Cocaine and guns seized from a man’s home in Queens will be kept out of evidence because police used a warrant that didn’t specifically identify the apartment to be searched.
Eastern District Judge Jack Weinstein (See Profile) suppressed an assault rifle, a handgun and over 130 grams of cocaine base taken from defendant Shakeel Wiggins in 2013 because police who applied for the search warrant didn’t tell the issuing judge they were searching a multi-family dwelling.
Weinstein said the warrant failed to meet the Fourth Amendment’s requirement that police describe the place to be searched with particularity. The judge said police lacked probable cause to search the entire house.
“The warrant is invalid;” Weinstein said in United States v. Wiggins, 14-cr-3. “the police knew or should have known that the building was a multi-occupancy structure.”
As part of a joint operation with the FBI, 16 police went to Wiggins’ apartment on 129 Street in South Ozone Park on Oct. 4, 2013 armed with a warrant to search “a private three story house.”
One detective rammed open the door to the first-floor apartment and spotted Wiggins running down a hallway carrying a long black bag. The detective drew his gun and ordered Wiggins to stop.
Inside the bag was a rifle, ammunition and some cocaine base. Inside a kitchen cabinet police found a handgun and more cocaine base.
Wiggins, now 31, is represented by attorney, Michael Weil of the Federal Defenders of New York. Weil moved to suppress the evidence taken from Wiggins’ first floor apartment as in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
Following a suppression hearing on March 11, Weinstein granted the motion on April 3, saying “Suppression of evidence is appropriate if it was obtained based on an insufficiently particularized warrant.”
New York City Police Detective Nicholas Neve had obtained the warrant using information from a confidential informant: in September of 2013, the informant had told the detective that Wiggins said to him he had a “new toy” and showed him a rifle.
The detective, the judge said, determined it was a single-family home by driving by and seeing a single address, one front door, one doorbell and one mailbox.
In addition, neither Police nor Department of Motor Vehicles suggested the building was a multi-family residence, and the certificate of occupancy for the house was issued for single occupancy.
But the detective did not to go the side of the house, where he would have seen two electric meters.
And an “Accurint” report, one that lists people who have lived or received mail at that address over several years, showed 44 entries, some with the name of just one person but other entries showing multiple people, including that a family with the surname “Khan” lived there.
In fact, Wiggins lived on the first floor with his wife and three children and the second and third-floors were occupied by the Khan family.
On the day of the raid, a second door that led to the second floor of the department was also rammed open. Detective Neve went up the stairs to find a member of the Khan family, realized the error, did a security sweep of that apartment and went back downstairs.
“Based on the records check he conducted, Detective Neve either knew or should have known that the house was a multi-family structure,” Weinstein said.
“Properly conducted surveillance would have revealed that multiple families live at the house,” Weinstein said.
“Although Detective Neve testified that he never saw anyone besides defendant enter or leave the building during months of surveillance…there was ample opportunity to notice the comings and goings of the upstairs family,” Weinstein said. “A failure by the police to observe these comings and goings is not credible.”
And while it was reasonable for officers to have missed the meters on the side of the building while conducting surveillance from a moving vehicles, the New York City Patrol Guide “instructs officers to inquire at the utility company prior to seeking a warrant,” he said.
Weinstein rejected claims by the government that the weapons and drugs seized from Wiggins should not be suppressed because the officers were acting in good faith and would have, in any event, inevitably have discovered the contraband.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Berit Berger and David Pitluck represented the government.
A spokesman for Eastern District U.S. Attorney’s office said prosecutors are considering their options.
Wiggins is being held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. He was on parole from a prior conviction when his apartment was raided.
@|Mark Hamblett can be contacted at Mhamblett@alm.com