A police search on a pouch that was seized from former Sports and Recreation deputy director John Benavente Reyes Jr. in October 2014 was done lawfully, according to Superior Court Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho
In an order denying Reyes’ motion to suppress evidence, Camacho determined that a Crime Stoppers’ tip had more than enough signs of reliability to form a basis for reasonable suspicion.
“This tip was made contemporaneously with the alleged crime being committed and the tipster provided details that were corroborated by the officers when they arrived on the scene,” said Camacho in an order last week.
The judge said the officers had enough information to form a reasonable suspicion that the men in the vehicle may either have been smoking methamphetamine or “ice” or be in possession of “ice.”
Camacho said Reyes also consented to the search as he voluntarily opened his pouch, which he was carrying at the time.
The judge said the drugs in Reyes’ pouch were in plain view of police officer David Hosono, who was lawfully standing a few feet away from Reyes in a parking lot and who immediately recognized the contents as “ice.”
“Thus, the methamphetamine was in plain view of officer Hosono and was properly seized,” Camacho said.
Reyes, through assistant public defender Michael Sato, moved to suppress evidence. Assistant attorney general Emily Cohen opposed on behalf of the government.
The motion was heard on Jan. 15 and Feb. 23, 2015.
According to court records, on Oct. 10, 2014 at 5:27pm, a police officer received a tip via 911 about “ice” use. The tipster reported four men in a Lexus car with license plate ACH-868 using “ice” near the San Jose Snack Bar across Dolphin Wholesale.
Two officers responded to the call and arrived at the scene four minutes later. The officers found the blue Lexus with four men inside. One of the two officers testified that Reyes got out of the rear passenger’s side of the car, carrying a small pouch.
Hosono arrived on the scene soon after. Hosono, who is the Department of Public Safety range master, walked over to Reyes, who was standing only a few feet away, and asked if he had a weapon inside the pouch. Hosono has had prior dealings with Reyes involving a handgun. Hosono repeatedly asked the defendant if he was carrying a weapon. Hosono’s immediate concern was the safety of himself and his fellow officers.
Reyes and Hosono disagreed as to whether Hosono grabbed the pouch before the defendant opened it.
Eventually, Reyes said “OK officer, I’ll show you,” and opened the pouch.
Hosono, being only a few feet away, saw what he recognized as methamphetamine in the pouch and seized it.
In denying Reyes’ motion to suppress evidence, Camacho said unreasonable searches and seizures are prohibited under both the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 3 of the CNMI Constitution.
Camacho said a tip will “justify an investigative stop only if it creates reasonable suspicion that ‘criminal activity may be afoot.’”
In determining whether reasonable suspicion exists, courts look to a totality of the circumstances to determine whether the officer has a “particularized and objective basis for suspecting legal wrongdoing,” Camacho said.
In this case, the officers received a reliable 911 tip that stated that four men where in a vehicle smoking “ice.”
The judge said when the officers arrived at San Jose Snack Bar they found a car matching the description they were provided, with the same license plate number, with four men inside.
Camacho said the defendant willingly opened his pouch for Hosono, who had been asking him if he was carrying a weapon.
“The court finds the testimony of the officers who testified credible, and finds especially credible the testimony of Officer Hosono, who immediately saw the potential danger of firearms based on his prior encounter with the defendant,” the judge said.
Camacho pointed out that there is no evidence to show that Reyes was overpowered or in any way intimidated into showing Hosono the inside of the pouch.
Last Jan. 30, police also arrested Reyes for alleged possession “ice” and for reckless driving.
Reyes was then released on bail and placed under house arrest.