Pipe Bomb Found in Mesquite Man's Home During Warrantless Search Inadmissible
Back in 2009, Michael Scott Page of Mesquite was awaiting trial on an aggravated assault charge. He was reportedly depressed, anxious and eager to get it all over with, but delay after delay pushed his trial back. He allegedly told a longtime friend of his that he felt like "blowing things up" -- perhaps even the courthouse.
His friend told the Mesquite Police about his disturbing statements, but added that she figured he was just blowing off steam. The police felt differently, and used his statements to get his bond declared insufficient. A warrant was issued for Page's arrest. On September 25, 2009, Mesquite Police rang the doorbell to Page's home. He was taken to the ground and cuffed. Barefooted, he asked one of the officers to get his shoes. He walked down a hallway, into Page's bedrooms, noticed a shotgun and a sword, and grabbed the shoes. The officer told the others what he'd seen. None of it, he added, looked illegal.
Page was taken to jail, and a pair of detectives arrived at his home. They called their sergeant and told him about the weapons the officer had seen. Based on some of the crazy stuff Page said to his friend, the sergeant allegedly told the investigators to collect the weapons for safekeeping. As the investigators sniffed around, they found a veritable cache: one AR-15 rifle, two AK-47s, two shotguns and a shitload of ammo, according to the incident narrative. But that wasn't everything.
The investigators claim a dresser drawer was partially open, and inside they glimpsed a galvanized steel tube with screw-cap ends. They dropped what they were doing and called for a search warrant. "In the bottom drawer investigators observed a metal pipe that appeared to be threaded at both ends with metal caps and a clear plastic bag containing material that could be used as a fuse," the warrant read.
Bomb techs partially detonated the device, setting off a loud bang, a flash and a small carpet fire. Page was now charged with possession of an explosive device.
At trial, Page sought to suppress the evidence, arguing that the warrant was based on an illegal search of his home. The trial court disagreed, and denied his motion. Page was convicted. But on appeal, he attacked the warrantless search of his home. Lawyers for the state countered by claiming the sweep was performed to protect the officers and the community.
Yet as the Court of Appeals for the 5th District of Texas sees it, the sweep wasn't performed until after Page had already been cuffed and taken to jail. Aside from the pipe bomb they hadn't yet found, where was the immediate danger that prompted the search?
"Because [Page] had been removed from the house and was en route to jail before the officers began searching his house, there is clearly no evidence to show [Page] was in distress, needed assistance, or presented a danger to himself or others. Applying these factors, we conclude the officers' exercise of their community caretaking function was not reasonable," the justices wrote.
Now prosecutors must go back to the drawing board and figure out how to prosecute this guy for possessing a pipe bomb ... without the pipe bomb.