4/17/2019Federal Court Forces Drivers To Open Their Trunk At Hardware Store
Eight Circuit US Court of Appeals upholds the right of hardware store to detain and search the trunks of customer vehicles.
Motorists driving away from a hardware store can be stopped and searched at the request of a store employee under a ruling last week by the Eight Circuit US Court of Appeals. A three-judge panel the claim by Charles Waters and his wife Anita that they were illegally detained at a Menards store in Coons Rapids, Minnesota, on March 27, 2016.
Charles Waters had gone to the store to pick up a Hitachi table saw he purchased online. An employee loaded the new tool into the trunk, and the Waters began driving to the exit where another employee waited, asking to inspect the vehicle's trunk. A sign at the store entrance warns of the searches, but the Waters said they never saw it.
Charles Waters refused the search, saying the store had no legal right to look through his property. The employee refused to allow them to leave without being searched, so Charles Waters called 911 to resolve the standoff. Officers Alyssa Smith (formerly Newbury) and Emily Kirchner responded to the scene.
"I have made my transaction," Charles Waters told the officers. "I can prove I paid for my product."
The man refused to ID himself to the officers because he was not driving. At this point, the officers became annoyed and ordered him out of the car. When he asked on what basis, they insisted he get out immediately.
"I have reasonable suspicion that you have something in the trunk that you did not pay for," Officer Kirchner explained. "You came in to a shipment yard which has a policy that you are not supposed to leave without showing the product you have picked up. To me that's enough reasonable suspicion that you have something stolen."
After handcuffing Charles Waters, the officer went to Anita Waters and insisted that she open the trunk. When she did so they found the saw that had been properly purchased. The Waters ended up being detained for twenty minutes before being allowed to leave. They sued for false imprisonment, but the three-judge panel last week upheld a lower court ruling throwing out the case.
"The officers told Mr. Waters at the time that he was being detained that his refusal to comply with Menards's clearly-posted policy afforded them reasonable suspicion that he had something incriminating in his vehicle's trunk," Judge Bobby E. Shepherd wrote for the appellate court. "Because Officers Smith and Kirchner possessed specific, articulable facts that led them to suspect Mr. Waters might be engaged in criminal activity, we find that, under the totality of the circumstances, Officers Smith and Kirchner actually had reasonable suspicion to detain Mr. Waters."
The court ruled Waters had not been arrested, he was only detained because he was being argumentative.
A copy of the ruling is available in a 150k PDF file at the source link below.