Submitted: May 18, 2016
from United States District Court for the Northern District
of Iowa, Waterloo
WOLLMAN, LOKEN, and BENTON, Circuit Judges.
WOLLMAN, Circuit Judge.
Daniel Conerd was charged in a one-count indictment with
being a felon and unlawful drug user in possession of
ammunition, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) and
(g)(3). He filed a motion to suppress the ammunition
recovered from his residence, arguing that it was discovered
as a result of a police officer's warrantless entry onto
the curtilage of his home in violation of the Fourth
Amendment. After a hearing, the district court denied the
motion, concluding that the officer's entry onto the
curtilage of Conerd's residence was permissible under the
emergency-aid exception to the warrant
requirement. Conerd pleaded guilty to the charged
offense and reserved his right to appeal the denial of the
motion to suppress. We affirm.
November 27, 2013, at about 11:25 p.m., Jessica Pirtle called
the Oelwein, Iowa, police department and spoke with a
dispatcher. Pirtle reported that she had just received a call
from Conerd's sister, who, in turn, had just received a
call from Conerd, informing his sister that he had just
finished assaulting Travis Norton and was in the process of
assaulting Megan Owens in the basement of his home in
Olewein. Conerd also reportedly told his sister that once he
finished assaulting Owens, he intended to drive to his
sister's home in Lamont, Iowa, and shoot her. In response
to this call, Officer Ted Phillips was dispatched to
Conerd's residence to conduct a welfare check.
Phillips testified at the suppression hearing that he was
familiar with Conerd, Norton, and Owens, as well as with
Conerd's residence in Oelwein. Phillips stated that he
had arrested Norton in the past for drug-related offenses and
that Owens, who was once romantically involved with Conerd,
had reported multiple domestic-assault incidents over the
prior year involving Conerd and occurring at his residence.
Phillips testified that he had previously received
information from multiple informants and from another officer
that Conerd might be in possession of a firearm. Phillips
also believed that Conerd had a closed-circuit-camera system
installed at his residence and that one of the cameras was
aimed at the front door.
Phillips arrived at Conerd's residence at about 11:30
p.m. and parked just down the street from the house. Phillips
testified that he could see from his vehicle that the only
light in Conerd's house was coming from the basement
window-where Conerd was reportedly assaulting Owens. As
Phillips approached the residence, he did not see or hear
anything to indicate that there was an assault taking place
inside the residence. Nevertheless, Phillips remained
concerned about Norton's and Owens's safety. Phillips
testified that he was also concerned about his own safety,
particularly in light of Conerd's history of domestic
assaults, as well as reports that Conerd had a firearm in his
possession and had a closed-circuit camera trained on his
front door. Accordingly, instead of knocking on Conerd's
front door, Phillips walked up the driveway of the house next
door, stepped onto Conerd's side yard, and approached the
basement window of Conerd's house from which the light
was shining "so [he] would know what [he] was walking
into." From a distance of five or six feet, Phillips was
able to see through the basement window. He observed Conerd
and Norton standing together in the basement and Norton
raising a glass pipe to his mouth to ingest what Phillips
believed was illegal drugs. He did not see Owens. Officer
Phillips then returned to his vehicle, called off the second
police unit that was en route to the scene, and drove back to
the police department, where he obtained a warrant to search
Conerd's residence. Officers recovered a box of assorted
ammunition during the search, which eventually led to
Conerd's indictment and conviction.
motion to suppress, Conerd argued that because there was
insufficient information for a reasonable officer to believe
that an emergency was occurring in his residence, Officer
Phillips's warrantless entry onto the curtilage of his
residence to peer into the basement window was not justified
under the emergency-aid exception to the warrant requirement.
The district court rejected Conerd's argument, concluding
instead that, considering the totality of the circumstances,
Officer Phillips's actions were "supported by an
objectively reasonable, articulable suspicion that an
occupant of [Conerd's] basement was threatened with
imminent, serious injury" and by a "legitimate
concern for his own safety, " and that the emergency-aid
exception thus applied.
review the district court's factual findings for clear
error and its denial of the motion to suppress de
novo. United States v. Smith, 820 F.3d 356, 359
(8th Cir. 2016). Although "warrantless searches and
seizures inside a home are presumptively unreasonable"
under the Fourth Amendment, "the warrant requirement is
subject to certain exceptions." Id. at 360. One
such exception, "whether denoted as an exception . . .
for 'community caretaking' or 'emergency aid,
'" permits a "police officer [to] enter a
residence without a warrant . . . where the officer has a
reasonable belief that an emergency exists requiring his or
her attention." Ellison v. Lesher, 796 F.3d
910, 915 (8th Cir. 2015) (discussing the exception in the
context of qualified immunity) (citations omitted), cert.
denied, 136 S.Ct. 915 (2016); see Burke v.
Sullivan, 677 F.3d 367, 371 (8th Cir. 2012)
("[O]fficers may enter a residence without a warrant
when they have 'an objectively reasonable basis for
believing that an occupant is . . . imminently threatened
with [serious injury].'" (quoting Ryburn v.
Huff, 132 S.Ct. 987, 990 (2012))); see also United
States v. Spotted Elk, 548 F.3d 641, 651 (8th Cir.
2008). Such a warrantless entry "is 'reasonable'
under the Fourth Amendment, regardless of the individual
officer's state of mind, 'as long as the
circumstances, viewed objectively, justify [the]
action.' The officer's subjective motivation is
irrelevant." Brigham City v. Stuart, 547 U.S.
398, 404 (2006) (citations omitted).
objectively, the circumstances of this case provided a
reasonable basis for Officer Phillips's warrantless entry
onto the curtilage of Conerd's residence. Phillips was
told that Conerd had assaulted Norton and was in the process
of assaulting Owens in the basement of his residence.
Phillips was aware that Owens had reported multiple domestic
assaults by Conerd at his residence over the year preceding
this incident, and Phillips himself had responded to at least
one of these domestic-assault reports. When Phillips arrived
at Conerd's residence, the only light in the house was
coming from the basement-precisely where the assault of Owens
was reportedly ongoing. Phillips was also aware that Conerd
might be in possession of a firearm and likely had a
closed-circuit camera trained on the front door of his
residence. We agree with the district court that because
these circumstances gave Phillips an objectively reasonable
basis for entering onto the curtilage of Conerd's
residence and looking through the basement window, the
warrantless search was authorized under the emergency-aid
exception to the warrant requirement. See Burke, 677
F.3d at 371. Whether Phillips was motivated primarily by
concerns for his own safety or by concerns for the safety of
Norton and Owens is irrelevant, because Phillips's
actions were reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, given
that "the circumstances, viewed objectively,
justif[ied] the action[s]." Brigham City, 547
U.S. at 404.
judgment is affirmed.
The Honorable Linda R. Reade, Chief
Judge, United States District Court for the Northern District
of Iowa, adopting the report and recommendation of the
Honorable Jon Stuart Scoles, Chief Magistrate Judge, United