The Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled today a Boston police officer did nothing wrong when he searched under the mattress on which a teen was sitting as he awaited arrest and found a gun.
Police officers had arrived at Paris Quiltner's home on Moody Street in Dorchester in May, 2010 to arrest him on a warrant for trespassing, but added a charge of illegal weapons possession after they found the gun.
A lower-court judge ruled the gun inadmissible as evidence because it was not in plain sight and police had arrived to arrest him for trespassing, not for anything having to do with guns.
The appeals court, however, said police officers have a right to protect themselves and that while they did not have permission to tear Quilter's house apart, searching the "one lunge zone" in which he could immediately grab a weapon and try to fight his way out was justifiable, especially after they had just found a knife in plain sight on a dresser in his room.
According to the ruling, police initially found Quilter in his underwear. He asked if he could put some clothes on; police agreed and escorted him to his room, but told him that for their safety, they would get clothes out of his closet for him:
One of the officers noticed that the defendant sat on the bed, not close to the closet where his clothes were, but on the far end of the bed, away from the closet. The officer who testified at the hearing on the defendant's motion to suppress found it odd that the defendant would sit so far away from the closet where he was headed to get his clothes. At that point, one of the other officers found a knife on the defendant's dresser. The officers did a protective sweep of the room to make sure that there were no other weapons present.
An officer asked the defendant to stand up and get dressed. When the defendant stood up, the officer lifted up the mattress where he had been sitting and found a firearm between the mattress and the box spring. He put the mattress back down and handcuffed the defendant. From his early morning review of the defendant's record, the officer knew that the defendant could not lawfully possess a firearm, both because of his age, and because of his prior record of firearms offenses. At this point, the officers did not seize the firearm. They froze the apartment and obtained a search warrant pursuant to which they later seized the firearm.