Flight by One Member of a Group Does not Raise Suspicion for the Rest of the Group

The First Department

The First Department

in People v Thompson, 2015 NY Slip Op 03605, the First Department reversed the defendant’s conviction and dismissed the indictment against the defendant.

In Thompson, the defendant – Latiff Thompson – was arrested and charged with gun possession, and after trial he was sentenced to 12 years in prison. The facts of the case are pretty straight forward. The arresting officers were on a foot patrol in the summer of 2012. At around 11:25pm, the officers were notified of a gun point robbery that occurred in the vicinity of their patrol and the description they received was of three African American men in their early 20’s where shorts and “wifebeater” tank tops who where about 5’7″ in hight. The officers then responded to the scene of the arrest, in front of 1581 Park Avenue, in response to a call for a “suspicious male.” At that location, the officers observed the defendant exit the building with three other men. Two of them wore “wifebeaters with shorts,” one wore a red polo shirt, and defendant wore a black and white checkered shirt. As the officers approached the four men, one of them ran off. At this point the officers put the defendant against the wall and pat him down without finding anything. They then felt the defendant was making suspicious movements and had a bulge in his waistband while they were waiting for the victim of the robbery to come and view the defendant and his friends to determine if they were the ones who committed the robbery. At this point, the officers recovered a loaded handgun from the defendant, and then later found a credit card on his person that didn’t belong to him.

The Court held, “Further, a person’s flight is sufficient to create the reasonable suspicion necessary to escalate a level one or level two encounter to a level three detention, so long as other circumstances are attendant, such as a high-crime location and activity suggesting, although not alone creating, reasonable suspicion that the person fleeing the scene may be engaged in criminal conduct.” However, as the Court noted, “In all of the cases which discuss flight as the determining factor in creating reasonable suspicion, however, the defendant is the person who fled. Here, of course, defendant did not flee; he obeyed the officers’ direction to stop and to submit to their questioning.”

As the police lacked reasonable suspicion that the defendant was engaged in any criminality, they had no right to hold him or search him. As a result, the court overturned the conviction and dismissed the case against the defendant.

Read the original decision here.
People v Thompson