Back in July 2011, Riverside police announced one of the biggest drug busts in the history of the village. But after a ruling by the Illinois Court of Appeals earlier this year, the arrest will remain just another blip on the screen, and the man initially charged with running a heroin manufacturing operation out of an Ogden Avenue apartment likely won’t end up back in jail.
On March 31, 2015, the Illinois Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that Riverside police violated the defendant’s constitutional rights in obtaining a warrant to search his apartment.
Police Chief Thomas Weitzel said his department was notified of the appellate ruling in mid-May.
“It’s dead,” Weitzel said of the case. “There will be no appeal.”
The man charged with running the drug operation, Forest Park resident Miltron Brown, 40, had been charged with four Class X felonies and faced up to 30 years in state prison.
“It’s very disappointing,” Weitzel said. “His own attorney admitted that if he was convicted, he was facing substantial prison time. He’d be going away for in excess of 10 years.”
Police had been getting complaints from neighbors about suspicious activity near the apartment, which Brown had rented for more than a month. On July 25, 2011 a Riverside police officer doing surveillance pulled over Brown after learning his driver’s license was suspended.
During that traffic stop, police reported finding illegal drugs inside Brown’s car and arrested him. Police also called in the services of a drug-sniffing dog and then went into the common area of the apartment building. Outside the door to Brown’s apartment, the dog alerted police to the presence of drugs.
Based on that information, police obtained a search warrant and raided Brown’s apartment, where they found evidence that Brown had been cutting up two kilos of heroin, diluting it with an over-the-counter sleep aid, in the weeks prior to his arrest.
“There was cocaine and heroin blowing all over the place,” Weitzel said at the time. “Everything was coated in heroin.”
Police, wearing masks to protect them from the drugs, ended up collecting more than 600 grams of heroin, two empty 1-kilo packages and 72 boxes of a sleep aid called Dormin. The heroin recovered had a street value of $250,000, police said. They also reported recovering a loaded handgun, which was found on the floor of the apartment, next to a table that served as a work area.
But all of that evidence was seized illegally, the courts ruled because police had no right to enter the common area of the apartment building. The judges based their ruling largely on a case called Florida vs. Jardines, which states, “If there is no probable cause to support the warrant, then police officers cannot use good faith to rely upon the warrant.”
The Florida Supreme Court made its ruling on April 2011 and refused to rehear the case in July 2011, the same month Brown was arrested in Riverside. The Jardines case made its way all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the Florida court’s ruling in 2013.
Riverside police argued that Jardines was not the settled law of the land when Brown was arrested and the search warrant obtained and that the “good-faith exception” for obtaining a warrant should have applied.
But the Illinois Court of Appeals said there was no precedent in Illinois for allowing a drug-sniffing dog to enter a private common area of a residence without a warrant.
Still, Weitzel wondered how his officers were supposed to predict how the U.S. Supreme Court would rule in 2013 when the search warrant was granted in 2011. Moreover, said Weitzel, both the state’s attorney and a Cook County judge had to sign the search warrant before it could be executed.
“We were acting in good faith based on the law at the time,” Weitzel said. “I still, to this day, don’t understand the ruling.”
Meanwhile, the drug possession charges against Brown related to the initial traffic stop have not been dropped, according to a spokesman for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.
However, the last time the matter was before a circuit court judge was April 14, 2014, and there doesn’t appear to be a future date planned. Brown was held at Cook County Jail from the time of his arrest until April 23, 2013.
Two weeks prior to that day, his bond was lowered and Brown was able to post bail. He’s been free on bond since that time.