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Defense win! “black male in black hoodie” not good enough to stop black male in maroon sweatshirt

State v. James E. Brown, 2020AP489, 9/9/20, District 1 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity (including briefs)

Officers responded to a call for shots fired; the caller apparently described the shooting party as a “black male wearing a black hoodie and shorts.” On arriving in the “vicinity” they saw a black man, Brown, driving a vehicle. Illuminating the interior of the vehicle, an officer thought he saw that Brown was wearing a dark-colored hoodie, and he stopped Brown. On approach, though, the officer saw that Brown was wearing a maroon sweatshirt and pants.

Nevertheless, officers kept Brown on the scene for 25 minutes without informing him of the reason for the stop. He would not get out of his car and asked to speak to a supervisor of the officers. When that supervisor arrived, Brown got out and was eventually arrested for a misdemeanor concealed-weapon count and for resisting.

The court of appeals holds the stop was illegal in two ways. First, “the sole basis for the officer’s initial stop of the vehicle was that Brown was a black man wearing a dark sweatshirt. ‘Ubiquitous or vague physical descriptions or general locations, without more, are not enough to support reasonable suspicion.’ See United States v. Street, 917 F.3d 586, 595 (7th Cir. 2019).” (¶10). Second, even if the initial stop was lawful, there was no basis to extend it for 25 minutes:

When the officers activated their squad lights, Brown pulled over immediately. When Schlei made contact with Brown, he saw that Brown’s clothing did not match the description provided by the 911 caller—the sole purpose of the stop. Moreover, Brown kept his hands visible and did not engage in any furtive movements. Rather, Brown refused to roll down his window and refused to exit the vehicle without speaking with an officer of a higher ranking. However, Brown remained in his vehicle—inactive—for twenty-five minutes until a higher ranking officer arrived on the scene. Schlei admitted that Brown did not appear to pose an immediate threat, but also that Brown was not free to leave at that time. The officers, however, did not ask Brown whether he was aware of the shots fired report. Given the totality of the circumstances, we conclude that officers did not have reasonable suspicion to extend the stop of Brown’s vehicle beyond their original purpose.


{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Pamela Moorshead September 14, 2020, 10:32 am

    I would really like to get excited about this. I can’t. This was a no-brainer. It is great that the court of appeals was willing to step in. But the questions on my mind are how did this get past the circuit court judge? And what was the State thinking charging this crap? This man had been herded through the process and served his sentence long before this decision was issued. He served four days. It may not seem like much, but for many of our clients, that is long enough to really mess up their lives. There needs to be accountability at all levels. This needs to stop.

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