BEAUMONT, Texas — A Jefferson County judge has ruled to suppress evidence gathered in a search of a Port Arthur murder suspect's residence and a videotape of some of his interrogation.
Judge Raquel West ruled Wednesday in 252nd District Court that the search of Diante Malik Burrell’s Port Arthur residence as well as a body-camera recording some of his interrogation could be suppressed.
Burrell is charged in the 2017 shooting death of Jevonte Jack, 20, at the Avery Trace Apartments in Port Arthur.
Burrell has claimed in the past that he had shot Jack in self-defense.
Port Arthur Police officers, acting on an anonymous tip that Burrell and two others were involved in the murder, visited his home.
Detectives and officers then initiated a “knock and talk” to ask if anyone at the home would talk about the murder with them.
A detective and another officer went to the backdoor to knock but when they approached the backdoor they said they saw Burrell through the storm door holding a gun.
Officers testified that Burrell then ran through the house and out the front door where he was pursued by officers and eventually arrested.
Officers testified they then entered the home without a warrant to make sure no other suspects were inside.
RULING | Read Judge West's ruling
Once the home was cleared officers and evidence techs spent about 45 minutes searching for guns and other evidence.
Judge West ruled that in going to the backdoor without a warrant police actually “trespassed in violation of the Fourth Amendment as well as established case law.”
In the ruling West explained that the Fourth Amendment and case law hold that an officer without a warrant has the right to approach a home and knock “no more than any private citizen might do.”
West also explained in the ruling that case law also holds that typically any visitor is permitted to “approach the home by the front path, knock promptly, wait briefly to be received, and then (absent an invitation to linger) leave.”
Because the officers approach to the back door was illegal the following warrantless search of the home was also illegal and all evidence collected during the search will be suppressed according to the ruling.
Although West’s ruling that the approach to the backdoor was illegal and caused the search to be suppressed she also noted that the search would still have been illegal because a warrant was not obtained.
West wrote in the ruling that after Burrell ran from the home with a gun it was legal for officers to enter and clear the house of any other potential suspects and keep any evidence from being destroyed.
She noted that officers then continued to search for evidence and then used evidence they found during that illegal search as probable cause to later obtain a search warrant for the home.
Body cam video and testimony showed that officers were searching in places that no person could have hidden in according to the ruling.
In the issue of the video Burrell was interviewed extensively at the Port Arthur Police Department and when they took him outside for a smoke break they continued to interview him.
West said in the ruling that the Code of Criminal Procedure requires that any statement made by an in-custody defendant be electronically recorded.
The first part or Burrell’s interview was properly recorded according to the ruling but the portion of the interview during and after Burrell’s smoke break was not according to West’s ruling.
The interview during the smoke break and after was recorded with a body cam that did not provide an accurate recording that could be heard by the defense according to West’s ruling.