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United States v. Smith

United States District Court, D. Nevada

February 15, 2017



          ROBERT C. JONES United States District Judge

         A grand jury has indicted Defendant Brandon Smith ("Defendant") on one count of Felon in Possession of Ammunition, 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2). Now pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Suppress Evidence. (ECF No. 30.) For the reasons stated below, the Court denies the motion.


         On the morning of December 21, 2015, Reno Police Department ("RPD") officers responded to the area of 5th Street and Virginia Street to several reports of shots fired. (Police Report 8, ECF No. 31-2 at 9.) Dispatch also reported that a gold or tan vehicle was seen leaving the area after the shooting. (Id.) Officers were unable to find any victims or the suspect vehicle, but recovered twelve .40 caliber shell casings in the parking lot of the Monte Carlo Motel, located at 500 North Virginia Street. (Id.) A silver Volkswagen Touareg with no plates was found parked on the north side of Virginia Street just outside the Monte Carlo, with four bullet strikes on or around the rear passenger-side door. (Id.) In addition, a window above the front entrance doors of the Silver Legacy Hotel and Casino had been struck, but not penetrated, by a bullet. (Id.)

         Two witnesses near the scene reported hearing gunshots and seeing a gold, light brown, or tan four-door sedan leave the area immediately after the shooting stopped. (Id. at 8-9, ECF No. 31-2 at 9-10.) On surveillance video of the Monte Carlo parking lot, RPD officers observed one black male and two white females walking down a stairwell and across the lot toward the intersection of 5th and Virginia Street. (Id. at 9, ECF No. 31-2 at 10.) A light-colored four-door sedan reversed from the far east parking space, and the vehicle's driver opened the door, placed his left foot outside the car but remained seated in the driver's seat, and started shooting in the direction of the black male and two white females. (Id.) The vehicle then reversed onto 5th Street and turned south into the alley between Center Street and Virginia Street. (Id.) However, no witnesses got a good look at the driver, and the surveillance video is not clear enough to allow an identification.

         On the morning of December 23, 2015, RPD officers located the suspect vehicle in the parking lot of the Castaway Motel at 525 West Second Street. (Supp. Report #5 at 2, ECF No. 31-8 at 3.) Surveillance video from the scene of the shooting and photographs of the suspect vehicle in the Castaway Motel parking lot appear to depict the same car: a gold four-door sedan with apparent collision damage around the driver-side headlight and a mismatched, black-rimmed tire on the front driver's side. (See ECF Nos. 31-1, 31-6, 31-7.) Officers determined the registered owner of the vehicle was Delpha Kennison and that Kennison was a resident of the Walker River Indian Reservation in Schurz, Nevada. (Supp. Report #5 at 2, ECF No. 31-8 at 3.) Officers contacted the chief of police in Shurz, who told the officers that Kennison lived on the reservation with her family and a boyfriend known as "Texas." (Id.) The chief also told the officers that Texas's real name is Brandon Smith. (Id.) Officers ran Brandon Smith's information and determined that he had a criminal history and roughly matched the build of the shooter from the Monte Carlo Motel. (Id.)

         At around noon on December 23, RPD officers knocked on the door of room 24 at the Castaway, which they had verified with the manager's office was Brandon Smith's room. (Id.) The room's registered tenant, Jay Long, answered the door and told officers that Smith and Kennison were sleeping in the room. (Id; Supp. Report #7 at 5, ECF No. 31-9 at 6.) Long consented to the officers' entry, and the officers went in and woke up Smith and Kennison. (Supp. Report #7 at 5, ECF No. 31-9 at 6.) Defendant identified himself as Brandon Smith, and was placed under arrest for outstanding warrants. (Id.) After being handcuffed, Defendant asked one of the officers if they were there because of the shooting at the Flamingo Motel. (Id.) An officer asked Defendant if he wanted to speak with her at the station and Defendant agreed. (Id.) Defendant then volunteered: "[T]hat fool shot me first... so I shot him back." (Id.) Defendant stated that he had a gunshot wound over his ribs on his right side. Officers examined the wound and saw bruising and swelling. (Id.) The officer asked Defendant if he needed medical attention, but he declined. (Id. at 6, ECF No. 31-9 at 7.)

         Long and Kennison gave the officers permission to search the motel room and Kennison's car. (Id.) No firearm was found, but a .40 caliber Smith and Wesson magazine was discovered in the car. (Id.) Officers told Long why they were there and Long agreed to talk to them. (Supp. Report #6 at 1, ECF No. 31-10 at 2.) Long stated he was aware of "the shooting" because he had heard Defendant and Kennison talking about it a couple of days prior. (Id.) However, the police report is not clear whether Long was referring to the shooting that caused Defendant's wound or the shooting captured on surveillance video at the Monte Carlo. Long had also recently seen Defendant with a black, semiautomatic firearm-possibly a .45 caliber-but didn't know where it currently was. (Id.)

         Officers then spoke to Kennison at the Castaway Motel, and she was also cooperative. (Id.) She stated that "this was a self-defense situation." (Id.) She said she had been shot at by an unknown male while sitting in the passenger seat of her vehicle near the Flamingo Motel, but the bullet missed her and struck Defendant in his right side. (Id.) Kennison was then interviewed again at the Reno police station. (See Kennison Interview, ECF No. 31-11.) She identified the man who shot Defendant as "Shit Bag T." (RPD later confirmed that Shit Bag T is Thomas Lamont Williams ("Williams").) (Supp. Report #7 at 6, ECF No. 31-9 at 7.) Kennison said Defendant and Williams were former cellmates and had bad blood from their time in prison. (See Kennison Interview, ECF No. 31-11.) Following some disputes, Williams was moved to another cell, and since Defendant and Williams have been released, Williams has harassed Defendant and Kennison and tried to "start stuff with them on several occasions.

         Kennison stated that on the night of December 19 or 20, 2015, while Defendant, Kennison, and a friend were in the parking lot of the Flamingo Motel, Williams fired one shot through the front passenger-side window of Kennison's car, and the bullet struck Defendant in his upper right side. The next day, Smith said he had to go do "some things, " took Kennison's car, and told Kennison to stay at the Castaway while he was gone. (Id.) When Defendant returned to the Castaway after the shooting at the Monte Carlo, he told Kennison, "I think I got him." (Id.) When asked by the interviewing officer how Kennison interprets Defendant's statement, Kennison said: "What everybody interprets that as. . . . My husband either went and beat him up, or it got serious and he's dead." Kennison further stated that Defendant told her there were two women with Williams at the Monte Carlo, and that one of the women "started firing at him so he shot back." (Id.) Kennison also said that Defendant went out and got a black semiautomatic handgun after being shot by Williams, which Kennison saw and handled prior to the Monte Carlo shooting. (Id.) She doesn't know where Defendant got the gun or what happened to it. (Id.)

         At the police station, Defendant was read his Miranda rights and agreed to speak to an RPD officer. (See Smith Interview, ECF No. 31-12.) Defendant admitted to being the shooter at the Monte Carlo hotel on December 21, 2015. (Id.) Specifically, Defendant stated that he had an altercation with his former cellmate, Williams. (Id.) Defendant and Williams did not get along as cellmates because Williams would rinse out his colostomy bag in their shared sink. (Id.) Both Smith and Williams had been released from prison and had recently run into each other multiple times in downtown Reno, during which encounters Williams had threatened Defendant and Kennison. (Id.) Defendant claimed that Williams had shot him outside the Flamingo Motel. (Id.) After being shot, Defendant did not go to the hospital because he knew the police would be called due to the nature of the injury. (Id.)

         After Defendant was shot at the Flamingo, he went to a friend's house and borrowed a black, semiautomatic handgun.[1] (Id.) He then went to the Monte Carlo Motel to conduct surveillance on the Flamingo Motel and to look for Williams. (Id.) Defendant saw Williams come down a stairwell at the Monte Carlo with two light-skinned women. (Id.) Defendant said he heard a gunshot and saw Williams reach for a gun, so he opened fire. (Id.)

         Defendant now moves for an order suppressing his confession on the basis of the corpus delicti rule, arguing that the government has insufficient independent evidence to corroborate the confession and that the confession is unreliable. (See Mot. Suppress, ECF No. 30.)

         II. ...

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