Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia Criminal Division (F-2520-98) (Hon. Ronna Lee Beck, Trial Judge)
Before Terry, Ruiz and Glickman, Associate Judges.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Glickman, Associate Judge
That police have legally sufficient grounds to stop a particular person who they suspect has committed a crime, see Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), is usually not a sufficient justification in itself for stopping the suspect's companions or other bystanders too. But that usual rule tolerates exceptions for exigent circumstances. In this case we hold that when police validly stopped a person whom they reasonably suspected of being armed, dangerous, and escaping from the scene of a violent crime, the police validly could stop the suspect's companion, appellant Tyrone Trice, as well.
At 11:40 p.m. on April 4, 1998, a police dispatcher broadcast a lookout for the suspect in a stabbing ("ADW knife") at Hadley Hospital. The dispatcher reported that the suspect, described as a Black male wearing a black, red and white shirt, had left the hospital "between one and five minutes ago" and was heading towards Elmira Street. About two minutes after they heard the lookout, Detective Richard Espinosa saw two men walking side by side in the 4300 block of 1st Street, half a mile from the hospital. The men were walking in the direction of Elmira Street, which was just a block or two away. One of the men, who was identified later as Anthony Castle, fit the description in the lookout. The other man, who did not match the description, was Tyrone Trice. Detective Espinosa drew his service weapon and ordered both men to stop and put their hands on his car. The two men complied.
As this was taking place, Officer Darryl Garner pulled up, exited his scout car, and joined Detective Espinosa. Like the detective, Officer Garner concededly had "no reason to believe" that Trice had engaged in any criminal activity. As Trice leaned over and put his hands on Detective Espinosa's car, however, Officer Garner saw "something silver inside of his right front coat pocket."
The object looked, Officer Garner later testified, "like a little small handgun. Something real small." Officer Garner proceeded to frisk Trice for weapons and discovered that the object was indeed a handgun. In the ensuing search incident to Trice's arrest, Officer Garner also recovered marijuana and an extra ammunition clip from Trice's pockets. *fn2
Trice was indicted on charges of carrying a pistol without a license, possession of an unregistered firearm, unlawful possession of ammunition, and unlawful possession of a controlled substance. Prior to trial, Trice moved on Fourth Amendment grounds to suppress the evidence that Officer Garner had seized from him. At the hearing on that motion, Trice did not dispute that the police had a sufficient basis to stop Anthony Castle as a person who fit the description of the suspect in the stabbing incident at Hadley Hospital. Nonetheless, Trice argued, the police had no information connecting him with that incident, and his mere association with Castle did not support a reasonable articulable suspicion that he was involved in any criminal offense. "Guilt by association," Trice contended, cannot justify a Terry stop.
After taking the motion to suppress under advisement, the trial judge issued her ruling. Relying on this Court's decision in Lewis v. United States, 399 A.2d 559 (D.C. 1979), the judge concluded that Detective Espinosa acted reasonably in stopping Trice because Trice was accompanying someone who fit the description of the suspect in an armed assault that had occurred nearby just minutes earlier. The judge found it unnecessary to decide whether those facts also made it reasonable for Officer Garner to frisk Trice for weapons, for even if not, Officer Garner's additional observation of a small silver object in Trice's pocket that could have been a handgun provided sufficient justification under Terry to conduct the frisk. Accordingly, the judge upheld the seizure of the handgun, marijuana and ammunition clip as lawful and denied Trice's motion to suppress.
Following the judge's ruling, Trice entered conditional guilty pleas to the charges against him, reserving his right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress. See Super. Ct. Crim. R. 11 (a)(2).
"Whether reasonable suspicion or probable cause exists to justify a seizure is a mixed question of fact and law. The findings with respect to the historical facts are reviewed under the clearly erroneous standard; the ultimate conclusion, however, is subject to de novo review." Brown v. United States, 590 A.2d 1008, 1020 (D.C. 1991). Thus in this appeal, where the record supports the trial judge's material factual findings, we must reach "an independent legal conclusion as to whether there was reasonable suspicion for the stop." Speight v. United States, 671 A.2d 442, 446 (D.C. 1996).
When Detective Espinosa aimed his weapon at Trice and ordered him, along with Castle, to put his hands up against a car, Trice was "seized" ...