United States District Court, D. New Mexico
Mkhitarian Attorney for Mr. Trujillo
Mysliwiec Assistant United States Attorney
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
VÁZQUEZ UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
MATTER is before the Court on Defendant Gabriel
Trujillo's Motion to Suppress Evidence, filed January 11,
2018 [Doc. 15]. The Court held an evidentiary hearing on May
8, 2018. Having reviewed the briefs, testimony, exhibits, and
relevant law, the Court denies the Motion for the reasons
case concerns the inventory search of Gabriel Trujillo's
vehicle and locked backpack subsequent to his arrest. The
following represents the Court's findings of fact, based
on the evidence submitted, as well as witness
December 6, 2017, at approximately 2:41 a.m., Bernalillo
County Sheriff's Deputy Mitchell Skroch was on patrol in
the South Valley area of Albuquerque, near Central Avenue SW
and 64th Street, when a dark-colored sedan traveling
westbound passed him at an estimated speed of 60 miles per
hour. [Complaint Doc. 2 at 2 (Affidavit of Special Agent
Jeffrey Mauldin)]. The speed limit on that part of Central
Avenue was 25 miles per hour. [Id.] The deputy
notified dispatch about the car. [Transcript
(Tr.) at 9:20˗10:5]. He then turned around
and pursued the car, catching up at around Central and Unser.
[Tr. at 5:16-21]. The car was traveling south on Unser, and
Deputy Skroch followed. [Tr. at 6:23-24]. The Deputy first
engaged his lights and then activated his siren in an attempt
to conduct a traffic stop. [Tr. 10-16]. The car did
not stop, but continued to drive at about the speed limit.
[Tr. at 7:2-7] By this time, the Deputy could tell that the
vehicle was a Ford Mustang. [Tr. at 13:22].
half mile south of Central, the car got into the left-hand
turn lane to turn eastbound on Bridge. [Tr. at
7:8-9]. The driver rolled down his window, and
Deputy Skroch saw him sprinkle something out the window. [Tr.
at 7:15-17]. It did not appear to be consistent with a
cigarette or a cigarette butt. [Tr. at 7:18-20]. Based on his
training and experience, Deputy Skroch believed the substance
was a controlled substance. [Tr. at 11:23-24]. The
driver then turned eastbound onto Bridge, continuing to fail
to yield to the Deputy's emergency equipment. [Tr. at
8:3-4]. Eventually, the car turned into the entrance to a
gated community, and stopped at the gate. [Tr. at 8:4-7] The
car was blocking the gate. [Tr. at 8:19-20].
Skroch conducted a felony traffic stop, drawing his
department-issue handgun and giving the driver commands from
his car window without approaching. [Tr. at 8:22˗9:2].
Deputy Skroch testified that, based on his training and
experience, felony traffic stops are conducted either in
high-risk situations involving people who are fleeing from
law enforcement or failing to yield, or when the officer
believes could have the potential to do harm to the officer.
[Tr. at 9:9-11].
driver of the car complied with Deputy Skroch's
instructions, first sticking his hand out the window and
opening the door, and then, pursuant to the deputy's
instructions, walking backwards toward him. [Tr. at 9:12-19].
Another Sheriff's Deputy arrived at the scene, and Deputy
Skroch's partner placed the driver in handcuffs. [Tr. at
10:9-19]. Looking through the window of the vehicle, Deputy
Skroch could see a Glock handgun in a holster with what
appeared to be a magazine, both tucked between the
driver's seat and the center console. [Tr. at 14:1-4]. He
could also see a Sig Sauer handgun with another magazine and
a holster on the passenger seat in the front. [Tr. at
14:5-6]. In the backseat, the deputy could seek what looked
like a rifle case. [Tr. at 14:6-7].
Skroch arrested the driver for failing to pull over and
sprinkling the substance out the window. [Tr. at 11:4-9]. In
court, he identified the Defendant, Gabriel Trujillo, as the
individual he pulled over during the December 6, 2017,
traffic stop. [Tr. at 12:14-21].
deputy testified that Mr. Trujillo appeared to be wearing
multiple layers of clothing, and the other deputy told Deputy
Skroch it was a body armor vest. [Tr. at 12:25-13:2.] Deputy
Skroch had never before encountered anyone driving around
wearing body armor. [Tr. at 13:6-7].
Skroch placed Mr. Trujillo under arrest and read him the
Miranda warning, using his Miranda warning card.
[Tr. at 14:20˗15:3, 22; Ex. 1, Miranda warning
card]. Afterward, Mr. Trujillo agreed to speak to him. [Tr.
at 15:4-6]. Mr. Trujillo told Deputy Skroch he did not stop
because he was looking for a safe spot to pull over. [Tr. at
15:8-9]. He also told the deputy that he was wearing body
armor because his ex-girlfriend's friends made threats
against his life, and that he had the handguns for the same
reason. [Tr. at 15:9-12] He stated that everything in the
vehicle was his, including a green army backpack, and that
the substance he had sprinkled out the window was a
cigarette. [Tr. at 15:15-19]. The deputy testified that Mr.
Trujillo did not appear to have been drinking. [Tr. at
Skroch testified that he had decided to arrest Mr. Trujillo
as soon as Mr. Trujillo said he had been looking for a safe
spot to pull over, because the deputy knew there had been
multiple safe spots to pull over. [Tr. at 16:16-18].
Specifically, Unser going southbound from Central to Bridge
has a shoulder big enough for a vehicle to fit there with
room left over, and the street is well lit. [Tr. at
Skroch determined that, since he was going to arrest the Mr.
Trujillo, Mr. Trujillo's car would have to be towed
pursuant to Sheriff's Department policies. [Tr. at
17:6-14, 22:21-23:25; Ex. 2, Towing Procedures, § 311-2;
Ex. 3, Search and Seizure without a Warrant, § 321-8].
He explained that the purpose of the inventory is to mark any
high-value items to avoid theft and/or accusations of theft
of items from the car either at the lot or wherever the car
will be held. [Tr. at 19:2-3]. The deputy testified that the
primary purpose of inventory searches is to protect law
enforcement officers from potential lawsuits and wrongdoings.
[Tr. at 34:24-35:5]. He viewed the faithful execution of an
inventory search as requiring that he search the backpack.
[Tr. at 21:13-15].
upper compartment of the green backpack, which the deputy
described as the main compartment, had a small luggage lock
securing its contents. [Tr. at 19:20˗20:3, 26:3-5].
Deputy Skroch did not have a key to the lock, so he
“defeated” the lock by pulling on it with his
hand. [Tr. at 20:6-7]. At the time, he believed he had broken
the lock, so he noted that in his report. [Tr. at
37:15-38:2]. However, when presented with the lock and a key
during the hearing, Deputy Skroch was able to open the lock
using the key and, when the lock was closed, he could not
pull the lock ...