filing will be sent by operation of the Court’s electronic
filing system to all parties indicated on the electronic filing receipt. All other parties will be
served by regular U.S. Mail. Parties may access this filing through the Court’s electronic filing
s/ A. Wm. Mackie
A. William Mackie
Assistant United States Attorney
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