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7th Circuit: Protective sweep by SWAT team reasonable

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the denial of a defendant’s motion to suppress evidence found in his home during a protective sweep by the SWAT team after responding to a hostage situation. Marcus Henderson claimed the sweep – which led to the discovery of firearms – was unreasonable.

South Bend police and SWAT team officials surrounded Henderson’s home based on a possible hostage situation. Crystal Davis had sent her ex-boyfriend, Terrence Winfield, text messages that she was being held against her will by Henderson in his home and that he had weapons in the house. The standoff lasted about an hour, with Davis leaving first unarmed and Henderson stepping out of the house later, unarmed, and locking the door behind him.

Unable to unlock the front door using Henderson’s keys, the SWAT team forced entry through his back door to conduct a brief protective sweep of the house. No one else was inside, but they saw remnants of a marijuana growing operation and firearms in plain view. A search warrant was later obtained.

Henderson sought to suppress the seized firearms, arguing the protective sweep was unreasonable and violated his Fourth Amendment. The District Court denied the motion, and he was found guilty of being a drug user in possession of firearms.

On appeal in United States of America v. Marcus Henderson, 13-2483, Henderson also argued that the police should have confirmed with Davis how many people were in the home, which would support whether police would have to enter to conduct a protective sweep. But the judges pointed out that it’s not realistic for officers to always rely on the statements of people involved at a crime scene; sometimes they provide wrong information or lie. In the instant case, the District judge believed Henderson’s story that Davis was at his house on her accord but made up the hostage situation because she was unfaithful to Winfield.

“And, the duration and scope of the protective sweep in this case were reasonable. The SWAT team entered the house within ten minutes of detaining Henderson. Unable to operate the front door lock with the keys found on Henderson, the SWAT team forced their way into the house through the back door. Once inside, they secured the premises to ensure nobody remained in the house, victim or assailant. The sweep was cursory and lasted no longer than five minutes. … Other than the SWAT team, the South Bend Police Department remained outside until the court issued the search warrant and a full search was feasible. The district court did not err in denying Henderson’s motion to suppress,” Judge William Bauer wrote.
 

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