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United States v. Sanford

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

February 16, 2016

United States of America, Plaintiff - Appellee
Dontay Dakwon Sanford, Defendant - Appellant

Submitted October 23, 2015.

Appeal from United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, Waterloo.

For United States of America, Plaintiff - Appellee: Lisa C. Williams, U.S. Attorney, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Northern District of Iowa, Cedar Rapids, IA.

For Dontay Dakwon Sanford, Defendant - Appellant: Brent D. Rosenberg, Des Moines, IA.

Dontay Dakwon Sanford, Defendant - Appellant, Pro se, Anamosa, IA.

Before WOLLMAN, BYE, and GRUENDER, Circuit Judges. BYE, Circuit Judge, concurring.



Dontay Sanford pled guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm after police found a firearm during a protective search of a vehicle in which Sanford was seated. Sanford filed a motion to suppress the search of the vehicle, which the district court[1] denied. The district court subsequently sentenced Sanford to 96 months' imprisonment. Sanford appeals the order denying his suppression motion, the district court's finding that he possessed the firearm in connection with another felony offense, and his sentence. We affirm.


During the early morning hours of July 6, 2014, an employee at Club 319, a nightclub in Waterloo, Iowa, called the Waterloo Police Department to report that a patron at the bar threatened to " do something to somebody" when the bar closed. The employee did not give further information about the nature of the threat, but Waterloo Police Officers described the area surrounding Club 319 as a high crime area and reported that Club 319 had a very high call volume with higher risk calls, such as fights, stabbings, and shootings. The employee described the patron as a black male with dreadlocks who was wearing a white shirt and blue shorts.

At approximately 1:15 a.m., dispatch for the Waterloo Police Department relayed the report to officers. Officer Ryan Muhlenbruch arrived on the scene first, and he noticed a man -- later identified as Sanford -- matching the suspect's description walking towards a parked car in an alley halfway down the block from Club 319. Officer Muhlenbruch pulled his squad car into the alley and stopped, but he did not activate his lights or siren. Sanford walked around the car and toward the passenger door, at which point Officer Muhlenbruch exited his vehicle and yelled, " Hey, partner." Sanford made eye contact with Officer Muhlenbruch but continued into the passenger seat of the vehicle.

Officer Muhlenbruch approached the vehicle with a flashlight in one hand and his other hand on his holster. As he approached, he could see Sanford leaning forward in the passenger seat, and it appeared to Officer Muhlenbruch that Sanford was reaching for the console with his left hand while concealing an item below the seat in his right hand. Officer Muhlenbruch drew his firearm and instructed Sanford to show his hands, exit the vehicle, and place his hands on the top of the car. Sanford complied.

When Sanford exited, Officer Muhlenbruch recognized him from previous encounters. Officer Muhlenbruch knew from these encounters Sanford had a criminal history that included a conviction for burglary in the first degree and weapons charges.

Officer Muhlenbruch holstered his weapon, handcuffed Sanford, and patted him down for weapons. While he patted Sanford down, another officer arrived on the scene. The pat down did not reveal any weapons, so Officer Muhlenbruch returned to his squad car, placed Sanford in the back, and called in the license plate number of the vehicle Sanford was seated in. The license plate check indicated the vehicle was a rental. Officer Muhlenbruch then searched the passenger compartment of the vehicle, where he found a loaded Ruger .357 revolver under the passenger seat.

Officer Muhlenbruch returned to his squad vehicle, read Sanford his Miranda warnings, and asked Sanford if he wanted to talk. Sanford said, " I ain't talking to you about shit." While officers processed the scene, a recording system in the squad car captured Sanford making a number of incriminating statements during a personal phone call.

In July 2014, a grand jury charged Sanford with one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm, a violation of 18 U.S.C. § § 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2). Sanford filed a motion to suppress the evidence Officer Muhlenbruch retrieved in the search of the vehicle and the subsequent incriminating statements Sanford made while in the squad car. A United States Magistrate Judge[2] held an evidentiary hearing on the motion and, following the hearing, recommended the district court deny Sanford's suppression motion. The district court adopted the magistrate judge's report and recommendation and ...

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