NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 30, 2013
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Atlantic County, Indictment No. 10-08-1788.
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Michael B. Jones, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, of counsel and on the brief).
Jeffrey S. Chiesa, Attorney General, attorney for respondent, (Frank J. Ducoat, Deputy Attorney General, of counsel and on the brief).
Before Judges Nugent and Haas.
Defendant Chavis J. Reaves appeals the denial of his motion to suppress the handgun seized by detectives who arrested him during a street encounter. Defendant argues that the detectives conducted more than a field inquiry, lacked an articulable suspicion to support an investigative stop, and had no probable cause to arrest him when he fled. Having considered defendant's arguments in light of the motion record and controlling law, we affirm.
Detective Thomas Moynihan, a six-year veteran of the Atlantic City Police Department, was the only witness to testify at the suppression hearing. On the morning of April 6, 2010, he and two other detectives, Henry White and Darren Loradi, were patrolling the streets that ran through a housing complex known as Carver Hall on the morning they encountered defendant. Although they wore plain clothes and rode in an unmarked car, they wore police badges around their necks, and because they used the same unmarked vehicles "all the time, " their car was familiar to residents in the area.
Carver Hall was well-known to the detectives for violence and drug dealing. There had been shootings there as well as at another housing complex several blocks away called Stanley Holmes Village. Five days earlier, someone had fired numerous shots at a house in Stanley Homes Village and one or more bullets struck a woman in the leg. The police believed that members of a gang known as Crime Family For Life, also known as 36612, were involved in the shooting.
According to the Atlantic City Police Department intelligence files, defendant was a "documented gang member of the Crime Family for Life." Detective Moynihan had arrested defendant five months earlier and found him in possession of hollow point bullets and ball ammunition. In the weeks before April 6, 2010, the detective "had been getting numerous tips from informants that [defendant] was in possession of a handgun." The informants were "other detectives' informants, " but the information was common knowledge within the unit.
Detective Moynihan wanted to question defendant about the recent shootings, so when he saw defendant walking on the street through Carver Hall on the morning of April 6, the detective decided to stop and talk to him. When defendant spotted the unmarked police car he crossed the street, quickened his pace, and "kept looking back, looking around." He "seemed to be nervous, acting suspicious."
The detectives pulled their car behind defendant and saw that he was carrying a computer bag, strapped around his shoulder, hanging beneath his armpit down near his wrist. They stopped approximately five or ten feet from defendant, began to get out of the car, and asked defendant, "can we talk to you, can you come over here, can we talk to you[?]" Defendant responded, "I didn't do shit, leave me alone." At the same time, defendant "pulled the bag, it was open, he . . . reach[ed] . . . in and just started running." Fearful that defendant had a weapon inside the computer bag, the detectives ordered him to stop, yelling, "police, stop, you're under arrest." Defendant, looking increasingly agitated, continued to run, still reaching into the bag, and thereby increasing the detectives' fear that he might be armed.
Approximately twenty seconds and one-half block after defendant began to run, the detectives apprehended him and handcuffed him behind his back. Because defendant could still reach into the bag, Detective Moynihan looked into the open bag, reached in, and removed a handgun. The gun was a silver revolver. The detective also seized papers bearing defendant's ...