In 2002, Agent Overstreet of the South Mississippi Drug Task Force heard over his police radio the following information: (1) two white males had come into Campbell’s Big Star and purchased large quantities of Pseudoephedrine (also known as Sudafed); (2) these two individuals had also attempted to purchase Sudafed from the Family Dollar Store; (3) The two white males left Campbell’s Big Star in a white van with license number 4BA 347, and headed west on Highway 84, also known as Azalea Drive.
Overstreet understood that the information obtained from the dispatcher was provided to the police department from the two retail stores, but the identity of the callers was unknown.
In response to the information, Overstreet proceeded to Azalea Drive, where he spotted a white van in the parking lot of Fred’s Dollar Store (also known to sell Sudafed). After verifying that the white van had two white males inside, and the tag number matched the number provided to the police, Overstreet called for back-up.
When it arrived, he pulled up behind the van, got out of his vehicle and walked up to the van.
Overstreet requested the driver (Gregory Scott Williamson) to produce his driver’s license, and informed the suspects that two Waynesboro stores had informed the police that two white males had purchased, or attempted to purchase, pseudoephedrine.
When asked why they were purchasing Sudafed in Waynesboro when they lived in Petal, the suspects provided evasive responses. Overstreet then asked the occupants of the van, including Williamson, to exit the van and, upon further questioning, concluded that the occupants were continuing to provide evasive answers. He then requested consent to search the van and Williamson consented.
Overstreet discovered several boxes of Sudafed and a fuel additive alcohol (gas treatment). Both these chemicals constitute precursors used in the illegal manufacture of controlled substances. Additionally, Overstreet discovered receipts from several Waynesboro stores for Sudafed purchases.
After the trial judge denied Williamson’s motion to suppress the evidence, he brought an immediate appeal of this issue. He claimed the anonymous tip was not suitable for a stop. MSC affirmed the trial court’s denial to suppress the evidence.
In Shannon, the MCOA said police activity in preventing crime, detecting violations, making identifications, and in apprehending criminals may be divided into three types of action:
(1) Voluntary conversation: An officer may approach a person for the purpose of engaging in a voluntary conversation no matter what facts are known to the officer since it involves no force and no detention of the person interviewed;
(2) Investigative stop and temporary detention: To stop and temporarily detain is not an arrest, and the cases hold that given reasonable circumstances an officer may stop and detain a person to resolve an ambiguous situation without having sufficient knowledge to justify an arrest;
(3) Arrest: An arrest may be made only when the officer has probable cause.
Given reasonable circumstances an officer may stop and detain a person to resolve an ambiguous situation without having sufficient knowledge to justify an arrest.
The U.S. Supreme Court said in Florida v J.L., 529 U.S. 266 (2000), that there are situations in which an anonymous tip, suitably corroborated, exhibits sufficient indicia of reliability to provide reasonable suspicion to make the investigatory stop.
This court has also held in Floyd that reasonable cause for an investigatory stop may be based on an officer’s personal observation or on an informant’s tip if it bears indicia of reliability. Reasonable suspicion is dependent upon the content of the information possessed by the detaining officer as well as its degree of reliability. Both factors–quantity and quality–are considered in the totality of the circumstances.
The information provided to Overstreet included the color of the van, the number and race of occupants, the license plate number and the direction of travel, including the name of the street. All of these details were verified by Overstreet prior to the investigatory questioning.
Overstreet testified that retail stores frequently call the police department when customers purchase, or attempt to purchase, large quantities of Sudafed.
At the suppression hearing, the trial judge observed that a retail establishment has a vested interest in being truthful in their dealings with authorities as they are an integral part of the community. Overstreet had sufficient information in the form of this tip to have a reasonable suspicion that the Defendants had committed a crime.
We find no error in that decision.