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Court's Ruling Could Affect How Officers Search, Question Suspects

Posted September 18, 2007
Updated September 19, 2007

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— The North Carolina Court of Appeals' unanimous decision to overturn a ruling this week in an April 2005 armed robbery case could affect how police target and search suspects.

The ruling, filed Tuesday, said police need more than a vague description to stop a potential suspect.

It stems from a case in which a Raleigh police officer spotted Russell Antoine Cooper near the intersection of Lake Ridge and Deanna drives about five minutes after an armed robbery at a convenience store a quarter-mile away on Capital Boulevard.

The officer had heard on his radio that the robber was a black male and that a black male had been seen walking on Lake Ridge Drive shortly after the robbery.

The officer stopped Cooper, frisked and searched him and then arrested him for carrying a concealed handgun. According to the appeals court's ruling, Cooper confessed he loaned the gun to another man to commit the robbery in exchange for money.

But the defense later asked that the evidence from the search be thrown out, contending the officer lacked "reasonable articulable suspicion of criminal activity."

In December, Cooper was convicted of aiding and abetting and was sentenced to 57 to 78 months in prison.

The Court of Appeals ruled the court erred in denying the defense's motion to suppress evidence seized from a warrantless search, saying it was illegal

"It's the Court of Appeals protecting civil liberties for all of us," said Raleigh defense attorney Bob Hensley.

He said he believes the court made the right decision.

"Just because somebody happens to be a certain race within a half-mile of a certain area and matches a physical description, that does not make them a suspect of a crime – especially something heinous like an armed robbery," Hensley said.

But police advocates question the appeals court's ruling.

"It's very disappointing," said Rick Armstrong, head of the Raleigh Police Protective Association. "It sends a message that police officers really can't do their job."

Armstrong said says he would have done the same thing if he had been the officer.

"If an officer had gotten that description over the radio and let someone like that walk by, I would consider that to be almost dereliction of duties, because it is our responsibility to do our job. And that is part of our job."

The North Carolina Attorney General's Office has not decided whether to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court, but police officers who spoke with WRAL said they hope the state's highest court will get a chance to review this ruling.

110 Comments

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  • lizard Sep 20, 2007

    When a description is given out of a "black male" it automatically narrows the search to about 10 % of the population. It's done all the time with all races.

  • jhnewman Sep 20, 2007

    Hey, I have a great idea!

    Let's handicap the Law Enforecement Officer just a little bit more. (As if it isn't hard enough for them to protect law abiding citizens now.)

    Then we can let nature take it's course. Does the term Vigilante ring any bells.

  • Phlootang Sep 19, 2007

    Wait, I think Derrr is trying to say something.

  • I Hate Hippies Sep 19, 2007

    "Top of my High School class, BS in Psych, graduate degree, 20 years on the job..."

    Top of your class in high school? What do you want, a medal or a chest to pin it on? Psych? There's a brick in my backyard that could get a degree in psych.

    "We do what we do to protect people from idiots who would steal and kill. You're welcome."

    Who is this we, you have a mouse in your pocket? Here's the deal, I follow the law, the few times I've ever had a run in with the police since I was 19 , I was following the law each time, breaking no laws, had done no wrong. I've got a record clean as a hungry dog's food bowl. 2 people protect myself and my property, that's Smith and Wesson. The police are welcome to come after they've settled any disputes to clean up the mess and take an incident report, but they'll only have one witness, which will be me. You're welcome for me making your job easier and paying taxes (i.e. your salary) for a service I have never used and probably never will use.

  • Derrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr Sep 19, 2007

    "Derrr - Actually the stop is ok. Police can stop anyone on the street they like and ask them questions, it is when they detain a person or search him that they need probable cause."

    Police don't need probable cause to detain someone. You don't understand the law.

  • Derrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr Sep 19, 2007

    Nope, Nope! lol
    When I say "stop" in my posts I mean detain. Once he told the guy to come to his car and put his hands on his hood he was stopped, or detained. Use whatever word you want. You don't need probable cause to frisk someone, so you might want to check the law. All he needed was reasonable suspicion to stop him. The right to frisk him would automatically attach IN THIS CASE because they were investigating an armed robbery.

    As I said before, the only legal issue in this case was whether or not he had a reasonable suspicion to stop (detain) him. The frisk was not a part of the legal issue in this case.

  • ru4real3333 Sep 19, 2007

    Steve,
    Before you try and mislead people on what the law is first you must understand and be able to explain the difference between a Terry 'Frisk' and a search. There is a major difference and it appears you have no clue what it is otherwise you wouldn't be making such vague comments that it is a search when it is not. Please inform people of their rights but make sure you know what it is you are saying. You are liable to get someone very hurt (and I'm sure it won't be the police who get hurt) by feeding them bad information.

  • Nope Sep 19, 2007

    Derrr - Actually the stop is ok. Police can stop anyone on the street they like and ask them questions, it is when they detain a person or search him that they need probable cause. (A person is seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment only when by means of physical force or show of authority his freedom of movement is restrained, and in the circumstances surrounding the incident, a reasonable person would believe that he was not free to leave.) If they had stopped him and asked him questions and then let him go or he refused to answer any questions and they let him go, then that would be ok. (see Dunaway v. New York) But, they frisked him without probable cause and arrested him after they found the gun.

  • Derrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr Sep 19, 2007

    ""black man" is not enough of a description under the constitutional requirements for a reasonable search. Why not just say "I saw a person", then you could pull anyone in the area and search them."

    They were looking for a black male, so obviously they are only going to stop a black male. The search, or protective frisk, is not the issue in this case, it's the stop. If merely stopping him was reasonable then the frisk would automatically be allowed because they were investigating an armed robbery.

  • Derrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr Sep 19, 2007

    The headline for this article, "Court's Ruling Could Affect How Officers Search, Question Suspects", is really not correct. This case doesn't really change anything, they just ruled that he didn't have enough reasonable suspicion to stop the subject. Courts rule on that frequently enough.

    Here's the crux of the case: Armed robbery, only description was a black male, and he left the store towards a path that comes out on a certain road. One officer reports seeing a black male on that road shortly after the robbery. Another officer stops a black male on that road shortly after the robbery. Is that enough reasonable suspicion to stop someone? On a legal "scale" of 1-10, reasonable suspicion probably falls in at a 2 or 3. So what do you guys think?

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