Searching for Bank Robber, Police Handcuff and Detain 40 Innocent People at One Intersection
Police officers in Aurora, CO stopped every car and handcuffed every adult at an intersection in search of a bank robbery suspect. According to ABC, forty innocent people were handcuffed and detained, and the suspect was found and arrested in the last of the 19 cars that were stopped.
Police Chief Daniel Oates defended the stops and said, “The law is clear that investigative detentions are lawful for a reasonable period of time,” and that officers acted under “virtual certainty.” Officer Frank Fania told ABC News, “We didn’t have a description, didn’t know race or gender or anything, so a split-second decision was made to stop all the cars at that intersection, and search for the armed robber.”
Sonya Romero, a driver who was cuffed and detained during the search, told Denver’s KMGH-TV that “cops came in from every direction and just threw their car in front of my car.”
The fourth amendment guards against unreasonable searches and seizures, along with requiring any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause. Nevertheless, officer Fania justified the police’s decision to stop and handcuff innocent civilians:
It’s hard to say what ‘normal’ is in a situation like this when you haven’t dealt with a situation like this. The result of the whole ordeal is that it paid off. We have arrested and charged a suspect.
But at what cost? Legal expert Jim Miller raises questions of civil rights violations in handcuffing and detaining innocent individuals:
The concern is that the officers who were involved couldn’t point to any of these people they stopped and say, ‘here’s my articulable suspicion for believing you did something wrong.’