Officers did not have reasonable suspicion to detain and patsearch defendant when they found him in a busy area more than two hours after receiving a report that a person matching his general description was harassing customers at a business. In the middle of the day, a person contacted law enforcement officers to report that an adult Black male wearing a sweatshirt and dark pants was “harassing” customers at a business in a high-crime area that has a fair amount of foot traffic and a high number of transients and homeless people. However, no criminal conduct was described. The reporting party told police that the person appeared to have some mental health problems and had “set up camp.” Over two hours after they received the call, law enforcement officers arrived in the area. They saw Thomas sitting on the sidewalk, approximately 80 yards away from the business. He was wearing a windbreaker, sweatshirt, and dark pants on a warm day and there was no one else in the area. He refused to identify himself, told the officers he was not on probation, and stated he did not want or need to talk to the officers. As he tried to walk away, the officers put him in a control hold and handcuffed him. During two searches officers discovered a knife, a pipe, and drugs. Following the denial of a motion to suppress the evidence, Thomas was convicted of a number of offenses and sentenced as a second-striker. Held: Reversed. A person may be detained without a warrant if police have reasonable suspicion to believe the individual is involved in criminal activity. Here, after analyzing all the circumstances of the report and Thomas’ conduct, the court concluded that “the officers did not have sufficient information that a crime had been committed or was about to be committed and defendant was the person who had committed that crime. There was no reasonable suspicion for them to detain defendant or patsearch him.”
The People forfeited their claim of equitable estoppel because they did not raise and argue the issue in the trial court. Although Thomas told the officers he was not on probation, the officers saw his name on an EBT card during the patsearch and discovered that he was on informal searchable probation when they ran a records check. On appeal, the People relied on People v. Watkins (2009) 170 Cal.App.4th 1403 to argue that Thomas was estopped from challenging the validity of the search and seizure because, contrary to Thomas’ statement to the officers, he was, in fact, on searchable informal probation and lied about it. In Watkins, the court held that a defendant who intentionally misrepresented his identity to prevent law officers from discovering his probation or parole status and search conditions was equitably estopped from challenging the search as a probation search. This claim, however, was not raised in the trial court below. It was the People’s burden to raise the issue of estoppel in the trial court. Thomas would then have had an opportunity to overcome the objection. Because the People did not raise the estoppel argument in the trial court, the claim was forfeited on appeal. Additionally, the probation exception does not apply if the officers were unaware of the probation search condition at the time of a warrantless search. Because the officers were unaware of the probation search condition until after they placed Thomas in a control hold, handcuffed him, and conducted a patsearch for weapons, they cannot rely on the existence of this probation condition to now justify the search and seizure.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/C083845M.PDF