Frisk of suspect in DSHS lobby unlawful; no reason to believe suspect was armed or dangerous

State v. Setterstrom, Washington Supreme Court, Docket No. 79690-4, filed May 22, 2008

Mr. Setterstrom and another friend were in the lobby of Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), a government agency. Someone had complained to the police that a person was sleeping in the DSHS lobby and another was under the influence of drugs. Mr. Setterstrom was next to the person asleep on the lobby bench and was filling out a benefits application. Police approached Mr. Setterstrom, saw that he had filled out the application with his name, and asked if that was his name and how to spell it. Initially, he said yes, but then he changed his mind and said it was for his friend. When his friend awoke, police asked what his friend’s real name was, and Mr. Setterstrom blurted out a different name. Police believed Mr. Setterstrom was under the influence of methamphetamine because his behavior was fidgety, but didn’t stand up or put his hands in his pockets.

The police officer patted Mr. Setterstrom down for weapons and felt a hard object in Mr. Setterstrom’s right front pants pocket, but did not think it was a gun. The police officer reached inside Mr. Setterstrom’s pocket and pulled out the contents. He found a small plastic baggie of methamphetamine and told Mr. Setterstrom that he was under arrest. Next, Mr. Setterstrom dropped to his knees, grabbed the baggie, and swallowed it. Police arrested him and seized his backpack containing a small safe. Police obtained a search warrant for the safe and found a baggie of methamphetamine, a scale, a pipe, and a needle.

The Washington Supreme Court held that the initial frisk of Mr. Setterstrom was unjustified and unlawful because the police officer had no reasonable suspicion that he was armed or dangerous. All evidence recovered as a result of the unlawful frisk should have been suppressed.