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United States v. Stirling

United States District Court, D. Oregon

January 7, 2020


          BILLY J. WILLIAMS United States Attorney BYRON G. CHATFIELD SUZANNE A. MILES Assistant United States Attorneys for Plaintiff

          LISA HAY Federal Public Defender JESSICA GREENLICK SNYDER Assistant Federal Public Defender Attorneys for Defendant



         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant John Philip Stirling's Motion (#37) to Dismiss. For the reasons summarized below and stated on the record during oral argument on December 18, 2019, the Court DENIES Defendant's Motion to Dismiss.


         The following facts are taken from the parties' filings related to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss.

         On April 9, 2019, a Coast Guard vessel (the cutter Alert) made visual contact with a ship (the Mandalay) piloted by Defendant John Phillip Stirling. The Mandalay was sailing on the high seas, and it had a hull marking naming Seattle as its home port. It was not, however, flying a flag and did not have any visible registration numbers.

         A Coast Guard boarding team approached alongside the Mandalay, turned on its light and siren, and used a loudspeaker to demand contact with the Mandalay's crew. The team announced: "This is the United States Coast Guard. Come out with your hands in the air." No one complied. The boarding team then contacted the Mandalay through VHF Marine radio, and Defendant responded. Coast Guard Officer Caitlin Piker told Defendant to come to the deck of the Mandalay, but Defendant stated he could not walk due to the weather conditions and stated he was pumping the bilge. Officer Piker asked Defendant for his ship's nationality. Defendant claimed Canadian nationality for the boat and himself.[1]

         Because Defendant's nationality claim conflicted with the Mandalay's hull marking that named Seattle as its home port, the Coast Guard authorized the boarding team to board and to attempt to determine the vessel's nationality. The boarding team alerted Defendant of its intent to board and asked him to reposition the Mandalay to allow safe access. Defendant did not respond and did not move the ship.

         Ultimately Coast Guard officers boarded the Mandalay. They announced their presence, but Defendant[2] remained below deck. The boarding team knocked on the hatch to the main cabin, announced their presence again, and opened the hatch. They saw Defendant lying on the floor of the main cabin. At some point Defendant got up and tried to open a drawer. Defendant stated he was looking for the Mandalay's documentation.

         Officer Piker asked Defendant to sit in a seat while the boarding team conducted a safety sweep. Officer Piker then began questioning Defendant to determine the vessel's nationality. According to the government, Defendant "was slurring his speech[, ] . . . had a difficult time answering the questions, [and was] getting more sluggish and unresponsive to questions." At one point during the interview the boat rolled and Defendant fell off his seat onto the deck. Defendant said he had not hurt himself, but he stayed on the floor and appeared to fall asleep. After the boarding team tried unsuccessfully to rouse Defendant, they called in a medic.

         The medic diagnosed Defendant with a drug overdose and gave him NARCAN. The medic, however, was unable to revive Defendant and, therefore, ordered him to be taken back to the Alert for further treatment. Defendant was ultimately airlifted to a hospital in Astoria, Oregon.

         The boarding team remained on the Mandalay to look for a Hull Identification Number (HIN) and/or registration documents. The medic asked the team also to look for information identifying Defendant and anything that might explain his condition. The boarding team found a wallet with Defendant's Canadian driver's license, cards with information "relating to a hospital and diabetes," and a Ziploc bag containing a green leafy substance.

         At some point the boarding team saw and inspected almost 30 jugs of yellow-tinted liquid that were stored on both sides of the Mandalay's outer deck. An ion scan swab and a test with a Narcotics Identification Kit (NIK) identified the liquid in the jugs as methamphetamine.

         Eventually the Mandalay was towed to Portland, Oregon, and was searched pursuant to a warrant. The search revealed the Mandalay was carrying a ...

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