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Reasonable Suspicion – Anonymous Call

State v. Joel R. Medrow, 2011AP2314, District 1, 5/15/12

court of appeals decision (1-judge, not for publication); for Medrow: Chad A. Kanning; case activity

An anonymous call to the police reported that the caller had followed a possibly impaired driver who had turned parked in the front parking lot of the Cudahy Police Department; the report included the vehicle’s license plate number. The court concludes that, upon seeing Medrow just outside that vehicle, an officer had reasonable suspicion to seize him (and thus, when Medrow failed to submit to a command to stop, probable cause to arrest him).

¶14      First, the anonymous tip exhibited reasonable indicia of reliability to warrant Officer Olson’s initial investigation.  The caller’s description of a possibly impaired driver was the product of the caller’s personal observations and was contemporaneously reported to the police.  See Rutzinksi, 241 Wis. 2d 279 [sic: 729], ¶33 (One way to establish an informant’s basis of knowledge is to consider whether the tip contained contemporaneous observations.).  Additionally, the tip contained “‘inside information’” because the informant reported specific details that showed how she came to know of the illegal activity.  See id., ¶25 (citation omitted).  While Olson did not know the name of the informant at the time of the investigation, he was able to confirm the informant’s knowledge:  that a vehicle with a specific license plate number driven by an individual with long hair was indeed in the Cudahy Police Department parking lot immediately after the call.  See id.

¶15      Second, this case provides “additional factual component[s], separate and apart from the information provided by the [informant], that contributed to a reasonable suspicion to detain” Medrow.  See State v. Patton, 2006 WI App 235, ¶22, 297 Wis. 2d 415, 724 N.W.2d 347 (emphasis omitted).  When Olson walked out of the police station, he observed the vehicle with the license plate number the informant had given in the parking lot that the informant had described.  He also observed Medrow standing next to the open driver’s side door falling backwards, as if he had “just stepped out of the vehicle and fallen off balance.”  Medrow then angrily walked towards another car in the parking lot, and he did not respond to the officer when he yelled out to him.  Finally, when Olson attempted to direct Medrow away from the vehicle, Olson detected a strong odor of alcohol.

¶16      Indeed, Medrow’s case is highly analogous to Patton, 297 Wis. 2d 415, ¶¶22-23, in which this court concluded that an anonymous tip, combined with a police officer’s observations, provided the officer with reasonable suspicion that the defendant was involved in criminal activity, justifying a Terry[3] stop.  In Patton, an anonymous caller described the location, direction of travel, and attire of three men who supposedly had just committed an armed robbery.  Id., 297 Wis. 2d 415, ¶2.  The caller did not provide any information regarding the basis of his or her knowledge of the alleged armed robbery.  Id., ¶19.  However, an officer observed three men matching the informant’s description as he was receiving the information via dispatch.  Id.  The officer notified other officers of his observation, and soon heard the siren of one of the responding vehicles.  Id., ¶¶3‑4.  At the same time, the officer observed the three men stop and look in the direction of the siren.  Id., ¶4.  The men entered a restaurant, from which they emerged approximately fifteen to twenty seconds after the siren was turned off.  Id.  This court concluded that the added factual component—the siren component—in conjunction with the information provided by the informant, was enough for the officer to have a reasonable suspicion to detain the three suspects.  Id.,¶23.  Likewise, when considering the totality of the circumstances in Medrow’s case, the added factual components Olson observed, in conjunction with information provided by the caller’s tip, justified the seizure of Medrow.  Seeid., ¶¶22-23.

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