Seizure of “suspicious” suspect at bus shelter unlawful; no evidence of criminal activity

State v. Gatewood, Washington Supreme Court, Docket No. 79992-0, filed May 1, 2008

Shortly after midnight, police in a patrol vehicle drove past Mr. Gatewood seated at a bus shelter on Rainier Avenue in Seattle and saw that his eyes got big when he saw them. Police observed Mr. Gatewood twist his body as though he were trying to hide something. Police circled back to the bus shelter to contact Mr. Gatewood, but he had left the bus shelter and was walking away. The police car followed Mr. Gatewood, pulled in front of him blocking his path, and an officer told him, “Stop. I want to talk to you.” Mr. Gatewood turned and walked away. When he got to some bushes, he bent over, reached into his waistband, took something out, and threw it in the bushes. Police ordered him to show his hands. He complied and was handcuffed. The police found a loaded handgun in the bushes. Police also found marijuana on Mr. Gatewood and found cocaine back at the bus shelter.

The Washington Supreme Court held that Mr. Gatewood was unlawfully seized when the police officer yelled, “Stop. I want to talk to you.” Court held that the facts known to the officers were not sufficient for a warrantless seizure allowed by Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), which allows for a brief detention when the officer has reasonable suspicion that person is involved in criminal activity. The Court held that the detention was premature and was not based on specific, articulable facts that Mr. Gatewood was involved in criminal activity. All of the evidence should have been suppressed.