Responding to a tip they considered to be “reliable,” police officers in Aurora, CO stopped all traffic at a downtown intersection two days ago (June 4), removed all of the adult drivers and passengers (40 people) from their vehicles, and handcuffed them. They gathered them together and explained that they were looking for someone who had robbed a Wells Fargo Bank.
Aurora Police Department Officer Frank Fania told ABC News,
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.
Officer Fania said everyone consented to a search of their vehicle. When the officers finished searching a vehicle without finding the gun they were looking for, they released the driver and any passengers who were in the vehicle. The searches lasted approximately two hours as they systematically searched every vehicle at the intersection.
Eventually they found what what they were looking for in the last vehicle they searched: two loaded semiautomatic handguns. They arrested the suspect and took him to jail.
This was a flagrant violation of the Fourth Amendment which prohibits police officers from stopping a vehicle unless they have a reasonable suspicion that a person in that vehicle has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime.
A reasonable suspicion is more than a mere hunch. It requires articulable facts and circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to suspect that a particular individual had committed, was committing, or was about to commit a crime.
Apparently, Officer Fania was looking for a particular weapon, which he believed was concealed in one of the vehicles at the intersection, but he did not have a description of the robber or the vehicle the robber was driving or in which he was riding. Therefore, every vehicle the police stopped was an unlawful stop, including the stop of the vehicle that contained the person they subsequently arrested.
His case should be dismissed and 40 adults have valid lawsuits against the police department and the city for violating their right to privacy under the Fourth Amendment because this was a clear violation of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in City of Indianapolis v. Edmund, 513 U.S. 32 (2000).
Message to Aurora: Get out your checkbook!