Seizure of witness unlawful without exigent circumstances

State v. Dorey, Washington Court of Appeals, Division III, filed June 26, 2008.

Police received a complaint of a disturbance involving a black man and another man in a black shirt and arrived at the location. The disturbance was alleged to have occurred 5-10 minutes before the police officer arrived. Nothing was at the intersection. The officer went to a convenience store that was in the direction that one of the males had run and saw a car in the stall of a car wash and a male in a black shirt. The officer spoke to the clerk of the store, who knew nothing of the disturbance. The officer pulled his patrol car up to the man in the black shirt, Mr. Dorey, who was getting in his car to leave. The officer yelled at Mr. Dorey to hold on a minute and indicated that he wanted to talk to him. Mr. Dorey stopped his car and got out to speak to the officer.

Mr. Dorey told the officer he saw a group of people, one matching the description of one of the parties of the disturbance, but they had just left. The officer asked for Mr. Dorey’s identification, which he provided. The officer recorded the information and Mr. Dorey left. The officer ran the information for warrants as Mr. Dorey left and then took off after Mr. Dorey when the search turned up positive for outstanding warrants.

The officer found Mr. Dorey walking away from his car and saw Mr. Dorey throw a fanny pack into the bushes. Mr. Dorey was arrested on the warrants and was charged with possession of methamphetamine that was found in the recovered fanny pack.

The Court of Appeals held that the police officer’s seizure of Mr. Dorey when he yelled for him to stop was not reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. Mr. Dorey was a witness at most, not a suspect. The Court found that the alleged crime had occurred earlier and no exigent circumstances were present to justify Mr. Dorey’s seizure as a witness to a crime. The Court reviewed State v. Carney, 142 Wn. App. 197, 174 P.3d 142 (2007), which was recently decided holding that police cannot seize persons without articulable suspicion of criminal activity and that just because a person may have information of a crime, that doesn’t justify an unconstitutional intrusion into their personal affairs, absent exigent circumstances or officer safety concerns.

The Court also held that the officer’s recording of Mr. Dorey’s information was also not reasonable as he didn’t provide meaningful information as a witness. The recording of the information led to the discovery of the warrants and eventually the arrest and discovery of the methamphetamine. The Court held that all evidence should have been suppressed as a result of the unlawful seizure.