Gun calls and investigative detention

Eighth Circuit affirms police detention including handcuffing and pointing guns at suspects


During the afternoon of April 24, 2016, the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Police dispatcher received a 911 call from a concerned citizen. The caller reported that three Black males who live at the corner of Higley Avenue and Wellington Street were outside arguing and that one of them displayed a gun. She described the man with the gun as heavy set wearing a white T-shirt. She described a second person as a male wearing all-blue clothing. No description was given for the third individual.

A responding officer briefly spoke with the complainant upon arrival. She told him that someone had gone around the corner wearing a white shirt and blue pants. Officer Richardson turned the corner in his police cruiser and saw two Black males walking away from his direction. One was dressed in a blue shirt and blue pants. The other wore a red shirt and black pants.

Richardson exited his vehicle and ordered both men (Irvin and Bates) to stop. The men stopped and turned around. [1] Bates told Richardson that they had done nothing wrong. Richardson drew his pistol, pointed it at them and ordered both to get on the ground. At that time, Officer Jupin arrived, drew his pistol and pointed it at the men. Both men slowly responded and were subsequently handcuffed while lying face down on the ground. They each were frisked, and no weapons were found.

Shortly thereafter other officers arrived, which gave officer Jupin an opportunity to conduct a brief investigation. He located a witness to the original incident that precipitated the 911 call. The witness said that neither Irvin nor Bates were involved. Jupin returned to the stop location, uncuffed both men and told them they were free to leave. The entire stop took approximately 12-13 minutes.

The lawsuit

Irvin and Bates sued the involved officers and the City pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging multiple violations of the Fourth Amendment. They claimed that the officers lacked reasonable suspicion to stop them initially. Moreover, they argued that the officers turned an unlawful detention into an illegal arrest without probable cause by pointing guns, handcuffing them and detaining them for 12-13 minutes while they conducted their investigation. In addition, they alleged that the city failed to properly train its officers on important Fourth Amendment principles. The Federal District Court ruled in favor of the officers and Irvin and Bates filed an appeal.

The appeal and decision of the Eighth Circuit [2]

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision and ruled in favor of the defendant officers and the city. [3] The court agreed with the lower court that the officers had reasonable suspicion to stop and detain Irvin and Bates. Both men were observed in close proximity to the location identified by the original caller as the place where a gun was openly displayed. Further, they were seen shortly after the time when the firearm incident occurred. Irvin was dressed in blue clothing that matched the clothing of one of the original suspects described in the 911 call. Although the clothing worn by Bates (red shirt and black pants) was not described in the original call, the court found this to be immaterial because no description was provided by the 911 caller regarding clothing worn by the third suspect.

The court took judicial notice of the fact that both Irvin and Bates declined to challenge that the officers had a reasonable suspicion that they may be armed, despite the fact that the original caller saw the gun in possession of the suspect in the white T-shirt. [4]

Pointing firearms and handcuffing

The court determined that “‘It is well established … that when officers are presented with serious danger in the course of carrying out an investigative detention, they may brandish weapons.’” [5] “Likewise, police officers may reasonably handcuff a suspect in the course of a Terry stop to protect officer safety and maintain the status quo.” The court observed that neither suspect immediately stopped when ordered to by police and did not immediately comply with a police command to get on the ground. Further, the officers were investigating a man with a gun complaint. These facts, plus the fact that the officers did not continue to point guns at the suspects once they took control of the situation, permitted a court finding that the force used by officers did not turn an investigative detention into an arrest.

The duration of the detention

Irvin and Bates argued that even if their initial detention was lawful, the length of the detention turned it into arrest without probable cause. [6] The court responded, “We disagree. In assessing this issue, the Supreme Court ‘examines whether the police diligently pursue a means of investigation … likely to confirm or dispel their suspicions quickly, during which time it was necessary to detain the suspects.” [7] The court determined that the brief investigation conducted by police after controlling the suspects that extended the duration of the stop was reasonable. It did not turn a lawful detention into an arrest.

Lessons learned

  • An investigative detention/Terry stop conducted by police officers requires a level of proof amounting to “reasonable suspicion” that criminal activity may be going on. [8]
  • Gun calls for police are very dangerous for the safety of responding officers. Courts, including the Eighth Circuit, are sensitive to officer safety concerns and generally permit officers to draw weapons and handcuff suspects when firearms are reasonably suspected, without turning the stop into an arrest.
  • During an investigative stop, officers are permitted to extend the duration of the stop while diligently pursuing an investigation to quickly confirm or dispel their suspicions. This investigation, if reasonable in scope and duration, will not turn an otherwise lawful detention into an arrest.

References

1. The men did not stop right away.
2. Irvin v. Richardson, (No. 19-2610} (8th Cir. 2021).
3. This review is limited to the stop and detention issues raised by the plaintiffs concerning their initial stop and detention. It does not include other issues raised by Bates unrelated to the initial stop and detention. The allegations against the City for training failure regarding investigative detention fail because the court found no violation of the Fourth Amendment by responding officers in reference to the stop and detention of both suspects.
4. In other words, when there is reasonable suspicion to believe one person in a small group is armed, it is also reasonable to believe that other members of the group may likewise be armed.
5. (Quoting), U.S. v. Fisher, 364 F.3d 970, 973 (8th Cir. 2004).
6. Remember that a lawful investigative detention/Terry stop requires reasonable suspicion to justify it. Conversely, a lawful arrest requires a higher standard of support, i.e. probable cause.
7. (Quoting}, U.S. v. Sharpe, 470 U.S. 675, 686 (1985).
8. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968}.

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