S.D.Iowa: Stop for “walking while black” without RS

Defendant’s stop by police on a mere hunch by police on a call from a prosecutor who was just shopping was without reasonable suspicion. United States v. Kelly, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 153543 (S.D. Iowa Aug. 20, 2020):

A local prosecutor was grocery shopping and saw a black man with a heavy object in his pocket. In a series of events that have become all too predictable, the man was stopped under pretext, violently wrestled to the ground, tased, and placed under arrest.

That black man was Chris Kelly. On December 26, 2019, Kelly was walking back from getting a bite to eat at a Hy-Vee Gas station when he was confronted by police officers for “jaywalking.” The officers had been observing Kelly following a call from the assistant county attorney informing them of a black man’s presence in the area who the attorney thought he recognized from a prior case but could not identify by name, and that the attorney observed a heavy object in the man’s coat pocket he surmised to be a gun. After a post-arrest search revealed a pistol and a small amount of marijuana, the Government charged Kelly with being a felon in possession of a firearm. Kelly moved to suppress all evidence obtained through the search, along with statements made following his arrest. [ECF No. 27].

This is a story of “walking while black.” To be sure, controlling precedent makes clear that a police officer’s subjective motivations for an arrest-however flawed-are irrelevant in determining whether an investigatory stop is lawful under the Fourth Amendment. But here, law enforcement lacked any objective basis for suspecting criminal wrongdoing. Kelly was not jaywalking, and neither the prosecutor nor the arresting officers had any reasonable grounds to suspect the object in his pocket was a gun as opposed to some other personal item. They operated solely on a “hunch” that Kelly was violating the law, and a hunch is not enough. Kelly’s Motion to Suppress is GRANTED.

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