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Terry Stop – Basis – Anonymous Tip, Generally

State v. Eugene Patton, 2006 WI App 235
For Patton: Daniel R. Clausz

Issue: Whether the police had reasonable suspicion to detain on the basis of an anonymous tip, where the suspects not only matched the description of the anonymously-reported armed robbery, but also engaged in potentially suspicious behavior in response to police presence.


¶21   Thus, the instant case has more than J.L., but less than Rutzinski, on the question of sufficient indicia of reliability. On the one hand, the tipster provided accurate and contemporaneous information regarding the suspects’ location, direction of travel, and attire, all corroborated by Schroeder’s observations. [5] On the other hand, the tipster provided no information indicating his or her basis for knowing that the suspects had committed an armed robbery or had a gun. Thus, we deem this a “close” case akin to WhiteSee White, 496 U.S. at 332. But unlike the Supreme Court in White, we need not conclusively decide whether the tipster’s information, standing alone, provided sufficient indicia of reliability.

¶22   We began this opinion with the statement, “This is an ‘anonymous tipster’ case.” Perhaps we should have said, “This is an ‘anonymous tipster’ case and more.” We say that because this case has an additional factual component, separate and apart from the information provided by the tipster, that contributed to reasonable suspicion to detain the suspects, namely, the “siren component.” The trial court deemed this an important factor, and we do also.

¶23   When Schroeder made his initial observations of the suspects at the location indicated by the tipster, he notified other officers and waited for their assistance. Schroeder then heard the siren of one of the responding police vehicles. At the same time, Schroeder saw the suspects stop, turn around and look back in the direction of the siren. They then turned left in mid-block and entered a restaurant. Schroeder deemed this suspicious, thinking the suspects might be hiding, so he radioed to have the siren turned off. Approximately fifteen to twenty seconds after the siren was turned off, the suspects emerged from the restaurant and continued to walk westbound on Calumet Avenue, a route that could take them to the Greyhound bus station, the destination reported by the tipster. We conclude that this added factual component, in conjunction with the information provided by the tipster, provided the requisite reasonable suspicion underTerry and WIS. STAT. § 968.24 to justify the temporary detention of the suspects.

The court does not say so expressly, but its analysis nonetheless suggests that J.L. doesn’t take much to overcome. In other words, assume that Reasonable Suspicion has a value of 1. Anonymous Tip hassome positive value, but less than 1, say .5. Thus, AT alone can’t get you to RS, but it can with an additional factor which corroborates the tip. Assume further that Suspicious Behavior is corroborative and thus has a positive value, let’s assign it a minimum of .5. Therefore, AT + SB = RS. The problem is deciding when behavior is indeed suspicious so as to give it the necessary valence. Flight is one thing (see, e.g., U.S. v. Muhammad, 2nd Cir No. 05-4923-cr, 9/7/06 (“evasive conduct”—flight—in high-crime area enough to corroborate anonymous tip and thus satisfy J.L.), but Patton et al. most certainly did not flee. They merely entered a restaurant. The court doesn’t put it in these terms, but its analysis is an unfortunate recurrence to what it used to happily refer to as “police avoidance behavior.” So what if they didn’t engage in, to use the words of J.L. itself, “headlong flight”; they had the audacity to take a path away from the police, didn’t they?

One other possibly interesting feature to this case, though it is largely subtextual: there are no fewer than five references to the “black” suspect(s). And, indeed, the 3 suspects who ducked into the restaurant, Patton among them, were black. The crime allegedly occurred in downtown Manitowoc, at 8 p.m. Without delving into census data it’s probably a fair assumption that there are very few black citizens in that area, yet the court did not in any manner suggest that this match in racial characteristic could possibly provide corroboration of the tip—therefore, you can say that it did not. If you’re looking to take something positive from the case perhaps that is it. Odd, though, that the court would repeatedly refer to the race of the suspects without attempting to explain any possible significance to the references.

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