SHERIDAN — Missteps by law enforcement during an investigation of drug use at the Holiday Inn led to a hearing in which a defense attorney asked for evidence to be suppressed in 4th Judicial District Court.
Judge John Fenn decided to suppress statements made by the defendant during police questioning following her arrest for an outstanding warrant and child endangerment. The court ruled that an officer used coercion to retrieve statements from the defendant.
Fenn also denied a motion to suppress evidence observed by a law enforcement officer before receiving a search warrant. The court acknowledged that the law enforcement officer did illegally enter an occupied room without consent or a search warrant, but it remained obvious to the court that the officer knew the law and would not have entered the room if she would have known it was still occupied.
On April 29, Sheridan Police Department Officer Megan Phillips received a report that a maintenance man at the Holiday Inn in Sheridan reported a housekeeper finding a pipe with drugs in it inside one of the rooms occupied by Bobbie Marie Porch, her son and a significant other.
Phillips’ interactions with Holiday Inn employees were recorded on body camera footage and reviewed by counsel and the court during an Aug. 9 suppression hearing.
The video showed Phillips being led into a room at the Holiday Inn by a maintenance worker, who said he did not know when the occupants checked out.
Upon entering the room, Phillips observed a pipe sitting next to a child’s toothbrush on the bathroom sink. As she continued into the room, she saw other personal items in the room. She then inquired if the room was still occupied and the maintenance worker told her that the guests were out of the hotel at that time, but they were still renting the room.
As soon as Phillips realized the room was still occupied, she exited the room and called Sgt. Kelly Waugh to report what happened and asked his advice on how to proceed. The two agreed that Phillips would remain at the hotel and conduct a further investigation while waiting for the occupants to return to ask for consent to search the room.
Phillips spoke with the housekeeper who found the pipe on the bathroom counter. The housekeeper showed Phillips pictures of the evidence that the housekeeper took on her cellphone. There was a child’s toothbrush right next to a soap dish with suspected methamphetamine residue on it. The housekeeper was a past user and recognized the materials from her prior experience with the drugs.
Phillips waited in her car for the occupants to return, but after a few hours applied for a search warrant for the room. The warrant was granted and Phillips seized the items from the room.
While the warrant was being executed, Porch’s boyfriend returned to the hotel room with the child and was interviewed by Phillips and Cpl. Karla Rogers. He admitted to methamphetamine being in the room, and said Porch had arranged for the drugs to be delivered to the room. The boyfriend told Phillips where Porch could be located.
Porch was wanted on a municipal warrant, but worked outside of city limits, so Phillips called Deputy Fielding Phillips and asked him to arrest Porch on the municipal warrant.
Deputy Phillips arrested Porch and read Porch her Miranda rights and confirmed twice that she understood those rights.
Officer Phillips informed Porch during an interview that she was arrested on the municipal warrant but there were other things that they needed to talk about. Officer Phillips and Deputy Phillips jointly interviewed Porch about who was staying in the hotel room and what items were in the room. Officer Phillips said she knew there were illegal items in the room but was giving Porch the opportunity to be honest with the officers.
Officer Phillips relayed to Porch that she obtained a search warrant and knew there was methamphetamine in the room, but Porch continued to deny knowing about or using methamphetamine in the room.
Waugh entered the room and told Porch that her child was with the Department of Family Services and SPD “has the power to control where he goes and what he does” based on the information they had.
Porch’s attorney asserted that the warrantless entry into Porch’s hotel room violated her right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures under the Wyoming Constitution. The defense asked to suppress all evidence seized from the hotel room, Porch’s cellphone and results from a hair sample test. The cellphone evidence was seized after a search warrant was granted for the phone, and results from a hair sample test and drug paraphernalia were entered into evidence after obtaining a search warrant.
Court documents said Porch’s attorney, Angela Long, claims all three warrants were tainted by the earlier illegal entry into the hotel room. The state, represented by Sheridan County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Christopher LaRosa, said that even if the warrantless entry into the hotel room was illegal, the three warrants that were later issued were not tainted because they were based on information that was independent of the initial entry.
Court documents said it did not appear that the decision to pursue a warrant was prompted by her warrantless entry into the hotel room, but instead was prompted by information obtained from the housekeeper who showed her photos and relayed that a child was staying in the room. It also was apparent to the court from video footage of the event that Officer Phillips did know she could not enter an occupied room of a hotel without a warrant or the consent of the occupant.
The second motion — to suppress statements made by the defendant — was granted by Fenn. The defendant’s motion alleged that she was not read her Miranda rights, which was proven false through an audio recording played during the motion hearing of Deputy Phillips reading Porch her Miranda rights and confirming she understood twice.
The defense also argued that statements made during the interview with law enforcement were not voluntary because they were the product of coercion. In Wyoming, coercive police tactics violate the due process clause of the Wyoming Constitution.
The state conceded that Waugh’s statements were coercive and inappropriate. The court agreed that this type of conduct was not permissible under the Wyoming Constitution. The statements made by Porch during the interview will be suppressed from the evidence for trial.
The court also determined that none of the statements made by the defendant during the interview tainted the evidence obtained by search warrants, as none of the warrants were obtained because of statements made during the interrogation.
Porch ended up pleading guilty Sept. 6 to one count of endangering children.
Porch was released from the Sheridan County Detention Center Sept. 11 on a bond allowing her to check into a treatment facility in Sturgis, South Dakota.
Porch’s sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 26 at 10:30 a.m.