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Court: Boston cops didn't have enough evidence to make a teen in a barbershop stand up, which led to his arrest on gun charges

The Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled today that BPD gang-unit members didn't have enough reason to order a teen sitting in a Columbia Road barbershop to stand up for a pat frisk, which revealed he had a gun in his pants.

The ruling means the gun taken out of his pants can't be used as evidence against him and that he has to be given the chance to withdraw his guilty plea.

According to the court's summary of the case, a reliable informant had told a drug-unit detective on Sept. 21, 2015 that they could find a Columbia Road Gang member in a black hoodie and jeans with a gun in the area of Columbia Road and Devon or Stanwood streets, standing with another guy in "an off-white colored hoodie." The detective turned the matter over to the gang unit, where a supervisor dispatched several officers.

Two of the officers promptly found a guy in an off-white hoodie, whom they knew had prior criminal charges, standing alone. They stopped and frisked him, but found no gun. They kept looking and found another guy, wearing a black-and-gray hoodie, on Columbia Road and frisked him as well, but, again, found no gun. Then one of them looked into the barber shop near where that guy was standing and spotted somebody in a black hoodie and jeans sitting on a chair, talking on his phone - a teen they knew as a member of the Columbia Road Gang. They ordered him off the phone and to stand up:

The juvenile asked why, and the officers "pulled him up . . . to stand." Once the juvenile was upright, the officers observed a bulge on the right side of his waist. The officers, from their training and experience, believed the bulge to be consistent with a firearm. Officer Small pat frisked the juvenile and felt what he believed to be a firearm. He lifted the juvenile's shirt and removed a firearm from his waistband. The juvenile was immediately brought to the floor and placed under arrest.

The teen was indicted as being delinquent for unlawful possession of a firearm. He pleaded guilty, but on the condition that he would appeal.

In its ruling today, the appeals court said he was right to do so, ruling that the police did not have enough probable cause to "seize" or detain him by pulling him out of the chair and frisking him, because they were going on fairly vague information, no crime had been committed immediately before and he did nothing suspicious or threatening in the moments before he was "seized."

The informant's description of somebody wearing a black hoodie and jeans by itself was not enough to warrant a stop, not on a busy street like Columbia, the court said. The fact that the officers frisked two other men in similar attire not long before is proof that the description was not really particular enough, the court said.

The physical description of a young Black man in a black hooded sweatshirt and blue jeans was itself quite general. The accompanying information -- that the suspect, at approximately 5 P.M. on a Monday in September, was located on Columbia Road (a busy commercial area) with another Black male in an off-white hooded sweatshirt -- did little to narrow or particularize the description. Notably, the [informant] did not provide any information regarding "facial features, hairstyles, skin tone, height, weight, or other physical characteristics," Warren, 475 Mass. at 535, such that the officers would have the ability to distinguish the suspect from any other younger-looking Black males wearing that type of clothing in that area. Nor was this a situation where, given the time of day, it was unlikely that there would be others around who might match the description. ...

Our case law is clear that this type of bare-bones description, without more, is insufficient to give the police reasonable suspicion to stop anyone who fits the description. ...

Moreover, the location of the juvenile was at least somewhat at odds with the description provided by the [informant]. The juvenile was not with another Black male wearing an off-white hooded sweatshirt, nor was he standing outside in the area of Columbia Road and Devon and Stanwood Streets. The police determined that the male described as wearing the off-white sweatshirt was Norwood [one of the guys earlier stopped], and Norwood was not seen standing with the juvenile or close to the barbershop where the police observed the juvenile.

True, the officer immediately spotted the bulge in the teen's pants, but he wouldn't have if the teen had not been asked to stand, then pulled up from his chair, so that happened after his "seizure" not before. Further, the court continued, the teen was simply sitting in the chair when approached by the officer:

The juvenile did not make any furtive movements, and there was no indication that he was attempting to conceal anything from the officers prior to being stopped.

So, again, no probable cause for the search, the court said.

The court also rejected the argument that the warrantless search was warranted because the barbershop was in a "high crime neighborhood," where "firearm-related
offenses, shootings, and homicides" were relatively common and Columbia Road Gang members were known to congregate, because that has to be tied somehow to a specific crime having just been committed, and that was not the case here.

The only information connecting the juvenile to the neighborhood, and its "high crime" nature, was Officer Conley's awareness that the juvenile was a "close associate" of a member of the Columbia Road gang. That was simply not enough to justify a stop.

So in conclusion:

Viewing all the facts and circumstances in their entirety, we conclude that the police lacked reasonable and individualized suspicion that the juvenile had committed or was committing a crime prior to his seizure. With only the minimal and vague information provided by the [informant], and no other factors indicating that the juvenile was in possession of a firearm, the police lacked "specific, articulable facts" necessary to justify the stop.

The court sent the case back to juvenile court with an order to dismiss any evidence resulting from the search - the gun - and giving the teen, now an adult, the chance to withdraw his guilty plea.

PDF icon Complete ruling116.09 KB

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At least the gun rights are still respected around here.

Voting closed 32

At least your 4th Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures are still respected around here.

Voting closed 3

So people have the right to illegally carry concealed, unregistered firearms?

This case has nothing to do with gun rights, it is about an illegal search. If the guy had instead been carrying drugs, or some other contraband, the outcome would have been the same.

Voting closed 31

"So people have the right to illegally carry concealed, unregistered firearms?"

Yes, people do. You mean "unlicensed" people.

There's no gun registry in MA and concealed carry is perfectly legal. As long as you're licensed*, which is at the discretion of a single white cop in your town (hopefully he likes you and your kind!).

Yes, I'm being insanely pedantic, but the MGLs on firearms are so byzantine that you must be pedantic in order to even discuss them.

*At least until New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen in November, where the constitutionality of concealed carry licenses will be decided, most likely in 5-4 fashion.

Voting closed 17

Fine, whatever. You know what I meant. It’s all still irrelevant to the case. Not at all about gun rights.

Voting closed 5

A great reminder that today’s a lovely day to head to the polls and vote out the cynical clowns who say we need more cops to maintain this status quo of lazy, racist profiling — starting with Essaibi-George.

Voting closed 43

The informant told the cops to look for "a young Black man in a black hooded sweatshirt and blue jeans" (from the court filing). The big issue is that the informant didn't give them much detail beyond that.

Voting closed 44

is this supposed to be a counterpoint? according to the report, the police acted on the vague description at least three times, did they not?

Voting closed 29

The informant allegedly indicates "a young, black male dressed in a black hoodie and blue jeans". (It's unfortunate that this detail is missing from the UHub post.) If the informant specifies a race, is it racist to only accost people of one race?

No, the problem here is that the police went on a binge of stop-and-frisk on a really skimpy description; even if it was reasonable to stop the first person, and maybe even the second, by the third we're clearly into "ridiculous" territory.

(I haven't read through the ruling, but I suspect there's still no evidence that the defendant was even the person the informant was talking about!)

Voting closed 3

now that we know 3 is “ridiculous”, what’s the number of black people wearing standard clothing – i’ve probably worn jeans and a hoodie 340 days of the last year – do the police need to accost on a single tip before we enter “racist” territory?

Voting closed 18

You are acting like the three people in this case are innocent bystanders. Two of them were the actual people they were looking for (real gang members with violent criminal histories waiting to harm more people and one of them had a gun). The 3rd was also with those two in the same gang, also with a long criminal history of violence and gun charges. As "vague" as the description was, the police actually stopped two out of the three, with the 3rd being associated with the two they were looking for.

Voting closed 22

regardless, i do get it but i really believe we need to be careful that the results are not justifying the process.

Voting closed 10

The description above says that one person they searched was someone with a prior record, but nothing indicates he was actually involved here. There's nothing in Adam's reporting indicating that the second one was involved in any way or even had a prior record. And if "had a prior record" is enough reason to say that someone's no longer innocent or not deserving of rights, well, then, let's just give everyone lifetime jail sentences and stop pretending we have a concept of "serving ones time" anymore.

Voting closed 15

You still know the kid is a gun (expletive), whether your pretenses were legitimate or not. That's the field goal.

Now for the onside kick recovery and the touchdown, which is waiting for him to turn 18, get suspected of some dumbass crime, and then fail to signal a turn.

Voting closed 4

As someone who lives walking distance from there, it's messed up some snitch can sic cops on random Black people with the most general description. How many Black people would they have shook down until they found a gun?

The self-justification is nasty too, you are poor, you live in poverty, poverty brings crime, you live in a high-crime area, you can get stopped at any time and put into the court system for just being. Hopefully. I voted for someone today who will stop this dumb cycle.

Voting closed 33

We only hear about the illegal/questionable searches that yield drugs and guns. How many of these searches yield nothing? Do these searches get reported if no arrest is made? How many people are searched and let go per day? Just how much darker than a paper bag does one need to be in order to relinquish not one, but two fundamental civil rights?

Voting closed 24

Isn't "just being." But hey, I'm sure plenty of Trump voters would happily agree with you that Massachusetts restrictions on unlicensed gun possession ought to be repealed!

Voting closed 20

Since police are accosting people waiting in a barbershop, I would say yes, just being. There was no active crime being reported, just alleged gang members spotted near each other. Who thinks it's okay to shake down people based on that information?

This is also why I called the informant a snitch since no crime was taking place, I see nothing worthy of the police taking any action and because I read about their gang points system, I really think "gang members" should be in scare quotes also.

These cops got lucky he was armed and didn't use self defense against two random officers trying to drag him out an establishment he had every right to be in. You put hands on people without just cause you are asking for trouble.

Voting closed 5