State v. Dontae Hathaway (2015)

Officer James Armstrong of the Atlantic City Police Department testified that, on March 28, 2012, while providing additional security at the Taj Mahal, he was called to the casino security podium. Several security officers conveyed that an unidentified hotel patron, who was no longer present at the podium, had reported that two black males robbed him at gunpoint in a room on the 70th floor.

 

Officer Armstrong did not believe that he had time to walk to the surveillance department and review footage from the alleged robbery. Instead, he asked the security team to have the department confirm the patron’s report. While awaiting a response, he requested assistance from the police department’s special weapons and tactics (SWAT) team. About five minutes later, a four-member SWAT team arrived, and Officer Armstrong was told that video footage showed the unidentified patron on an elevator with a white male, a black male, and two females. The elevator stopped on the 70th floor, the five individuals proceeded to Room 7023, and the unidentified patron later left in what appeared to be a panicked state. Concerned that there could be an armed gunman in the casino or barricaded in the room, possibly with hostages or victims, Officer Armstrong, the SWAT team, and casino security officers set themselves up outside Room 7023. When calls to the room, via telephone and orally through the slightly open door, went unanswered, the officers entered with guns drawn. They found neither victims nor a gunman. However, an open duffel bag was on a cabinet by the bed, in which an automatic black Beretta handgun was readily visible. Security determined that the room was registered to defendant, whose name was found on documents inside the bag.

 

Viewing the events as they appeared to an objectively reasonable police officer, and based on the evidence presented by the State at the suppression hearing, the police acted within the scope of the emergency-aid exception to the warrant requirement, and the gun should not have been suppressed.