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Houston: ‘Can’t rush justice’

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Rocky accuses sister of malicious intent, bias

By Damon Lawrence

Leon Houston, representing himself at a recent hearing at the federal courthouse in Knoxville, frustrated the judge with his pace of questioning.
Leon Houston faces one count of possessing firearms while being an unlawful user of a controlled substance.  His brother, Rocky, is charged with 14 counts of being a felon in possession of firearms.
Both were arrested after authorities secretly had a camera installed on a public utility pole and watched them on their property.
The brothers want to throw out any evidence related to the secret videos.
At the hearing, Houston questioned Jason Dobbs, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, who testified that Volunteer Energy Cooperative installed the pole camera.
Dobbs was the only witness to testify during the hearing, which lasted three-and-a-half hours.
U.S. Magistrate C. Clifford Shirley Jr. expressed frustration by the slow pace of Leon Houston’s questioning.
“You can’t rush justice,” Houston countered.
“In the time you’ve taken, people could have questioned a dozen witnesses,” Shirley responded.
Last year, agents began investigating if Rocky Houston, a convicted felon, was in possession of firearms.
Volunteer Energy provides electric service South of the River.
Dobbs said he and members of the Roane County Sheriff’s Office went to the power provider and requested it install the camera.
“The decision was made that was the route the investigation was going to go at that time,” Dobbs said.
He said the utility pole where it was located was on a public-right-of-way on Dogtown Road.
“The primary purpose of the camera was to investigate possession of firearms by Rocky Houston,” Dobbs said.
According to a complaint filed by the government, Rocky Houston was observed with firearms and target shooting.
Dobbs said the camera was primarily monitored during the daytime and agents never used the camera to view inside windows.
The Houstons are seeking to have the pole camera footage suppressed, arguing it was illegally obtained because agents didn’t have a warrant.
They cite a Sixth Circuit Court opinion in a case known as United States vs. Anderson-Bagshaw.  
“We confess some misgivings about a rule that would allow the government to conduct long-term video surveillance of a person’s backyard without a warrant,” the Sixth Circuit said in the Anderson-Bagshaw opinion.
In the case of the Houstons, the camera was installed on Oct. 9, 2012.
Law enforcement sought and received a search warrant for the pole camera when the Anderson-Bagshaw opinion was issued on Dec. 19, 2012.
Assistant United States Attorney David Jennings said that was done out of an abundance of caution.
Jennings also said the Sixth Circuit opinion was considered dicta, which are statements of opinion or beliefs considered authoritative but not binding.    
As of Tuesday morning, Shirley had yet to rule on the Houstons’ motion to suppress the video.
He did issue an order last week denying Leon Houston’s motion to have another bond hearing.
Rocky Houston has accused his sister, Lisa Burris, of “bias and malicious intent,” and asked Shirley to suppress her statement. That motion was denied.
“The defendant argues that Lisa Burris is biased against him and is motivated to act to his detriment out of a desire to gain control of his property,” Shirley wrote. “The bias or motivation of a witness alone is not a basis for excluding relevant evidence.”