Known as the “Gateway to North Louisiana,” the town of Haynesville is located in the northern part of Claiborne Parish just south of the Arkansas state line. It is best known for its high school football team, the Golden Tornadoes, which has won 17 state championships and nine Class A titles.
Like most rural small towns in America, Haynesville has methamphetamine and crack cocaine problems.
The Not So Unusual Case of RN Beene
In the summer of 2012, R.N. Beene was part of Haynesville’s drug problem. This was known by the local police. In June of that year, the town’s police department received a call that Beene had pointed a gun at people on Mills Street before driving away in a gray Honda Accord.
Officer Danny Mills, who had information about Beene’s past drug dealings, responded to the call by driving to the suspect’s residence located at an intersection of a state highway and Greer Street.
Vehicle in Drive Way, Suspect out of Vehicle
As the officer approached, he noticed a woman sitting in a silver Lincoln Continental parked in the front yard of the Beene trailer residence. Just as he turned onto Greer Street, the officer saw Beene driving toward the residence in the gray Honda. Beene pulled into the driveway of his residence and parked his vehicle there. Officer Mills parked his vehicle in front of the driveway to block it off.
Before Beene pulled his vehicle into the driveway, Officer Mills had made a decision to conduct a “traffic stop” based on the dispatcher’s call about the suspect having a weapon. In fact, he activated his siren to signal Beene to stop his vehicle, even before the suspect pulled into the residence.
Suspect Arrested, Consent to Search Denied
Once the two men exited their vehicles, Beene refused to comply with the officer’s commands to stand still. After repeated commands, the suspect complied, Officer Mills handcuffed him as he lay on the ground. The officer would later say he believed he had probable cause to arrest Beene because of the dispatcher’s call about the gun and because of what the suspect “had done in the past.”
Confusion and chaos quickly engulfed the front yard arrest scene.
Another officer named Trent Cook arrived at the scene to assist in the arrest. About that time Beene’s wife, Shauntae, exited the Lincoln and began to yell at the officers. She told Mills that the Honda belonged to her, but in response to the officer’s question about whether she knew if there was a gun in the vehicle, she said she did not. Officer Mills then asked if he could check the vehicle for a weapon to which Shauntae asked if he had “a warrant.”
Police Dog Conducts Sniff Search, Alerts
At this point Officer Rickey Goode arrived with his drug detection dog. Mills told Goode that Shauntae had refused to consent to search the vehicle. Officer Goode got his dog and conducted a “search pattern” around the Honda Accord. The dog alerted, and based on that alert, the officers believed they had probable cause to suspect that drugs were either in or had been in the vehicle.
Officer Goode opened the passenger door. Officer Mills saw a bag of marijuana on the front driver’s seat. A more thorough search found crack cocaine, a substantial amount of cash and a .380 caliber pistol.
Police Chief Anthony Smith arrived at the scene.
As the contraband in the Honda was processed, Shauntae passed out. She regained consciousness on her own and refused medical treatment.
Police Testify They Obtained Consent to Search House
At that point Chief Smith said he obtained a written consent to search the mobile home from Shauntae. He and a detective named Adrian Malone, who had recently arrived at the scene, searched the home. They found additional marijuana, crack cocaine, methamphetamine and a digital scale.
Federal Court Finds Police Falsified Consent to Search
A federal district court would later determine at a suppression hearing conducted in the case that the chief and Malone had falsified the consent to search form.
Both Beene and Shauntae were arrested.
Indicted on Federal Firearms, Drug Charges
Beene was subsequently indicted on six counts: felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition, possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine, possession with intent to distribute cocaine powder, possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, possession with intent to distribute marijuana, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense.
Motion to Suppress Argues Vehicle in Curtilage
In the motion to suppress, Beene argued that the vehicle parked in front of his residence was part of the curtilage of his mobile home.
Despite its finding that the consent to search form had been falsified, the court denied the motion to suppress because the evidence obtained from the vehicle was incident to a lawful arrest.
Beene subsequently entered a conditional guilty plea, preserving his right to appeal the denial of his suppression motion. He was given a 96-month prison term.
Beene timely appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and that court decided the appeal on March 8, 2016.
Open Driveway Not Part of Curtilage
The central issue on appeal was whether Beene’s vehicle constituted part of the curtilage of his trailer home. The appeals court ruled that it did not. The court noted that the driveway was open and could be observed from the Street; and that neither Beene nor Shauntae took any steps to protect their privacy like posting a “no trespass” sign.
The court relied on the “open fields” doctrine which holds that any unoccupied or undeveloped area outside the curtilage is not privacy protected because it does not “provide the setting for those intimate activities” protected by the Fourth Amendment” and because “these lands usually are accessible to the public and the police in ways that a home, an office, or commercial structure [are] not ….”
The Fifth Circuit, however, remanded the case back to the trial court because the judge did not make a specific findings of fact that the “exigent circumstances” in play at the time of Beene’s arrest justified the warrantless search of his vehicle based on the alert by the drug detection alert.
In reaching this conclusion, the appeals court determined that the use of the police dog in this case did not constitute a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment; that the search fell within the ambit of the vehicle exception to the warrant requirement.
Dissent Argues Dog Sniff Conducted Without Sufficient Probable Cause
This conclusion raised the concern of Judge James Graves who, in dissent, said he believed the “dog sniff” was indeed a search and was conducted without sufficient probable cause.
Judges Graves pointed out that the Fourth Amendment protects both an individual’s “privacy and security” from “arbitrary invasions by government officials.” He added that “an open field is not open season and a drug detection dog is not free from the application of the Fourth Amendment.”
He thoroughly rebuffed the government’s argument that the use of a drug detection dog to determine the contents of a vehicle is not a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment as it is with a residence.
Search was at Private Residence
Judge Graves pointed out that while the Supreme Court has permitted the use of a drug detection dog in situations where a vehicle has been lawfully seized for a traffic violation, neither that court or any “precedential decision” by the Fifth Circuit has ever permitted the use of a “drug detection dog at a private residence” where personal vehicle is parked.
Drug Detection Dog is Intimidating Law Enforcement Tool that Escalates Intrusive Nature of Law Enforcement Presence
The judge then expressed serious reservations about the use of a drug detection as a “law enforcement tool.” His reservations are well-taken:
“Drug detection dogs represent a significant ‘projection of official authority,’ which escalates the intrusive nature of the government’s investigative presence. Any individual who has encountered a drug detection dog in an airport, bus depot, or public sidewalk has experienced the unease that accompanies being confronted with the presence of this intimidating law enforcement tool. Indeed, history is replete with examples of officials using trained dogs, sometimes in aid of state sanctioned violence, to intimidate or control American citizens. In the modern law enforcement context, police officers use dogs for a multitude of purposes, other than drug detection, including tracking, apprehending, or immobilizing suspects. This history and current practice necessarily shape our ‘societal understanding’ about ‘the measure of government intrusion, and supports the common sense conclusion that the use of a drug detection dog in this context constitutes a search.”
Indeed, dogs have been used by law enforcement as a “tool” to carry out “state sanctioned violence” as noted by Judge Graves: they have been used to attack Native-Americans, chase down runaway slaves, attack African-American soldiers fighting for the North, intimidate Japanese-Americans residing in Hawaii after Pearl Harbor, attack/terrorize civil rights protestors during the “freedom marches,” and to control crowds in modern day protests.
Use of Dogs Abused by Police
The law enforcement tool of using dogs, we believe, is one most often abused by the police—more than pepper spray, the taser, even firearms. We especially don’t like the legal weight given to so-called “alerts” by drug detection dogs. The Beene case exemplifies why. Sergeant Mills had made up his mind to search Beene’s Honda long before Officer Goode showed up at the scene with his dog. His bias about Beene’s past actions formed the real basis for the decision, not some so-called “alert” by the dog.
Search Tainted by Police Falsifying “Consent to Search”
The case is back before the lower court. Any findings of fact made about the vehicle search will be clouded by the police chief’s actions of falsifying the “consent to search” the Beene residence. The entire search scene, from start to finish, is irreparably tainted with suspect law enforcement behavior.
Whether or not Beene is a local drug dealer is not our call. What is clear is that the Haynesville Police Department screwed up this case. All charges against Beene should be dismissed. Let him and Shauntae return to their mobile home in their Honda Accord and Lincoln Continental where they may or may not continue their illegal conduct, which is obviously a symptom of unfortunate drug addiction. Perhaps the cops can get it right next time.