. . . As conceded by Davis at oral argument, the pervasive smell of rotting flesh and the Majeskis’s statement of seeing emaciated dogs on the property created probable cause along with the exigent circumstances of the threat to animal life to permit a warrantless search of the curtilage. Thus, the exigent circumstances were a valid exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement, making Deputy Joiner’s inspection of the property valid. Once on the property, Deputy Joiner heard the whimpering of dogs from beyond the wood line on the property. This further supported his search of the curtilage of the property, even into areas beyond that which encompassed areas open to the view of the public, to verify the well-being of the dogs.
While on the property, Deputy Joiner verified the condition of the dogs and that the Majeskis had provided them with food and water. He then contacted his supervisor to report his findings, called the crime lab to document the evidence of the animal carcass found in a trash bag in the bed of a pick-up truck, and spoke with the police dispatch in an attempt to alert animal control. Both Deputy Joiner and his supervisor subsequently contacted Detective Weaver, the local animal abuse expert, to inform her of the circumstances at the property. Before Detective Weaver arrived on scene, the police shifts had changed, and Deputy Joiner had left the property, leaving no police presence on the Davis property. Once she arrived, Detective Weaver conducted a warrantless search of the property, viewing the same circumstances as Deputy Joiner. Davis asserts that Detective Weaver’s search violated his Fourth Amendment rights because the exigent circumstances had abated, eclipsing the validity of police re-entry to the property. Detective Weaver used her observations from her search of the property as well as the information relayed to her by Deputy Joiner and Davis’s neighbors to obtain the search warrant.
. . . .
Our Supreme Court made a similar holding barring warrantless re-entry of a residence by police in Middleton v. State, 714 N.E.2d 1099 (Ind. 1999). After an officer saw marijuana, rolling papers and scales in plain view while taking a tour of a home as a prospective buyer with a realtor, he attempted to radio for assistance while still in the home, but was unsuccessful. Id.at 1100. Upon exiting the home, the officer again radioed for assistance and a few minutes later, re-entered the home through the unlocked back door with the additional officers to seize the evidence. Id. The Middleton Court held that if an officer is lawfully in a residence and then leaves, re-entry is not justified without a warrant, the consent of the owner, or some other exception to the warrant requirement. Id. at 1103. Undergirding this holding is the concept that [f]or purposes of the Fourth Amendment, however, the threshold of a home is the line that law enforcement officers cannot transgress without judicial authorization. Id. at 1101.
Following this precedent, Detective Weaver’s re-entry to the curtilage of Davis’s property without a warrant, consent from the owner or in circumstances creating an exception to the warrant requirement as originally written violated the Fourth Amendment. Thus, probable cause for approval of the search warrant could not be based on Detective Weaver’s observations during her illegal search of the property. However, the probable cause affidavit also included the observations of Deputy Joiner that were relayed to Detective Weaver. Probable cause may be based on the collective information known to the law enforcement organization as a whole. Rios v. State, 762 N.E.2d 153, 163 (Ind. Ct. App. 2002) (quoting Williams v. State, 528 N.E.2d 496, 500 (Ind. Ct. App. 1988), trans. denied). As the original search of the curtilage was valid, his observations can be used to establish probable cause for the warrant.
The relevant portion of the warrant provided:
On 05/29/06, Officer Vernon Joiner of the Lake County Sheriff’s Department was dispatched to [Davis's property] in a reference to a call of animal cruelty. Officer Joiner spoke with neighbors living to the east [of the property], who advised there were numerous pit bulls located on the property that had not been fed or watered in several days. Officers Joiner and Szany went to the rear of the property to check on the status of the animals there and observed approximately 15 dogs without water, each chained to a 55 gallon drum. The officers observed that several of the dogs were emaciated and appeared to be in distress. Several of the dogs had injuries to their bodies consistent with having been involved in a dog fighting contest. Officers also observed several dead and decaying pit bull carcasses located in the back of a tan Chevy pickup truck in front of the garage. Through an opened door into the reddish-colored garage located on the property, officers also observed equipment commonly used in training fighting dogs, such as a treadmill, a head-to-head box, weights, chains and leases [sic] used to prepare dogs for fighting.
While the number of carcasses and the observation of weights and chains are not supported by Deputy Joiner’s testimony, the vast majority of this section is accurate as to Deputy Joiner’s observations. While only one dog carcass was found on the property, one dead dog is enough to raise concern about the activities on a property where numerous infirm dogs are kept. This information combined with information provided to Detective Weaver in her interviews with neighbors of Davis sufficiently establishes probable cause for the search of the premises, including the structures thereon for evidence of dog fighting and animal cruelty. Both neighbors observed instances where a large number of vehicles would converge on the Davis property at one time and men, along with some pit bulls, would go into the white metal garage and emerge a couple of hours later. During one of these gatherings, a neighbor observed a man carrying a dog followed by a man carrying a little black bag. They went from the white pole barn to the red shed and then later returned to the white pole barn.
Therefore, because there was sufficient legally obtained evidence in the affidavit of probable cause to support the issuance of a search warrant, the trial court did not abuse its discretion on this basis in admitting the evidence obtained in the warrant-based search of the Davis property.
MATHIAS, J., and BARNES, J., concur.