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Gun charge against teen dismissed over illegal search

Police should have checked ID

A New York City Family Court judge has dismissed a weapon charge against a teen because of an illegal police search. 

On March 18, the alleged delinquent, identified as Alfred B., and another teen, identified as Jeffrey D., were stopped by the police for jaywalking after they crossed a street against the light. 

When the officer asked for identification, Alfred B. said he was 16 years old and did not have ID. He was cooperative, gave the officer his name and his father’s name, and his address and repeatedly asked the officer to verify the information. 

“Nonetheless, without making any attempt to verify the information provided, the officer placed respondent in handcuffs and searched him for weapons and contraband. A firearm was recovered from respondent’s jacket pocket,” according to the decision by Judge Carol Goldstein. 

According to the relevant statute, a summons or appearance ticket must be issued, instead of an arrest, for a violation or a low-level crime when the accused makes their identity known to the officer. 

Goldstein ruled that when identification information is provided by the accused, “the officer must take reasonable steps to verify that information before proceeding to make an arrest and, in the instant case, no such steps were taken.” 

Alfred B. was charged with two counts of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon. A hearing was held to decide the legality of the recovery of the firearm. 

Two officers in a patrol car saw the two young men cross an intersection against the light before they went into a store on the corner. One officer called his sergeant and asked him to come to the scene. 

When Alfred B. was asked for ID, he said he was 16 and did not carry ID. He gave his name and said that his father has the same name. And the officer recognized him. 

Without being asked, the young man told the officers where he lived. 

Jeffrey D. said he was 17 and also did not have an ID. He asked the officer if he wanted his name and the officer replied: “Nah,” according to the decision. 

The officers testified during the hearing that the young men were not aggressive and “nothing about his encounter with respondent made him afraid.” 

“Respondent did not curse or threaten the officer, nor did he try to assault the officer. The court viewed the video from the officers’ body-worn cameras and observed no aggressive words or actions on the part of respondent,” Goldstein wrote. 

The sergeant arrived with his partner, so there were four officers on the scene, plus two more directly across the street who were not involved in this incident. 

Police put handcuffs on Alfred B. before taking him to the precinct to verify his identity. Police searched Alfred B. and found a handgun in his jacket pocket. 

Jeffrey D. also was handcuffed, but no weapons or contraband were recovered. His identity was verified, and he was issued a summons for jaywalking. 

Before putting Alfred B. in handcuffs, police made no effort to verify any of the information that he had provided, Goldstein wrote. 

The officer claimed he did not do the ID check because they did not want “a crowd to form.” 

“Any kinds of things could happen. It’s safer for us to conduct a pedigree check back at the precinct,” the officer testified. 

But Goldstein noted that there was no testimony that a crowd gathered on the street during the eight minutes between the stop and the moment Alfred B. was placed in a police car. 

Videos from the body-worn cameras of the officers did not show a crowd forming or any unsafe conditions at the scene, Goldstein wrote. 

Goldstein also noted that traffic videos from the intersection where the arrest took place revealed “a number of other safety issues that were not addressed by” officers, Goldstein wrote. 

“These include a motor scooter driving on the sidewalk, a motorized wheelchair traveling in the street against traffic, and a delivery truck parked in such a manner as to partially block the pedestrian crosswalk,” she wrote. 

At the precinct, Alfred B.’s ID was verified and police called his mother. 

He was arrested for possession of a weapon but was never given a ticket for jaywalking. 

“There is no requirement that a person present photographic identification in order to be issued an appearance ticket in in lieu of arrest where the person’s identity is otherwise verifiable,” according to the decision. 

Prosecutors claimed that if the suspect cannot produce a government ID, police can make an arrest. 

“The court disagrees,” Goldstein wrote. 

“The court holds that when presented with an accused who, although lacking a photo ID, is cooperative and provides information regarding his identity, the officer may not immediately take that person into custody,” she wrote. 

“Rather, the officer must first make reasonable attempts to verify the identity of the accused based upon the information provided,” she ruled. 

“The court finds that the reasons (the officer) gave for not verifying respondent’s identity at the scene were contrived,” Goldstein wrote. 

The officer claimed that he was concerned about a crowd gathering.  

“The court watched the videos from the officers’ body-worn cameras which captured the entire encounter and a crowd never gathered. The officer did not point to any other specific safely concern. Notably, there were at least four officers at the scene who could have stepped in and kept order if a safety issue were to have arisen,” Goldstein wrote. 

“Because the handcuffing of respondent was unlawful, the firearm subsequently recovered from respondent’s pocket during an ensuing search for weapons and contraband, was the product of the initial illegality and must be suppressed. Since the sole charges in the petition are two counts of criminal possession of a weapon and the weapon, namely the firearm, is suppressed, the petition is dismissed.” 

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