Submitted: May 30, 2014
Daniel B. McBride, Esquire, Deputy Attorney General, Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware, for the State of Delaware.
Sean A. Motoyoshi, Esquire, Assistant Public Defender, Office of the Public Defender, Wilmington, Delaware, for Defendant Michael Parks.
Paul R. Wallace, Judge
Defendant Michael Parks ("Parks") was arrested on July 28, 2013 for a series of burglaries committed in New Castle County and in New Castle City beginning on the 4th of July. Police participating in a surveillance operation covering the neighborhoods recently hit by these burglaries observed Parks riding a bicycle – the mode of transportation that police believed the burglar was using – at approximately 1:30 a.m. – the dead-of-night hour at which the previous burglaries had occurred. Parks rode away from a surveillance officer whom he had spotted, rode through a closed county park, and rode onto a recreation trail known as the Greenway Trail – the route of travel and source of ingress points the police had deduced the burglar was using to get to the victimized neighborhoods. While on the Greenway Trail, surveilling undercover officers detained Parks. He was in possession of a lady's purse that had been taken that night from a burglarized home near where the first officer had seen him. Parks has been charged with eleven counts stemming from multiple burglaries. He asks this Court to grant his motion to suppress evidence the police obtained during his detention on Greenway Trail and clothing that was seized later at the police station. For the reasons set forth below, his motion is GRANTED as it relates to his clothing seized while in police custody, and DENIED as to other evidence and any statements obtained following the investigative stop.
II. Factual and Procedural Background
The Greenway Trail is an off-road recreational trail facility that will eventually connect the cities of Wilmington and New Castle. The completed lower end runs from around Eighth Street in New Castle City northward to Boulden Boulevard in an unincorporated area of New Castle County. During July of 2013, a spate of residential burglaries struck neighborhoods adjoining that lower end of the trail. The crimes concentrated in two clusters spanning two police jurisdictions: New Castle County ("County Police") and New Castle City ("City Police").
Between July 4 and July 25, 2013, there were multiple home burglaries in the adjoining neighborhoods of Wilmington Manor Gardens and Jefferson Farms (collectively the "County burglaries"). Between July 6 and July 20, 2013 there were twice as many home burglaries reported in the eastern portion of New Castle City (collectively the "New Castle City burglaries").
Through the investigative efforts of the two police departments' detectives, it was determined that the many burglaries were likely related. When the City Police "flooded their jurisdiction with extra police vehicles, " the New Castle City burglaries abated while the County burglaries increased. And the investigators derived numerous similarities in the burglaries. Each burglary occurred within the same time frame, between 11:00 p.m. and roughly 5:00 a.m.;  in each burglary, the homeowners were home when the incursion occurred; in each burglary similar items were stolen—purses, wallets, and checkbooks.
The burglaries also had another key similarity: proximity to the Greenway Trail. The northern end of this stretch divides the neighborhoods of Wilmington Manor Gardens and Jefferson Farms, running near many of the homes that were burglarized. Its southern end terminates inside the city limits, just blocks from the locations of many of the New Castle City burglaries.
Recognizing the similarities between the County burglaries and the New Castle City burglaries, the County and City Police increased vehicular patrols in the area yet were unsuccessful in identifying a suspect. This led the police to deduce that the perpetrator was traveling on foot or by bicycle using the Greenway Trail as the corridor and ingress point to the victim neighborhoods. In turn, on July 25, 2013, they began nightly surveillance operations in the neighborhoods connected to the Greenway Trial and on the Greenway Trial itself. On July 28, 2013, County Police Sergeant Astfalk, an officer participating in the surveillance, was parked in an undercover car at an intersection in Wilmington Manor Gardens. Sergeant Astfalk observed a man, later identified as Defendant Michael Parks, riding a beach-cruiser style bicycle traveling quickly on Vassar Avenue (a street that had already been struck twice with burglaries) at approximately 1:30 a.m. Sergeant Astfalk further observed that the bicycle that Parks was riding did not have a head lamp.
Parks apparently noticed Sergeant Astfalk's vehicle, which was parked on the street with its exterior lights on. When he did, Parks changed direction and rode in circles in the street while watching Sergeant Astfalk's vehicle. Parks then traveled northbound on Notre Dame Avenue and Sergeant Astfalk began to follow about one-half block behind. Parks then turned right into the county parkland bordering Wilmington Manor Gardens. Sergeant Astfalk last observed Parks riding in the park toward the Greenway Trail. The sergeant reported this information via radio to the other officers in the area, including the surveilling officers positioned on the Greenway Trail.
County Police Detective Eckerd was on the surveillance team, positioned on foot on the Greenway Trail, and heard Sergeant Astfalk's radio transmissions.Detective Eckerd initially saw Parks leaving the closed parkland a couple of minutes after Sergeant Astfalk last reported seeing him. Parks was first walking beside the bicycle and then riding the bike towards Detective Eckerd's position.It was very dark on the Greenway Trail at this time, but Detective Eckerd was wearing night vision goggles and therefore was able to clearly see Parks's actions. When Parks was roughly ten feet from Detective Eckerd's position, Detective Eckerd turned on his flashlight and announced himself. Parks screamed and jumped or fell off of his bicycle. The bike continued to roll past Detective Eckerd and his surveillance partner riderless, crashing nearby. Parks seemed "in total shock" to have encountered the police ...