A hunch and a hoodie not enough for police to stop a black man in Roxbury in a crime investigation, court rules

The Supreme Judicial Court today overturned a man's conviction for illegal gun possession in Roxbury because while police found him with a gun, they should never have stopped him in the first place - and that the fact that he tried to elude officers cannot be used against him because black men in Boston might have legitimate reasons to be wary of police.

The state's highest court ruled that with only a vague suspect description - which included the fact that the suspect and a companion were wearing dark hoodies - police had no probable cause to stop Jimmy Warren on Dec. 18, 2011. Without probable cause, the gun was not valid evidence - and because it was key to the prosecution's case against Warren, the case has to be dismissed, the court ruled.

According to the ruling, police investigating a break-in on Hutchings Street around 9:20 p.m. on Dec. 18, 2011, got a description from the victim of three black males, one in a red hoodie, two in dark clothing, who had taken, among other things, his backpack and computer. About 20 minutes later, the officer who responded spotted two guys near a basketball court in Malcolm X Park off Martin Luther King Boulevard.

He had a hunch they were involved in the robbery because they were wearing dark clothing and because nobody else was out on the cold night. But when he rolled down his window, yelled, "Hey guys, wait a minute," they began jogging into the park, away from him. He alerted other officers on his radio, and two of them found them coming out the park on the other side. This time, the two men split up and one, Warren, began running away. Police cornered him in a back yard on Wakullah Street - and found a gun in the front yard.

The problem, the justices ruled, is that a vague clothing description and a hunch are just not enough reason to stop or chase somebody. In his testimony, the officer said he initially planned to stop two two for a "field interrogation observation," which is supposed to be voluntary and usually results in the writing up of a report, not an arrest.

[B]ecause the victim had given a very general description of the perpetrator and his accomplices, the police did not know whom they were looking for that evening, except that the suspects were three black males: two black males wearing the ubiquitous and nondescriptive "dark clothing," and one black male wearing a "red hoodie." Lacking any information about facial features, hairstyles, skin tone, height, weight, or other physical characteristics, the victim's description "contribute[d] nothing to the officers' ability to distinguish the defendant from any other black male" wearing dark clothes and a "hoodie" in Roxbury. With only this vague description, it was simply not possible for the police reasonably and rationally to target the defendant or any other black male wearing dark clothing as a suspect in the crime. If anything, the victim's description tended to exclude the defendant as a suspect: he was one of two men, not three; he was not wearing a red "hoodie"; and, neither he nor his companion was carrying a backpack.

Based solely on this description, [the officer] had nothing more than a hunch that the defendant might have been involved in the crime. He acknowledged as much when he explained that the purpose of the stop was "to figure out who they were and where they were coming from and possibly do an FIO." As noted, an FIO is a consensual encounter between an individual and a police officer.

Therefore, the defendant was not a "suspect" subject to the intrusion of a threshold inquiry. Unless the police were able to fortify the bare-bones description of the perpetrators with other facts probative of reasonable suspicion, the defendant was entitled to proceed uninhibited as he walked through the streets of Roxbury that evening.

The court acknowledged the fact that the two men at first jogged away from police and then one ran away is suspicious and, when tied with other reasons for suspicion would add to the criteria proving "probable cause." But the court noted that, at least in Massachusetts, citizens have a right to walk away from police when not charged with anything. Equally important, the court said, black men in Boston might have legitimate reasons to try to stay away from police:

Where a suspect is under no obligation to respond to a police officer's inquiry, we are of the view that flight to avoid that contact should be given little, if any, weight as a factor probative of reasonable suspicion. Otherwise, our long-standing jurisprudence establishing the boundary between consensual and obligatory police encounters will be seriously undermined. Thus, in the circumstances of this case, the flight from [the first officer] during the
initial encounter added nothing to the reasonable suspicion calculus. Second, as set out by one of the dissenting Justices in the Appeals court opinion, where the suspect is a black male stopped by the police on the streets of Boston, the analysis of flight as a factor in the reasonable suspicion calculus cannot be
divorced from the findings in a recent Boston Police Department (department) report documenting a pattern of racial profiling of black males in the city of Boston. Warren, 87 Mass. App. Ct. at 495 n.18 (Agnes. J., dissenting), citing Boston Police Commissioner Announces Field Interrogation and Observation. According to the study, based on FIO data collected by the department,14 black men in the city of Boston were more likely to be targeted for police-civilian encounters such as stops, frisks, searches, observations, and interrogations. Black men were also disproportionally targeted for repeat police encounters. We do not eliminate flight as a factor in the reasonable suspicion analysis whenever a black male is the subject of an investigatory stop. However, in such circumstances, flight is not necessarily probative of a suspect's state of mind or consciousness of guilt. Rather, the finding that black males in Boston are disproportionately and repeatedly targeted for FIO encounters suggests a reason for flight totally unrelated to consciousness of guilt. Such an individual, when approached by the police, might just as easily be motivated by the desire to avoid the recurring indignity of being racially profiled as by the desire to hide criminal activity. Given this reality for black males in the city of Boston, a judge should, in appropriate cases, consider the report's findings in weighing flight as a factor in the reasonable suspicion calculus.

Neighborhoods: 

Topics: 

Free tagging: 

AttachmentSize
PDF icon Complete Warren ruling192.59 KB
Ad:

Comments

because black men in Boston

By on

because black men in Boston might have legitimate reasons to be wary of police.

Especially when they're carrying an illegal weapon on them.

up
Voting is closed. 0

...or—while not in Boston

...or—while not in Boston—walking back to one's disabled vehicle with your hands held high above your head.

up
Voting is closed. 0

Oh, I thought we were talking

By on

Oh, I thought we were talking about the greater Boston area on Universal Hub. What does this have to do with Boston?

up
Voting is closed. 0

You must be fairly new here

By on

Look up "Newman Flanagan" and "Charles Stuart" and "Boston" if you want the Boston version.

up
Voting is closed. 0

Oh I'm sorry, I forgot: our

Oh I'm sorry, I forgot: our exemplary city is head-and-shoulders above others in terms of policing, and the systemic issues that have been shown viscerally elsewhere don't happen here, because we're that shining city on a fucking hill.

(I'm also sorry I clearly said that this was a similar example from a different city. I know you're very confident in your reading comprehension; it must have been something in my writing composition!)

up
Voting is closed. 0

Stop making excuses.

Stop making excuses.

Just stop.

I know you were thoroughly trained in what is commonly known as "testilying", but, just stop. You aren't raising anyone's opinion of police when you do it here.

up
Voting is closed. 0

You saw what happened. This is fight or flight 101.

He refused orders from the police and went back to his car. Sure way for another human being with a gun who has seen thousands of instances of cops getting killed when people do that exact same thing to make a mistake and fire at him.

I'm about 100% on knowing when cops get charged and when they are going to get off or not get off. You have no clue.

up
Voting is closed. 0

Why were the police even

Why were the police even issuing "orders"? Multiple callers reported a disabled vehicle in a roadway—standard police work, no more, no less. Why the drawn weapons? Why the "orders"?

up
Voting is closed. 0

I don't know Shabazz.

I don't know. Every day there are probably 10,000 calls like this without guns drawn? But in this case the guy didn't listen so that raises a red flag.

up
Voting is closed. 0

Red flags need not be

Red flags need not be answered by gunshots. He pulls out a gun, by all means, put him down. But nothing even approaching the sort happened. I mean, Terence Crutcher was tased then shot. And why are the police even requiring him to listen? I see drivers out of control after a vehicle breakdown all the time; haven't seen a single one of them shot, or even given orders.

Do us one favor, Pete. At least say his name. Say, "Terence Crutcher deserved to be tased, then shot and killed while incapacitated."

up
Voting is closed. 0

He did not deserve to die Shabazz.

I'll make that clear. But you are playing with fire when you act like that. Cops have seen thousands of videos where cops die in situations just like this where someone goes back to their car to get a gun, or already has a gun on them, or is waiting for someone else to come by or get out of the car to do something, etc, etc. Every cop killer in those videos did not obey commands so the officer in these videos are going to be on edge. The officer may have panicked and shot in error. It does not look like Mr. Crutcher made any furtive movements, but he did go to that car.

And I have seen people shot at car stops, and I have seen people not shot at car stops, and I've seen cops shot at on car stops, etc, etc. I do not know what raised the cops level of attention in this case.

up
Voting is closed. 0

No Ian.

When a cop tells you do stop, and you don't stop, and you go to your car (where you have drugs that we now know you are trying to hide or drive away with or swallow), your are playing with fire, yes.

If you have a broken down car, (with no drugs to hide) then you have nothing to worry about.

up
Voting is closed. 0

Maybe the cops should have

Maybe the cops should have known, as was reported to 911 by multiple parties, that Terence Crutcher was a harmless man with a disabled vehicle, not a "bad looking guy" as the eye-in-the-sky put it? As such, perhaps they needn't have approached him with weapons drawn?

up
Voting is closed. 0

I'm sure more will come out Shabazz.

Why didn't he listen to them then? How would the cops ever know on 911 calls that this guy was "harmless"?!?! Do you really think this kind of information is going to get to a street officer?

As for having their weapons drawn, I have no idea why that was happening. But once someone refuses to listen and then goes back to his vehicle where he may have a weapon? You are just putting your own life into the hands of others at that point. Just doesn't make sense.

up
Voting is closed. 0

As a Black Man ...

By on

I'm sure that Roadman can testify that he knows all the reasons why a black guy would be concerned about any and all interaction with police.

Otherwise, he'd just be whitesplaining.

up
Voting is closed. 0

Okay, then

By on

Bigotry, lack of empathy, and inability to consider that some people have to live with things on a daily basis that he would never have to deal with.

up
Voting is closed. 0

Absolutely!

By on

The anonymous commenter whose comment you responded to is making the very salient point that roadman, who I will bet you twenty crisp new American dollars is a white dude, has absolutely no goddamn idea what he's talking about, and has managed to conflate cause and effect in a way that's insulting and patronizing to black men everywhere and should cause him intense personal embarrassment, but which he will never acknowledge because he'll never be the target of police violence so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

"Whitesplaining" is a much more polite and concise way to express this point, and has enough social and political context that we know exactly what it means and would only take umbrage if we were looking for ways to bitch about "political correctness run amok," but you're right, honest talk like this is much more refreshing. I'm going to make it a point to do this more often.

up
Voting is closed. 0

Sorry, not a 'dude' just

By on

Sorry, not a 'dude' just someone who thought we could have an adult conversation without the hipster speak that I guess I'm too old to take seriously. Oh right, yes, I'm white, so that's about the only thing you were correct about. Again, sorry to bother you with a plea for serious discussion.

up
Voting is closed. 0

I've only just heard of

I've only just heard of "whitesplaining", but I already prefer my alternate concoction: "honking".

up
Voting is closed. 0

Whitesplaining?

By on

Adam, why wasn't there a trigger warning for this>

As a lifetime white person, I'm offended and ascared. I demand a safe space, and I demand it now!

up
Voting is closed. 0

Just remember folks

By on

microaggressions add up. In fact, one million of them will add up to a full NIST-traceable aggression. And then you win a prize!

up
Voting is closed. 0

Nope, just being black is enough

a recent Boston Police Department (department) report documenting a pattern of racial profiling of black males in the city of Boston. According to the study, based on FIO data collected by the department,14 black men in the city of Boston were more likely to be targeted for police-civilian encounters such as stops, frisks, searches, observations, and interrogations. Black men were also disproportionally targeted for repeat police encounters.

up
Voting is closed. 0

SMH

By on

Absurd! NO ONE would just randomly run away from the police if they weren't doing anything wrong!!!

up
Voting is closed. 0

And this right here is the problem with society

By on

Our rights guarantee that we are innocent until proven guilty. However, our attitudes truly reflect that everyone is guilty until proven innocent.

If we're going to pretend that we love the Constitution, we should have the integrity to stand by it.

up
Voting is closed. 0

you do know what smh means, right?

By on

I think boo_urns, erik g, and their upvoters may have missed anon's eye-roney.

Maybe it would be more obvious with a gif...

IMAGE(https://media4.giphy.com/media/WrP4rFrWxu4IE/200w.gif)

up
Voting is closed. 0

Whatever dude

By on

Read the rest of the comments on this story. If it was really that ironic and meant to be tongue in cheek, then maybe you might have a point. The other part of this is that 9 times out of 10 the anons are pretty insidious in what they say. I can't catch them all every time.

up
Voting is closed. 0

I dunno, anon

By on

Why would you be posting here under such an obvious alias, if you didn't have anything to hide? Adam, would you mind tracking down this guy's IP address so we can send a SWAT team to investigate? Sure, there's a small chance they'll just summarily execute him for not following the hastily-shouted instructions of the armed men in his house, but if he REALLY hadn't done anything wrong, he'll have nothing to worry about, right?

up
Voting is closed. 0

Hahaha.

By on

Hahaha.

This is why as a cop, I don't leave the station anymore.

And this mentality is spreading like wildfire across police department in our great nation.

Let them shoot each other, show up when it's all over, take the report, go right back to watching amazon prime.

up
Voting is closed. 0

How does that work?

By on

You just put your feet up on a desk somewhere and refuse to go on patrol or do Code 19s or whatever it is you're supposed to do to show the human face of the police department (assuming you're in Boston, that is)?

up
Voting is closed. 0

Says the guy who makes a

By on

Says the guy who makes a living listening to the radio transmissions of other people putting their lives on the line!

No not, Boston, but I'm sure it's happening there too. It's happening everywhere.

Cause honestly, what the fuck is the point anymore?

up
Voting is closed. 0

Ah, OK

By on

My concern lessens when I see you're not in Boston.

Not sure why obeying the constitution is such a hardship for you, but whatever, I suspect you'll be retired soon.

up
Voting is closed. 0

I completely agree!

By on

You should hand in your badge, gun, and any pointy objects in your house. Go put those feet up. Because you apparently think it's your god-given right to chase down anyone wearing a hoodie in a predominantly African-American neighborhood, because you are Judge fucking Dredd. In my book, you're more dangerous than any gun-wielding punk in Roxbury, and I for damn sure don't want you getting paid out of my tax dollars.

up
Voting is closed. 0

Says the guy

"who makes a living listening to the radio transmissions of other people putting their lives on the line!"

Isn't that what you just said you do for a living?

Or is it a medical problem keeping you at the station? Acute phalangeo-rectal insertion, maybe?

up
Voting is closed. 0

Any cop who thinks that the

Any cop who thinks that the law is an inconvenient barrier to busting heads needs to stop wasting taxpayer money and resign.

up
Voting is closed. 0

Fixed that for you

Any cop who thinks that the law is an inconvenient barrier to busting heads needs to stop wasting taxpayer money and resign be prosecuted and go to jail.

Fixed that for you.

up
Voting is closed. 0

Sometimes I write "ACAB" with

Sometimes I write "ACAB" with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek. I know that not all cops are bastards. There are cops out there who generally want to make a positive difference. You, sir, are clearly not one of those police officers with good intentions. You are one of the bastards. You are the reason that people don't trust the police. If abiding by the constitution and due process is too much for you to handle, find another job. You're clearly not suited for this one.

up
Voting is closed. 0

Police have instincts

By on

From being on the street and their Instincts were right on this one.
Judges have the law and they were right on this one.
There has to be a middle ground.

up
Voting is closed. 0

It sounds like this guy had

By on

It sounds like this guy had nothing to do with the robbery, so actually their instincts were wrong in this case. They were, at best, right about him doing something illegal, but they never would have tried to stop him if it hadn't been for the earlier robbery.

up
Voting is closed. 0

End stinks?

By on

Yeah, so does mine.

That said, why are their "instincts" so very triggered by "black guy walking"?

up
Voting is closed. 0

If you run, there's something fishy

By on

It is a given that cops will target minorities as suspects.

Despite that, how is the fact that someone runs from the police not reasonable cause to pursue them?

up
Voting is closed. 0

This is a misinterpretation of the case

By on

The cops don't need probable cause to stop and talk to a citizen. However, as the court pointed out, the citizen in question is under no obligation to stick around and talk to the police. The takeaway here is that the act of running away does not automatically give the cops the "reasonable suspicion" (note: not "probable cause") needed to detain a person to find out if they have committed a crime (this detention is called a "threshold inquiry").

To answer Gary's question, this is because:

Such an individual, when approached by the police, might just as easily be motivated by the desire to avoid the recurring indignity of being racially profiled as by the desire to hide criminal activity.

up
Voting is closed. 0

Nothing wrong with that.

But if you have a gun in your waistband that you need to hold to your hip with your arms and you don't want the cops to notice, you may be better off running and trying to get away. (or now you can run and hope the cops didn't have reasonable suspicion to stop you)

up
Voting is closed. 0

As someone w/o a record, I

By on

As someone w/o a record, I would defintely run if I saw anyone running at me, fight or flight. I do not deserve a police sanctioned beatdown, to be shot in the back, be tackled hard enough to severe my spine, or tasered until my heart stops.

You literally gave a great reason why a Black person could be very wary of police.

up
Voting is closed. 0

Hey Kenneth,

The suspects were walking when the police officer in a marked cruiser pulled up, rolled down his window and asked to speak with them. Then the two suspects jogged away.

You getting run at by people doesn't fit the narrative here.

up
Voting is closed. 0

Tree of the Poisoned Fruit

By on

This is not a new landmark ruling. This is a confirmation of an already well established legal concept.

If was search was illegal, than any evidence from that search is illegal. That concept is a base requirement for the entire concept of innocent until proven guilty.

If you could use eventual discovery to justify an initial illegal search, there'd be no point to search warrants. Police could just "play the numbers" and search everyone and figure out something to justify it later.

Though I suspect most of the people who dispute this ruling would agree that probably cause is necessary, they just consider things like "wearing a hoodie" and "being afraid of police" to be probably cause.

up
Voting is closed. 0

Right, poisoned fruit isn't new

By on

And this is hardly the first conviction the court has thrown out in recent years on that principle. What makes this decision particularly noteworthy is that the highest court in the state went out of its way to specify exactly why police have to be especially careful in going after somebody in a place like Roxbury.

up
Voting is closed. 0

Question?

By on

If the judge based his decision on a study on stops by the Boston Police can the State and Transit police still stop individuals suspected of a crime since neither agency was involved in the study and their are no complaints that either agency racially profile?

up
Voting is closed. 0

Justices

By on

It was an entire court that issued this ruling.

And yes, while I am not a lawyer, I would argue the ruling applies equally to State and Transit Police. I realize other news accounts are focusing on the racial profiling study, but if you read the entire decision, the justices actually looked at several criteria in determining this was not a valid conviction. And they're not saying police can no longer stop black men, but that they need better reasons than a vague description involving hoodies and the fact that nobody else was on the street at the time.

up
Voting is closed. 0

as a black man whose lived in

By on

as a black man whose lived in Roxbury my whole life growing up, I can't count how many times I've been stopped for FIOs. I'm talking about from my first year of middle school up until my adult life. I've had officers try to convince me to take charges for drugs that weren't in my possession. since moving to the south end I haven't been stopped once. it's disturbing to grow up and raise a child in a environment were you don't know if you're gonna be harassed for the color of your skin and the neighborhood you reside in.

up
Voting is closed. 0

Bingo

By on

If you're in a higher crime neighborhood, you're going to be stopped more often. If you're in a low crime neighborhood, you won't be stopped as often. It's unfortunate, but the alternative is the cops stop trying to prevent crime and only respond after the fact. Should the police be stopping and frisking everyone in high crime neighborhoods? Of course not, but I think they have to be given a bit more discretion.

up
Voting is closed. 0

all in a zip code

By on

went from dorchester to hyde park same results. its the gang unit and drug control acting like an occupying force.stopping, searching people when they find anything falsified report. that is why they are so against bodycams.

up
Voting is closed. 0

I'm glad the police chased down the guy

By on

I'll bet money he wasn't carrying that gun to the Olympics marksmanship qualifiers.

Because the cops chased down the guy, the guy couldn't use the gun to shoot at someone, and I guess now the gun is not going to wind up being used to shoot at someone.

up
Voting is closed. 0