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Note to police (again): Holding pants up by waistband is not reasonable suspicion for stop!

State v. Travail L. Lewis, 2017AP234-CR, 7/25/17 (1-judge opinion, ineligible for publication); case activity (including briefs)

After shots were fired in a high crime area of Milwaukee, police dispatched Officer Robert Crawley (no relation to the 7th Earl of Grantham) to investigate. He and his partner saw Lewis (African American) walking down an alley holding the waistband of his pants. They told him to stop and hold up his hands. Then they drew their guns. Lewis told them that he had a gun but no permit, so they arrested him. The State charged him with misdemeanor carrying a concealed weapon. Lewis  filed an unsuccessful suppression motion. On appeal, the State wisely conceded that the officers lacked reasonable suspicion to stop Lewis based on State v. Gordon, 2014 WI App 44, 353 Wis. 2d 468, 846 N.W.2d 483.

The court of appeals agreed. In Gordon the court of appeals concluded:

¶7 “[T]he routine mantra of ‘high crime area’ has the tendency to condemn a whole population to police intrusion that, with the same additional facts, would not happen in other parts of our community.” Id., ¶15. The “circumstances must not be so general that they risk sweeping into valid law enforcement concerns persons on whom the requisite individualized suspicion has not focused.” Id., ¶12. We also concluded that Gordon’s “security adjustment” was insufficient to justify an investigatory stop on its own because the “most innocent of any nefarious purpose, may occasionally pat the outside of their clothing to ensure that they have not lost their possessions. Indeed, this makes even more sense in a high crime area than it might in other less crime-ridden parts of our community.” Id., ¶17.

¶8 As the State concedes, officers stopped Lewis simply based on the fact that he was walking in a high crime area shortly after receiving an alert of “shots fired” and that Lewis touched his waistband. Lewis was not running, was not looking over his shoulder for police, and did not match the description of the one suspect police had information about. Under our holding in Gordon, the facts of this case do not justify an investigatory stop. We agree with Lewis and the State that Lewis’s motion to suppress should have been granted. Accordingly, we reverse the circuit court and remand with instructions to suppress any evidence obtained pursuant to the investigatory stop.

 

 

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{ 1 comment… add one }
  • admin August 9, 2017, 8:07 am

    Early this a.m., an avid reader objected to On Point’s use of a pop culture reference that required research to understand. Thus, you now see a link to the 7th Earl of Grantham. After a vigorous debate, On Point’s editorial staff decided that the reader should remain anonymous lest he be subject to ridicule. 🙂

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