Must a peace officer determine the victim and the aggressor of a fight before detaining and frisking the parties involved?
Answer: No, as long as the officer has reasonable suspicion to believe that a fight has occurred.
Police were dispatched about 1:30 a.m. to a local bar, where a fight had been reported. Dispatch explained that the fight involved two or three people and that one person was carrying a gun. As one officer arrived, he saw many people leaving the bar to get away from the fight. The officer entered the bar by himself and heard “screaming and hollering” inside. He spoke with security about what was going on and then began telling people to leave the bar. From here, the police officer’s version of events differed from that of the bar patrons.
The officer said he saw John Lockett slap a woman, Sena Williams, in the face. The officer grabbed Lockett and passed him off to another officer, giving instructions to take Lockett outside. However, it was unclear whether the first officer told the second officer that Lockett was to be arrested or just detained. The second officer took Lockett outside and handcuffed him, but said that he didn’t intend to arrest Lockett at that time. Lockett began to run from the second officer, so the officer used his Taser to stop Lockett. The officer then frisked Lockett and discovered a firearm and 11 bags of marijuana. The bar patrons, including Sena Williams, told police it was Williams who hit Lockett and that Lockett didn’t retaliate. Lockett later moved to suppress the evidence found during the stop-and-frisk, based on a lack of reasonable suspicion that Lockett committed any crime.
Why this case is important:
The court held that the officers’ actions in seizing Lockett weren’t unreasonable. Lockett had been involved in an altercation. Even if there was uncertainty as to who was the aggressor, the fact that Lockett was involved in a fight gave officers a reasonable suspicion to believe that criminal activity may have occurred. Peace officers have a duty to investigate reports concerning altercations and can stop individuals said to be involved in a fight, regardless of whether they are the suspect or the victim. Reasonableness is based on the totality of the circumstances. In this case, it was reasonable to detain Lockett: Police were responding to a call about a bar fight that may have involved a gun, the bar was very crowded, and most of the patrons were intoxicated. One of the officers believed he saw Lockett hit Williams, and other bar patrons confirmed there was a fight between Lockett and Williams.
Keep in mind:
When you believe an altercation has occurred, you can detain everyone who may have been involved and conduct a frisk for weapons. Safety is your main concern. There’s no need initially to sort out who was the victim and who was the aggressor as long as you’ve got reasonable suspicion to believe a crime has occurred.
Visit the Ohio Supreme Court’s website
to view the entire opinion.