Police officers received a 911 call indicating that an unidentified resident of the YMCA reported that a black man was carrying a gun in Seattle, Washington. This is not a criminal act in the state of Washington. The officers saw Brown, who was walking, and they activated their lights and pursued him. Brown ran for about a block before stopping when the officers drew their weapons on him. The officers handcuffed Brown and frisked him, and found a firearm in his waistband as well as drugs. Brown sought to have the evidence excluded.
The court noted that this neighborhood was not a high crime area and the only fact that could be articulated in support of the seizure was that Brown fled when the officers first approached. The report was made by an anonymous person with no indicia of reliability and the activity reported was not presumptively unlawful. The court held that avoiding the officers, and nothing more, could not create a reasonable suspicion that Brown was engaged in criminal activity. The court noted: “At best, the officers had nothing more than an unsupported hunch of wrongdoing.”
Editor’s Note: Significant changes in “open carry” and “concealed carry” laws over the last 20 years have led to jurisdictions where people can (and often do) lawfully carry firearms in public areas. Back in 1963 when Detective McFadden conducted the now famous “stop and frisk” on Terry, Chilton and Katz, it was illegal to carry firearms concealed in Cleveland. This was very typical in that day and age. But in many jurisdictions today, just because someone is carrying a firearm doesn’t necessarily give rise to presumption of unlawful conduct like it might have in the past. This presents a heightened risks to law enforcement officers because the Fourth Amendment does not allow for a seizure (stop) or a search (frisk) based on a hunch.
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