Friday, September 09, 2011

"Black man with facial hair" is too broad of a description to justify gun-point detention

Ryan Eddinger won in State v. Johnson, No. 98,812 (Kan. Sept. 2, 2011), reversing Wyandotte County convictions for possession of cocaine and possession of marijuana. The court held that the FBI violent crimes task force lacked reasonable suspicion to initially detain Mr. Johnson.

On the day Mr. Johnson was stopped, the FBI task force was looking to serve an arrest warrant on Shane Thompson, who, according to his DOC face sheet, was a black male with short hair, who had facial hair, and was 5’2” tall. The task force went to Thompson’s mother’s house in Kansas City, and they were unable to find him (and there was no evidence that Thompson had been there anytime recently). But the task force apparently did not want to get all dressed up for nothing. The KSC described the additional facts as follows:
Approximately 5 blocks away from Thompson's mother's residence, [Mr.] Johnson and [Mr.] Brown were walking on a sidewalk. Johnson is approximately 5'11" tall, and Brown stands around 5'9". Both men are black and have facial hair. The officers, in multiple unmarked squad cars with emergency lights activated, exited their cars, drew their weapons, and approached Johnson and Brown and requested identification. Officer Michael Blegen of the Missouri Department of Corrections and a member of the FBI task force later searched Johnson and discovered marijuana and crack cocaine. Johnson was arrested and later charged with possession of marijuana, possession of cocaine, and possession of a controlled substance without a tax stamp.
Mr. Johnson filed a motion to suppress. At the suppression hearing, Officer Blegen claimed that the difference in height in between the face sheet (5’2”) and Mr. Johnson’s height (5’11”) was acceptable because the face sheet was not always accurate. Based on the officer’s testimony, the district court and the Court of Appeals determined that suppression was not warranted. The KSC disagreed, holding:
The officers in this case lacked reasonable suspicion because: (1) Johnson's location was not related to criminal activity; (2) there is no evidence that the officers used reliable information; and (3) the physical description of "black man with facial hair" was too broad to be of any assistance in formulating reasonable suspicion.
So ultimately, Mr. Johnson was stopped at gun point by multiple officers because he was a "black man with facial hair." Kuddos to Ryan for his good work on this one (I believe he grew out his beard for the KSC argument). But, it really should not have been a close call. It is really quite disturbing that this type of "information" is used to justify stopping our fellow citizens at gun point.

1 comment:

Raleigh Lawyers said...

i heard about fashion police , but seems that facial hair can get you to prison these times.