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United States v. Wilder

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

April 16, 2018




         Defendant Darius Wilder faces charges of Felon in Possession of an Explosive. 18 U.S.C. § 842(i)(1): Malicious Use of Fire to Damage Property Affecting Interstate Commerce. 18 U.S.C. § 844(i), and Possession of a Destructive Device During and In Relation to a Crime of Violence. 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(B). These charges stem from allegations that Wilder used an improvised incendiary bomb to start a small fire on the balcony of a second floor garden-style apartment on April 15. 2017. While in police custody, law enforcement officers interrogated Wilder about the fire and obtained a confession. Wilder now moves to suppress his incriminating statements, alleging that the officers intentionally minimized the severity of the punishment he now faces, thereby coercing an involuntary confession in violation of his Fifth Amendment rights set forth in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1996). For the reasons that follow, Defendant's Motion to Suppress, ECF No. 31, is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On October 11. 2017, the Government filed the Indictment in this case charging Wilder with the above-referenced federal offenses. ECF No. 24. On January 15. 2018. Wilder filed a motion to suppress statements made to police and fire officials on the evening of April 18. 2017 while Wilder was being treated in the emergency room at MedStar Montgomery Hospital (or, "Montgomery General''). ECF No. 31. The Government opposed the motion. ECF No. 33. and an evidentiary hearing was held on March 12, 2018. ECF No. 41.

         At the hearing, the Government presented four witness: Montgomery County Police Officer Robert Atack, who provided testimony regarding Wilder's initial arrest and interview at Montgomery General; Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Paramedic Christopher Miller, who provided testimony regarding Wilder's medical condition during transport from the scene of arrest to Montgomery General: Dr. Michael Perline. who provided testimony regarding Wilder s treatment in the emergency room at Montgomery General; and Lieutenant William Olin from Montgomery County Fire and Rescue, who provided testimony regarding Wilder's interview at Montgomery General. The Court found each of the Government's witnesses to be credible. Wilder also provided testimony regarding his account of the events that transpired immediately prior to his initial arrest through his interview. In addition, the Government provided the Court with an audio recording and transcript of the subject interview that Wilder seeks to suppress herein, which the Court reviewed in chambers.

         Atack testified that he is currently assigned to the 6lh District's Special Assignment Team ("SAT") and has been on that team for the past four years. As a member of SAT. Atack performs field work and case enhancement alongside police detectives. On April 18. 2017, Atack was contacted by the Montgomery County Police Department's Domestic Violence Unit and dispatched to Wilder's residence, 911 Brick Manor in Silver Spring. Maryland, to arrest Wilder. who had three outstanding misdemeanor warrants and was a suspect in an April 15. 2017 fire. Atack observed Wilder exit the residence and enter into a vehicle parked across the street. Atack then made the decision to "take him down" and, with the help of another officer in a separate vehicle, proceeded to block Wilder's avenues of escape by stopping his vehicle short of Wilder's vehicle and turning on his lights. Wilder backed his vehicle into Atack"s. and after his vehicle became stuck, exited the vehicle and began to run back towards his residence. After a brief foot chase. Wilder complied with police orders, went down to the ground, and was placed under arrest. Once arrested and searched, the police officers found a bag of crack cocaine on Wilder s person. Thereafter. Wilder complained of chest pain and Atack called for medical assistance. which arrived in approximately ten minutes and transported Wilder to Montgomery General via ambulance. Atack followed the ambulance to the hospital, while another officer. Officer Amaya, rode with Wilder.

         Miller testified that he has been a licensed paramedic for four years, and on April 18th. he responded to Atack's call for service at 911 Brick Manor. Miller arrived at the scene and found Wilder standing on the sidewalk, and Wilder informed him that he was having chest pains, was concerned about his heart, and wanted to go to the hospital. Miller observed that Wilder appeared alert and oriented, with no apparent difficult) in understanding or answering his questions. Wilder entered the ambulance under his own power, and Miller assessed his vital signs and found that while Wilder did not exhibit any of the typical presentations of a heart attack, he had an elevated pulse. Miller proceeded to the hospital in the back of the ambulance along with Wilder and Amaya and described the incident as "a pretty mundane call." noting that it was a priority three (low priority).

         Dr. Perline testified that he was the attending physician at Montgomery General's emergency room responsible for Wilder's treatment on the evening of April 18th. Dr. Perline has been an attending physician in this emergency room for two years and has been board certified in emergency medicine for over twenty years. Dr. Perline did not remember his encounter with Wilder but provided testimony based on Wilder s emergency room records. See Government Exhibit 8. As set forth in the records. Wilder complained of chest pain and displayed an elevated heart rate: however. Dr. Perline documented that Wilder was well appearing with no apparent distress, was not sweating, did not have trouble breathing, was neurologically alert, and did not display any visible markers of a heart attack or another acute life threatening event. Dr. Perline documented Wilder* s condition as stable at 8:18 p.m.. and Wilder was discharged into police custody at 9:27 p.m.

         Atack further testified that once he arrived at Montgomery General, he remained in Wilder"s hospital room as he waited for Olin. Wilder had one wrist handcuffed to his bed. was seated in an elevated position, and appeared coherent and calm. Once Olin arrived. Olin administered the Montgomery County Police Department's Advice of Rights form to Wilder, which was then signed by Atack. Olin, and Wilder.[1] See Government Exhibit 10.

         Olin. a fire and explosives investigator who has been employed with Montgomery County Fire and Rescue since 1999. testified that he was involved in the investigation into the April 15th fire. On that day. he responded to a fire on a second floor balcony of a garden style apartment, where he found that a small fire had burned some bikes and charred a small portion of the floor, but did not spread from the balcony into the apartment. Wilder was a suspect, and. on April 18th, Olin was informed that Wilder had been arrested on outstanding warrants, so Olin responded to Montgomery General to interview him. Olin arrived at the hospital at approximately 7:15 p.m. and entered Wilder"s hospital room approximately an hour later. After executing the Advice of Rights form. Olin proceeded to interview Wilder about the April 15th fire. Notably. Olin recorded the interview but did not turn on his recording device until after he had administered the Advice of Rights.

         There was no testimony offered during the hearing regarding what, if anything. Wilder was told would be the subject matter of the interview prior to the execution of the Advice of Rights form, but Olin did testify that he introduced himself to Wilder as a fire and explosives investigator. Olin testified that while he knew he was investigating felony charges, he did not inform Wilder of the gravity of the charges. And while he did not affirmatively tell Wilder that he was not in trouble, offer Wilder leniency in exchange for his cooperation, or promise that he would not bring felony charges against him. Olin repeatedly emphasized that he was investigating a "small" fire. Atack also occasionally participated in the interview and suggested that the fire was small, only damaging some bicycles. Both officers acknowledged that during the interview, each minimized the seriousness of " Wilder's alleged conduct in an attempt to obtain information from him. For example. Olin stated that "the fire was very small.... So, from that standpoint, you know, it's a good thing. For whoever did it.... I like keeping this very simple, and on the down-low." See Interview 1 Transcript at 36. Atack suggested to Wilder that "if you made a mistake, we, we can deal with mistakes" and stated "[d]id you do anything .. . you regret over there? Now's the time. You, you're getting that opportunity here. Darius. You're not gonna get many opportunities." See Interview 1 Transcript at 39, 42.

         Finally, Wilder provided testimony characterizing his recollection of his arrest, transport to the hospital, and resulting interview. Wilder stated that on the way to the hospital. Amaya did not discuss the subject fire but offered to drop any charges associated with the cocaine found on Wilder if Wilder cooperated and provided information regarding the drugs. Wilder agreed. Wilder did not remember being read his rights at the hospital. Wilder further stated that he remembered signing his hospital discharge paperwork but not signing the Advice of Rights form, although he acknowledged that the signature on the form looked like it was his signature. Wilder further testified that he only admitted to having any involvement in the tire after getting a "bad vibe" from Olin and Atack and assumed that, similar to his conversation in the ambulance with Amaya, if he told the investigators what he thought they wanted to hear, he would be released on bond and would be able to later prove his innocence. Wilder stated that had he known he was facing the charges set forth in the Indictment, he would not have admitted to having any involvement in the April 15th fire.


         The Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination provides that "[n]o person. .. shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself." U.S. Const.. Amendment V. In Miranda \. Arizona, the Supreme Court established a prophylactic, procedural mechanism that safeguards a defendant's Fifth Amendment privilege when that defendant is subject to custodial interrogation. 384 U.S. at 444: see also Dickerson v. United States,530 U.S. 428, 444 (2000) (reaffirming Miranda as "a constitutional rule."). Before conducting a custodial interrogation of a suspect, law enforcement officials must inform the suspect that he has the right to remain silent, that his statements may be used against him at trial, and that he has the right to an attorney during questioning. Id. "A confession made during a custodial interrogation will be suppressed unless police advise the defendant of his rights under Miranda . . . and the defendant knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waives those rights." United States v. Giddim, 858 F.3d 870, 879 (4th Cir. 2017) (internal citations omitted). Thus, in considering ...

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