Can’t Find the Suspect? Just Cuff Everyone!

Because, of course, the ends justify the means.

Via ABC News:  Police Stop, Handcuff Every Adult at Intersection in Search for Bank Robber

Police in Aurora, Colo., searching for suspected bank robbers stopped every car at an intersection, handcuffed all the adults and searched the cars, one of which they believed was carrying the suspect.

Police said they had received what they called a “reliable” tip that the culprit in an armed robbery at a Wells Fargo bank committed earlier was stopped at the red light.

“We didn’t have a description, didn’t know race or gender or anything, so a split-second decision was made to stop all the cars at that intersection, and search for the armed robber,” Aurora police Officer Frank Fania told ABC News.

Officers barricaded the area, halting 19 cars.

[…]

“Most of the adults were handcuffed, then were told what was going on and were asked for permission to search the car,” Fania said. “They all granted permission, and once nothing was found in their cars, they were un-handcuffed.”

The search lasted between an hour and a half and two hours, and it wasn’t until the final car was searched that police apprehended the suspect.

According to the local ABC affiliate:

“Cops came in from every direction and just threw their car in front of my car,” said Sonya Romero, who was one of the drivers handcuffed. “We all got cuffed until they figured out who did what.”

Ben Barker watched the ordeal and told 7NEWS police were armed with shot guns and rifles.

“We didn’t know if we were in the line of fire or what the hell was happening,” Romero said.

[…]

The other drivers were then released. The whole ordeal lasted about two hours.

The police eventually found the suspect with two loaded guns in his car.

However, the success of the operation does not make it acceptable.  Indeed, this is an egregious abuse of police power.

To have at least 18-25 people (and likely quite a few more than that) detained (and indeed, handcuffed) because they happened to be an at intersection where they might have been (they didn’t know for sure until they found the person) a person suspected of a crime in the area is an action out of an authoritarian regime, not a system wherein citizens are presumed innocent and have protections against random searches.

Based on the above account (and the video at the link), the police in question first handcuffed the persons present and then asked permission to search the cars.  This is a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment, not to mention what clearly has to be unlawful detention.

Granted, such actions make police work easier.  What?  Evidence of a possible drug dealer in that subdivision over there?  Well, let’s just occupy the place, cuff everyone and ask if we can search their houses!

This is an utterly unacceptable methodology, and the fact that Officer Fania described it thusly is disturbing:

“It’s hard to say what normal is in a situation like this when you haven’t dealt with a situation like this,” Fania said. “The result of the whole ordeal is that it paid off. We have arrested and charged a suspect.”

Because, of course, the ends justify the means.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Well, they were in an area of known malefactors so they were up to no good. They deserved it. If they had nothing to hide then what did they have to worry about?

    Good thing there were no drones in the area. Might have been a lot of dead people if Obama had made the decision.

  2. PD Shaw says:

    Its not really an authoritian regime when cops violate the law and then are succesfully sued for doing so.

    The police eventually found the suspect with two loaded guns in his car.

    Depending on how they found them, the suspects might walk.

  3. PogueMahone says:

    I’ll give 10 to 1 that says the police will not suffer any consequences resulting from this action.

    And 5 to 1 that says not only will they not suffer any consequences, but someone will get promoted or awarded a medal, or both.

    Any takers?

    Bueller? … Bueller?…

  4. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Mmm, I’m not sure I agree with the legal analysis here.

    Obviously this was not a “random” stop and search. They targeted a specific intersection and further targeted occupants of vehicles based upon a specific tip. A “random” search would have been very, very different.

    For decades the police have been allowed under the federal Constitution to engage in stops and frisks. For decades the “exigent circumstances” doctrine has allowed greater leeway for police in various contexts, including stops, searches and related matters. For decades there has been additional leeway given to the police in connection with vehicular stops and searches, for the simple and obvious reason that exigent circumstances always are afoot.

    Granted, this particular scenario is problematic because they didn’t have reasonable suspicion against any one person. Definitely that’s a wild card in this legal deck.

    The large-scale cuffing before asking for permission to search obviously is a major problem. Putting aside for a moment the legal niceties, however, sometimes you have to break eggs when making omelettes. There had just been an armed bank robbery. Had one of those cops taken a shotgun blast to the chest it would have been too late for leftists to be sad about it at that night’s cocktail parties.

    Overall I’d say the police were within legal boundaries until such time as they began to cuff people without any individualized suspicion, at which point I’d conclude they crossed the line. Again, legally speaking. Practically speaking, however, they did a good thing. Certainly what happened here is not grounds for high dudgeon mode.

  5. JKB says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    Sorry but you are way off base. They unreasonably detained the individuals. They arrested the individuals without probable cause. They coerced searches, of individuals who they had placed in custody, who had no reasonable expectation that they were free to leave. Did they read these people their Miranda warning?

    As this was a department decision, not individual officers, the department and city are the ones to pay.

    “Practically speaking, however, they did a good thing. ”

    Well, practically speaking, they should lock everyone up and let the judge sort it out. Constitutionally speaking, that is not allowed even if it means saving officer OT.

    As it is, I hope they have evidence that isn’t tied to these searches because, the guns are probably going to be thrown out.

  6. JKB says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: “… for the simple and obvious reason that exigent circumstances always are afoot.”

    If that be the case, then there are no Constitutional rights given the exigent circumstances are the norm. But you see, they didn’t have probable cause to do anything other than set up a roadblock and have short conversations with the drivers before letting them continue their activities unmolested.

  7. Ben Wolf says:

    @JKB: You surprise me. One day you make ludicrous and objectively false assertions, and the next a cogent and proper analysis in defense of constitutional liberties. You’re more complicated than I’ve given you credit for, I’ll give you that.

  8. PD Shaw says:

    @PogueMahone: What I think will happen, assuming the story is roughly true:

    Nearly every person detained will sue the PD for false arrest and constitutional violations, and the city will attempt to settle these quickly and confidentially (in part to avoid paying the plaintiff attorney”s mounting attorney fees and obstructive discovery)

    If the suspect was found in the manner suggested here (arrests without probable cause, vehicular search without Miranda), the evidence and the fruit of the poisonous search will be thrown out.

    If the city ends up footing a big legal bill and gets no benefit from the exercise, I believe the local political pressure will mount until a scapegoat is thrown out. If the scapegoat is protected by a union contract, the scapegoat will probably be put on several months of paid leave.

  9. mantis says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    Putting aside for a moment the legal niceties, however, sometimes you have to break eggs when making omelettes.

    So if one person breaks the law we are all eggs that can be broken so the omelette of an arrest can be made?

    Spoken like a true dictator, Nicky.

  10. Franklin says:

    I’m not a lawyer so I’m not going to argue the Constitutionality here. But there are (at least) two issues here. One is the number of people they stopped (as in Steven’s example, can I just stop everyone in a subdivision because I’m pretty sure one of them is bad?). Two is the manner in which they were stopped (I think that stopping for questioning is a bit different than an arrest, which handcuffing seems to qualify as).

    But these issues are intermingled because the police may not have had the resources to make sure nobody out of 25+ people walked away from the area while they were questioning. So they apparently felt like they had to handcuff everyone. I guess I’m just curious- surely they cover a situation like this in police school?

  11. al-Ameda says:

    This isn’t very far from those unannounced DUI checkpoint stops, yet ….

    “We didn’t have a description, didn’t know race or gender or anything, so a split-second decision was made to stop all the cars at that intersection, and search for the armed robber,”

    Why then couldn’t the police, upon the commission of any serious crime – a bank robbery, a convenience store hold-up, a reported child abduction, etc. – impose a city wide stop and search program?

  12. Ben Wolf says:

    @al-Ameda:

    Why then couldn’t the police, upon the commission of any serious crime – a bank robbery, a convenience store hold-up, a reported child abduction, etc. – impose a city wide stop and search program?

    Do you really think this isn’t coming?

  13. Mikey says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    For decades the police have been allowed under the federal Constitution to engage in stops and frisks. For decades the “exigent circumstances” doctrine has allowed greater leeway for police in various contexts, including stops, searches and related matters.

    This wasn’t a “stop and frisk,” this was a detention of a group of people for whom there was no particularized suspicion, and for nearly two hours. There wasn’t a simple frisk, there was the warrantless search of 19 vehicles. The cops say the occupants gave consent, but after they were cuffed, which would likely be seen in court as a coerced consent and therefore not valid. Even under “exigent circumstances,” it’s way over the Constitutional line.

  14. The police eventually found the suspect with two loaded guns in his car.

    He did not, however, have the money that was stolen from the bank. Which leads me to wonder whether the suspect actually had anything to do with the bank robbery, or if the police realized that after the mess they created, they were gonna be in deep trouble if they didn’t arrest somebody.

  15. PogueMahone says:

    @PD Shaw:

    I disagree.

    Nearly every person detained will sue the PD for false arrest and constitutional violations, and the city will attempt to settle these quickly and confidentially…

    Probably not. Most likely, if any lawsuits are brought, then a judge will throw them out citing “qualified immunity.”

    If the scapegoat is protected by a union contract, the scapegoat will probably be put on several months of paid leave.

    Here, I agree. Assuming that there is some kind of political fallout, and a scapegoat must be made, then it is conceivable that the punishment would be limited to paid leave.

    However, I don’t consider paid leave consistent with suffering a consequence.

    I consider it a vacation.

    Cheers.

  16. Eric says:

    @Sean Paul Kelley:

    Well, they were in an area of known malefactors so they were up to no good. They deserved it. If they had nothing to hide then what did they have to worry about?

    That doesn’t justify a clearly unlawful act on the police’s part. Even still, the people have rights and there are procedures as to what police can and cannot do. By you saying that they have nothing to hide, you are letting the police have a lot more authority and power to commit actions that would violate people’s rights. Police can’t just come into people’s homes and search their stuff without a warrant, even if the homeowner has nothing to hide.

    And then you criticize Obama with the whole drone statement. Sounds a little hypocritical to me.

  17. @Eric:

    I think your sarcasm detector needs adjusting.

  18. al-Ameda says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    Do you really think this isn’t coming?

    It might be. I wouldn’t even want to guess how this Supreme Court would weigh in on that.

  19. Eric says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Is it really sarcastic? Gosh dammit I really can’t tell the difference on the internet.

  20. ernieyeball says:

    Per ABC News:

    …and it wasn’t until the final car was searched that police apprehended the suspect.

    If they had kept on searching after a suspect was apprehended they might have actually violated some of Mr. Tsar’s “legal niceties”. We just can’t have that.

  21. @Eric:

    I’m pretty sure he was sarcastically referencing the new administration policy that all “miltary-aged” males in strike zones are automatically militants and thus cannot be considered collateral damage even if we have no reason to believe they were involved in terrorism.

  22. dennis says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    Obviously, you have no clue what you’re talking about.

  23. dennis says:

    @Franklin:

    They most certainly do, Franklin. It’s called The Fourth Amendment and the Rules of Search and Seizure. Probable Cause that THAT particular person is reasonably believed to be committing/has committed a crime is the standard. There’s no way the PD can justify the action and, as PD Shaw said above, the suspect may very well walk.

  24. WR says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: They’re not breaking eggs and they’re not making omelettes. They are illegally detaining citizens with no probable cause.

    I can see how you might get the two things confused. Here’s a hint — there’s nothing in the Constitution that defines the state’s abilities in omelette making.

  25. Matt says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Sadly I believe you’re closer to the truth then I’d ever hope for.

  26. Sort of gives a new spin to, “Round up the usual suspects.” Now we are all the usual suspects.

    Having spent nine years in law enforcement agencies (although not as an officer, as a staffer), I can tell you that if a cop ever asks you permission to search your property, always say no.

  27. Racehorse says:

    I hope Mayor Bloomberg doesn’t see this. He will have the NYC police use that as a tactic to arrest people who have large soft drinks!