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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > August 2012 > State v. Sweeney — Eighth District Court of Appeals (Cuyahoga County), July 12, 2012

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State v. Sweeney — Eighth District Court of Appeals (Cuyahoga County), July 12, 2012


Question: Once the premises are secure, can a peace officer further detain an inpidual because he is a patron at a bar known for gun violence and drug activity?

Quick answer: No, not without any particularized suspicion that the inpidual was engaged in criminal activity.

Facts: Police officers executed a temporary restraining order on a bar that had more than 30 civil violations and four felony arrests in the past year. That evening, there were about 50 to 75 bar patrons when police arrived. The officers decided to detain everyone for officer safety and because of the bar’s past violent history. To secure the scene, officers patted down all patrons for weapons. Finding nothing, they asked patrons for their IDs, detaining them further to check for outstanding warrants. Defendant Seymour Sweeney, a bar patron, had an outstanding warrant for failing to appear in court for driving under suspension. As a result, police arrested him. Officers again patted down Sweeney before placing him in a police cruiser. The second pat-down revealed crack cocaine in his pocket. Sweeney moved to suppress the drugs because police lacked any suspicion for detaining him to check on outstanding warrants.

Why this case is important: The court found no constitutional violation for initially detaining and patting down Sweeney because he was at a bar known for violent crime. However, once the officers didn’t find any weapons, the bar was secured, and they verified that Sweeney was of legal drinking age, Sweeney should have been released because police had no reasonable, inpidualized suspicion that he was involved in any criminal activity. The fact that the bar was known for drug and gun crime and that Sweeney seemed “fidgety” are not enough to justify further detaining him to check for outstanding warrants. Therefore, the officers’ continued detention and second pat-down of Sweeney was unconstitutional.

Keep in mind: Being in an establishment known for drug and gun crimes is not a crime, and it doesn’t provide you with reasonable suspicion to do anything other than what is necessary for officer safety. The U.S. Supreme Court decided a similar case in Ybarra v. Illinois, where it held that an inpidual’s proximity to other people or places suspected of crime doesn’t give law enforcement probable cause to search that inpidual.So, to secure a scene, you may detain inpiduals as long as necessary for safety, which includes a pat-down for weapons. But once you’ve secured the area, unless you have a particularized suspicion that an inpidual is involved in criminal activity, you violate the Constitution by detaining him any longer.

Click here to read the entire opinion.