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United States v. Eatman

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

November 1, 2019

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Micha Eatman, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued September 16, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 17 CR 00119 - Virginia M. Kendall, Judge.

          Before Bauer, Brennan, and St. Eve, Circuit Judges.

          Bauer, Circuit Judge.

         After a heated argument with his girlfriend, Micha Eatman found himself pounding on her apartment door and yelling to be let inside. Chicago police officers arrived in response to a 911 call and, within moments, they frisked Eatman, seized a loaded handgun, and placed him in handcuffs. Officers then asked Eatman to produce the gun's registration. The officers also spoke to his girlfriend, who refused to sign a police complaint. They then took Eatman to the police station, where a background check revealed two prior felony convictions. Eatman was turned over to federal authorities and indicted for possession of a firearm by a felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Eatman moved to suppress the gun, arguing that he was searched without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity and arrested without probable cause since, at the time he was handcuffed, the officers did not know that he possessed the gun unlawfully. The district court denied the motion, finding that the officers had reasonable suspicion when they found Eatman attempting to gain access to the apartment and that the officers arrested Eatman only after inquiring whether he had registration for the gun. Eatman entered a conditional guilty plea, reserving the right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress.

         On appeal, Eatman concedes the police officers had reasonable suspicion to conduct a frisk but argues he was arrested without probable cause when he was handcuffed and thus his felon status should be suppressed. Because we find the use of handcuffs on Eatman to be reasonable, we affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On August 19, 2016, at 5:09 a.m., the Chicago Police Department received a call from a security guard reporting a domestic disturbance at an apartment building located at 6425 South Lowe Avenue in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. Just moments before, a tenant of the building called security to report that her boyfriend had hit her and was trying to gain access to her apartment. The 911 call led to the dispatch of two Chicago Police units, each receiving this message:

"security officer brooks states m/b mikah beating f/b trinidad 2 children in the apartment no drinking/no drugs cs possibly may have gun cs she is req. more than 1 unit, cs he may try to leave building,, nfi"

         The 911 call reported more specific information, for instance that there was likely a gun involved but a question as to whether Eatman or his girlfriend had the gun. The security guard did not say Eatman beat his girlfriend, but responded "yes" when the dispatcher asked if Eatman "touched" her. Both units received the message in their patrol cars' computer system in the minutes prior to arrival.

         Four police officers entered the building and briefly spoke with security guards before being escorted to the 19th floor. According to the two officers who testified at the suppression hearing, the guard escorting them upstairs reiterated that Eatman may have a gun. As they exited the elevator, the security guard directed the officers towards the apartment; the four officers observed Eatman pounding on the door and yelling to be let inside.

         Once the officers approached Eatman, they told him to back away from the door and put his hands on the wall. Officer Alvarez frisked Eatman and found a loaded handgun tucked into his waistband. Alvarez placed the gun into his pocket and handcuffed Eatman with Officer Rangel's assistance.

          The exact timing of what transpired after Eatman's handcuffing is unclear, but otherwise the factual record is undisputed. Eatman's girlfriend emerged from the apartment and spoke with the officers. According to the officers, she was more concerned about $300 that she wanted from Eatman; she ultimately refused to sign a criminal complaint against Eatman. The officers asked Eatman if he had a Firearm Owners Identification card or a conceal-and-carry license. Although neither Rangel nor Alvarez testified as to how Eatman responded, their interviews with the United States Attorney's Office and the district court record show that Eatman claimed the gun was his girlfriend's and that he took it to keep the gun away from the children.

         The officers then transported Eatman to the police station, where a background check revealed his prior felony convictions. Eatman was read his Miranda rights at 8:17 a.m. and then admitted to having knowingly possessed the gun. Eatman was turned over to federal authorities and charged with one ...


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