7/24/2015Indiana: Federal Court Denies Motorist Right To Stop In Safe Location
Federal judge rules that waiting to pull over in a safe, well-lit location is equivalent to resisting arrest.
The use of unmarked police cars in many states puts motorists in a bind. When they see flashing lights in the rear view mirror, they can either pull over immediately in a dark, sketchy location and take their chances that the lights are not those of an impersonator, or they can drive for a few moments to stop in a safe, public location and risk being treated to a hostile stop and search of their vehicle by legitimate police. A precedent set earlier this month by a federal judge in the unsympathetic case of Djuane Lamar McPhaul will push drivers to stop immediately, no matter what.
On December 21, 2013, Ball State University Police Officer Andrew Sell, in a marked cruiser, decided to stop McPhaul's white Cadillac after noticing a black male was behind the wheel and the car was registered to someone with a suspended license. It was 3:15am, and instead of immediately pulling over, McPhaul drove for less than a mile at low speeds to the nearest well lit gas station. He pulled into a parking spot.
Officer Sell ordered McPhaul out of the car, and because McPhaul took nearly a minute to comply, his anger intensified. McPhaul got out of his car holding his cell phone and his wallet. McPhaul was handcuffed and searched while ten officers from the Muncie Police Department arrived at the scene.
The situation presented government prosecutors with an ideal test case. McPhaul had previously been convicted for armed robbery, so in addition to driving on a suspended license problem, he was caught wearing level IIIA body armor, which protects against handgun rounds, and with a Smith and Wesson Sigma 9mm handgun in the center console. Both items are prohibited to convicted felons. A safe in the car contained $2245 in cash, which the officers promptly confiscated.
US District Court Judge Tanya Walton Pratt ruled that the initial traffic stop was legitimate because McPhaul committed several traffic infractions, including an illegal turn. She also upheld the warrantless search of his vehicle.
"After Officer Sell turned on his police lights and siren, Mr. McPhaul did not immediately stop but instead traveled for nearly a mile and made four turns before finally coming to a stop in a gas station parking lot," Judge Pratt wrote. "These facts are sufficient probable cause for an arrest for resisting law enforcement in a vehicle."
Because the arrest was valid, the judge upheld the warrantless search of the vehicle as well. The case will now proceed to trial. Last week, McPhaul sought to introduce evidence in his case taken from his pending civil rights lawsuit against the police department. The same department had arrested him eight months before the traffic stop in question, and one of the officers, David Barnes, allegedly assaulted him. McPhaul claims he was set up and that Officers Sell and Barnes communicated by cell phone during the December stop.
A copy of the ruling is available in a 350k PDF file at the source link below.