June 7, 2012

‘Cuff ‘em All!

Sometimes I wonder whether cops are ever taught anything about the Fourth Amendment except for how to work around it. Consider . . .

Someone robbed a bank in Aurora, Colorado (near Denver). Police searching for the robber got a “reliable tip” that the suspect was in a car at a nearby intersection. So what did they do?
‘We didn’t have a description, didn’t know race or gender or anything, so a split-second decision was made to stop all the cars at that intersection, and search for the armed robber,’ Aurora police Officer Frank Fania told ABC News.

Officers barricaded the area, halting 19 cars.
That’s a pretty interesting definition of “reliable,” given the lack of detail in the tip. And since it provided no real way to sort through all the people in those cars:
From there, the police went from car to car, removing the passengers and handcuffing the adults.

‘Most of the adults were handcuffed, then were told what was going on and were asked for permission to search the car,’ Fania said. ‘They all granted permission, and once nothing was found in their cars, they were un-handcuffed.’
What a shock – innocent citizens jumped by cops, ordered out of their cars, and handcuffed for doing nothing at all willingly provided whatever consent the cops needed to finish their sweep. Sadly, I suspect such “consent” would hold up in court. After all, courts have held for years (in the context of when Miranda warnings must be given) that being handcuffed by police doesn’t mean you’re in custody. Why should this be any different?

By the time they found the “suspect” – in the 19th of the 19 cars searched (it’s always the last place you looked!) – the whole operation had taken nearly two hours. I put “suspect” in quotation marks because, based on the reportage, what they found doesn’t really support that conclusion. But that’s not important right now.

What’s important is that you’ve got dozens of people stopped, detained, and otherwise harassed by law enforcement based on the most general of tips. I agree with Eugene Volokh that this seems to be a clear Fourth Amendment violation. Alas, I’m not sure that anything will come of it. In the grand scheme of things, a two-hour detention probably doesn’t rack up much in the way of monetary damages (although I suppose a class action might juice things up a bit). And that assumes that the cops don’t have qualified immunity anyway, as they seem to in most Fourth Amendment cases. As for the “suspect’s” chances at suppression, I’ll leave that to one side for the want of facts.

But, hey, needlessly detained citizens, look on the bright side. Count yourself lucky that the cops were only looking for a bank robbery suspect rather than a designated terrorist. Then they would have just drone bombed the intersection and been done with it. And guess what? All those adults of military age who just happened to perish in the blast get to become terrorists posthumously, too! Collateral damage? What collateral damage?

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