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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Probable Cause? I Think Not

The Tampa Tribune reports on a Florida man pulled over in New Jersey for no other reason than he had a CCL. He had left his pistol in Florida, so, after tearing his car apart, he was let go. The man recounts:
Ten minutes later he’s [the officer is] back, and he wants John out of the Expedition. Retreating to the space between the SUV and the unmarked car, the officer orders John to hook his thumbs behind his back and spread his feet. “You own a gun,” the officer says. “Where is it?”

“At home in my safe,” John answers.

“Don’t move,” says the officer.

Now he’s at the passenger’s window. “Your husband owns a gun,” he says. “Where is it?”

First Kally says, “I don’t know.” Retelling it later she says, “And that’s all I should have said.” Instead, attempting to be helpful, she added, “Maybe in the glove [box]. Maybe in the console. I’m scared of it. I don’t want to have anything to do with it. I might shoot right through my foot.”

The officer came back to John. “You’re a liar. You’re lying to me. Your family says you have it. Where is the gun? Tell me where it is and we can resolve this right now.”

Of course, John couldn’t show him what didn’t exist, but Kally’s failure to corroborate John’s account, the officer would tell them later, was the probable cause that allowed him to summon backup — three marked cars joined the lineup along the I-95 shoulder — and empty the Expedition of riders, luggage, Christmas gifts, laundry bags; to pat down Kally and Yianni; to explore the engine compartment and probe inside door panels; and to separate and isolate the Filippidises in the back seats of the patrol cars.

Ninety minutes later, or maybe it was two hours — “It felt like forever,” Kally says — no weapon found and their possessions repacked, the episode ended ... with the officer writing out a warning.
According to Mr. Filippidises, he was not speeding--there was no reason for pulling him over.

Of course, what happened is the officer noticed the out-of-state plates, and decided to run them through his computer. That pulled up the fact that Mr. Filippidises had a CCL issued by Florida. Then he tailgated him, went in front of him, etc., all trying to get Filippidises to do something that would justify a stop, so he could search the car for a firearm. (I've seen police use similar tactics, including tailgating people at night with the police car's highbeams on just to encourage the person to speed). It is not clear that Filippidises did anything to justify a stop--he wasn't issued a citation. In other words, it appears that Filippidises was pulled over simply because he had a gun permit.

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