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United States v. Reddick

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

November 30, 2018

United States of America Plaintiff - Appellee
Thomas Reddick Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: September 25, 2018

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas - Little Rock

          Before WOLLMAN, KELLY, and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.


         On April 4, 2017, Thomas Reddick was convicted of two counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm. On July 21, 2017, the district court[1] sentenced Reddick to two concurrent 45-month terms of imprisonment. Reddick now appeals the district court's denial of a pre-trial motion to suppress evidence of a firearm, related to the conviction on the second count of felon in possession of a firearm. Reddick asserts there was no valid basis for Sgt. St. Laurent of the Blytheville Police Department to effectuate an investigatory stop or conduct a pat-down search which led to the discovery of the firearm. We conclude the investigatory stop and eventual frisk were each valid under Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), and affirm.

         I. Background

         On January 14, 2014, the police responded to a domestic relations call involving a vehicle near 712 Clearlake in Blytheville, Arkansas. The suspect involved in the incident fled the vehicle on foot. Officer Michael Dannar was left to secure the scene. The incident had caused a crowd of onlookers to gather which complicated Dannar's task. While Dannar was securing the scene and instructing onlookers to stay back, a man later identified as Reddick directly approached Dannar and the car. Dannar told the man to stop, stating, "If you're coming after the car, you're not getting it." Dannar later explained this command by relating past experiences where persons who have no legitimate ownership interest in a vehicle abandoned during a police interaction appear and falsely claim ownership or a right to possess the abandoned vehicle. Reddick responded to Dannar's instructions by gesturing with his arms at Dannar without removing his hands from his large, bulky coat pockets. Reddick did not follow Dannar's instructions to stop approaching the vehicle.

         At approximately the same time, Sgt. St. Laurent arrived to aid Dannar at the scene. Dannar told St. Laurent that an unidentified man (Reddick) was trying to walk onto the crime scene. Dannar asked St. Laurent to identify the man. St. Laurent later testified that based on the urgent tenor of Dannar's voice, he understood that he needed to act quickly.

         St. Laurent approached Reddick, who was standing slightly outside the crime scene. Reddick continued to have his hands in his coat pockets. St. Laurent asked him what he was doing and why he would not leave. St. Laurent thought Reddick's answers were "evasive." Reddick claimed not to have any identification on him. St. Laurent noticed that Reddick had his hands in his pockets. St. Laurent repeatedly asked Reddick to remove his hands from his pockets. While Reddick would briefly comply and remove his hands, he kept placing them back in his pockets. St. Laurent later testified that, in his experience, those carrying a weapon will frequently touch it as if to reassure themselves that it is still there. St. Laurent explained that Reddick's actions made him concerned that the encounter could "evolve into something more."

         St. Laurent announced that he would pat the man down as a safety precaution and asked the man whether he had anything on him that an officer should know about. Reddick hesitated before saying, "No." As Reddick turned around, his coat swung out, leading St. Laurent to believe that something of some substance was in Reddick's coat pocket. St. Laurent conducted the frisk and found a .38 caliber Smith and Wesson revolver. At trial, Dannar admitted that he knew of no relationship between Reddick and the original domestic relations incident.

         Reddick unsuccessfully moved the district court to suppress the firearm on the theory that he was searched in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The district court held that the officer conducted a valid Terry stop. Reddick appeals.

         II. Discussion

         "We review the denial of a motion to suppress de novo but review underlying factual determinations for clear error, giving due weight to the inferences of the district court and law enforcement officials." United States v. Hager, 710 F.3d 830, 835 (8th Cir. 2013) (quoting United States v. Nichols, 574 F.3d 633, 636 (8th Cir. 2009)). "We affirm a denial of a motion to suppress unless the district court's decision 'is unsupported by substantial evidence, based on an erroneous interpretation of applicable law, or, based on the entire record, it is clear a mistake was made.'" Id. (quoting United States v. Hastings, 685 F.3d 724, 727 (8th Cir. 2012)).

         Reddick challenges both the initial investigatory stop and the subsequent protective frisk. Police officers may constitutionally conduct an investigatory search "if they have a reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity." United States v. Sawyer, 588 F.3d 548, 556 (8th Cir. 2009), abrogated on other grounds by United States v. Eason, 829 F.3d 633, 641 (8th Cir. 2016). "When justifying a particular stop, police officers 'must be able to point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together ...

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