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United States v. Tepiew

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

June 12, 2017

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
LONI M. TEPIEW, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued December 2, 2016

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. No. l:15-cr-00250-WCG-l - William C. Griesbach, Chief Judge.

          Before WOOD, Chief Judge, and Easterbrook and Williams, Circuit Judges.

          Williams, Circuit Judge.

         Loni Tepiew entered a conditional guilty plea to one count of assault resulting in serious bodily injury after she confessed to beating her toddler son in the head with her fist and shoe. On appeal, she contends that because her confession came after a warrantless entry by police into her home, it should have been suppressed. Because we find that the warrantless entry was justified by the emergency aid doctrine, an exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement, we find that the district court properly denied her motion to suppress.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On a Monday morning, Officer Joshua Nickodem, a seven-year veteran of the Menominee Tribal Police Department, was summoned to a primary school in Keshena, Wisconsin. When he arrived, a school counselor gave him a picture drawn by a seven-year-old student, T.T. Beneath the drawing, T.T. wrote, "Today I feel sad. I feel sad because my mom got hit in the ribs and has a black eye. And she is hurting. And I help my mom because I help her get to the bed." After drawing the picture, T.T. told a school counselor that her one-year-old brother had also sustained an unspecified injury to the head. That counselor summarized their conversation in an email, which the school also provided to Officer Nickodem. That email stated:

T.T. explained to me what happened this weekend. T.T. said that her moms (sic) boyfriend beat her mom up. He gave her mom a blackeye (sic) and her side hurts (ribs). T.T. ran to the boyfriends (sic) mom's house which is two houses down from there's (sic). His mom came back with T.T. running to there (sic) house. Boyfriend dad was angry. T.T. took care of her mom.
T.T. also said the boyfriend hurts her brother who is 1 yr. old.[1] T.T. said that her brothers (sic) face was puffy Monday morning she saw him.

         Although he spent nearly ten to fifteen minutes at the school, Officer Nickodem never met with T.T. Rather, armed with the information he obtained from the school counselor, he drove directly to the Menominee County Health and Human Services Department. At the department, he asked a child protective safety worker to accompany him to T.T.'s home to conduct a welfare check on the one-year-old child. Approximately five minutes later, and in separate cars, Officer Nickodem and the county employee drove at the posted speed limit and without lights and sirens to T.T.'s home, which was located fifteen minutes away on the Menominee Indian Reservation. While en route, Officer Nickodem summoned his partner, Officer Waukechon, to meet him at T.T.'s home.

         Once he arrived at the property, Officer Nickodem approached the front door of the trailer where T.T. and her family lived. He could hear that the television was on, so he knocked at the door and announced his presence to see if anyone was there. After knocking, he heard fast-paced walking inside the home and saw, out of the corner of his eye, a curtain move. He knocked again. This time, he heard what sounded like a door lock. At no point, however, could Officer Nickodem see inside the home. Nor did he hear any obvious signs of distress (gunshots, screams, etc.). While Officer Nickodem knocked at the front door, his partner, Officer Waukechon, stood at the back door of the home. Officer Waukechon could hear Officer Nickodem knocking and movement from inside the home. He then heard someone lock the back door.

         Based upon these observations, Officer Nickodem believed that whoever was in the house did not want to speak to the police. He also knew that obtaining a warrant would take, at a minimum, an hour and a half to two hours. Concerned that the mother and one-year-old child were in the house, seriously hurt, and possibly being prevented from seeking medical attention, he called his supervisor who happened to be with the tribal prosecutor at the time. Officer Nickodem informed the tribal prosecutor that seven-year-old T.T. had reported that her mother and one-year-old brother were inside the home and injured and that he felt that he needed to enter the residence to ensure their safety. Officer Nickodem did not, however, acknowledge or tell the prosecutor that he was not certain who was in the house or if the mother and child were even there. Based upon the information she was given, the prosecutor told the officer that he did not need a warrant and should enter the home.

         After speaking with the tribal prosecutor, Officers Nickodem and Waukechon returned to the door of the home. Another officer, Sergeant Kristof from the Menominee County Sheriff's Department, arrived to provide additional back up and went to the back of the residence. Once more, Officer Nickodem knocked to announce their presence and warned whomever was inside the home that he was going to knock down the door. After waiting approximately fifteen seconds and receiving no response, he kicked down the door and he and Officer Waukechon entered the residence with their weapons drawn.

         Once inside the home, Office Nickodem found T.T.'s mother, Loni Tepiew, in the bathroom with two young children. One of the children was a four-month-old infant, while the other was the one-year-old child whom T.T. had referenced to her school counselor. That one-year-old child, D.T., had what appeared to be injuries to the side of his head. Ms. Tepiew had an injury around her eye. Although Ms. Tepiew told the officers that no one else was in the residence, the officers heard movement and noises from a bedroom closet. In that closet, which was blocked by a dresser, the officers found Ms. Tepiew's boyfriend, ...

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