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State of New Jersey v. Tyrone Johnson

January 5, 2011


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Indictment Nos. 07-03-0471 and 07-03-0475.

Per curiam.


Submitted December 7, 2010 - Decided Before Judges Carchman and Messano.

Following the denial of his motion to suppress evidence, defendant Tyrone Johnson, Jr. entered a plea of guilty to one count of second-degree possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to distribute, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5(a)(1) and

(b)(4), as well as second-degree certain persons not to have weapons, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-7(b). Consistent with the plea agreement, the trial judge sentenced defendant to an aggregate term of seven years imprisonment with a five-year period of parole ineligibility with the sentences to run concurrent to an unrelated sentence then being served by defendant. Defendant appeals from the denial of the motion to suppress as well as the sentence. We affirm.

These are the relevant facts adduced at the motion to suppress. During the evening hours of January 9, 2007, Detective Michael Dammann of the Carteret Police Department, received a phone call from a confidential informant stating that a tall black man, wearing blue jeans and a tan coat, was in possession of a gun and was selling narcotics in the Sam Sica Homes public housing facility. Dammann and Detective/Sergeant Thomas Stroka of the Special Investigations Unit, Narcotics Unit, responded to the scene within minutes*fn1 and observed two individuals standing in front of the F building, neither of whom matched the informant's description. However, recognizing that they were in a "high crime narcotics location that [the Carteret Police have] been investigating," the detectives parked their vehicle and investigated on foot. By the time the detectives arrived at the front of the F building, the two individuals they initially spotted were no longer present. The detectives proceeded to walk towards an alleyway that separates the F and E buildings. Although the detectives were walking together, they were not side-by-side; Stroka "was hugging the E building on the sidewalk" and Dammann "was against the fence line . . . of the sidewalk." In this position, both detectives heard a voice yell out, "Yo, who's that?" Dammann looked back -- and for the first time -- observed an individual who fit the informant's description of the individual with the weapon and narcotics. Despite Dammann's observation, both detectives, who were in plainclothes and not uniformed, continued walking because they "[didn't] want to give [their] presence there."

At this point, the detectives split up. Dammann continued along the sidewalk towards a church, and Stroka turned right into the church parking lot hiding behind a car. Stroka heard someone yell, for a second time, "[Y]o, yo, who's that?" Immediately thereafter, Stroka witnessed "a tall male running . . . with this tan coat and jeans" after Dammann. Although Dammann had previously observed the subject, this was the first time that Stroka spotted an individual who fit the description of the tip.

Concerned for his partner's safety, Stroka "went running to the back [of the church], the same direction where this subject was following Detective Dammann." According to Stroka:

When I came running around the corner, the subject reversed direction, and we actually physically collided.

It was a blind collision. As soon as we turned the corner, we just ran into each other.

After the two of us collided, [the suspect] stumbled back a little bit because . . . when I hit him, his left . . . part of his body happened to turn, and simultaneously he threw an object, a black object, behind him that landed on the grass . . . .

Stroka was not immediately aware of the object's identity. Instead, his main concern was the suspect, as he "got him right to the ground" by "grabb[ing] him and . . . [asking], please get to the ground, and he complied."

As soon as Stroka took the suspect to the ground, Dammann appeared. Stroka then turned around and determined that a handgun had been discarded. The suspect was handcuffed and placed under arrest. Dammann escorted the defendant to the patrol vehicle, and Stroka surveyed the immediate area with a flashlight for additional objects that might have been thrown. Only a nine millimeter handgun was recovered.

Defendant was transported to headquarters by two other officers. During the drive, one of the officers noticed defendant "fidgeting" and then kick an object under the driver's seat. When they arrived at headquarters, the officers discovered "a plastic bag ...

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