In 2015, an anonymous tip advised MBN that several unidentified individuals were outside a private residence selling drugs. The house was located on or around Dr. MLK Dr. and had a chimnea out front. MBN responded and found the house with the chimnea and six people out front.
As MBN watched from across the street, they saw one of the individuals try to hide something under his shirt. They approached and this individual revealed the hidden object was a marijuana joint. His foot was on a CD case that contained additional marijuana. A second individual produced marijuana from his pants pocket. A third individual had marijuana and a firearm.
MBN then decided to frisk John Cole for weapons. Cole fled and discarded a white hand towel. While pursuing Cole, Officer Barlow of Brookhaven P.D. heard a metallic clinking on the pavement and looked down to find a revolver. The towel and marijuana were found near the revolver.
Cole was arrested and additional marijuana was found on his person. Cole was Mirandized and admitted to possessing the gun and drugs. He was convicted of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and felon in possession of a firearm and sentenced to 13 years. On appeal, he argued the stop and frisk were illegal. MSC affirmed.
A. Anonymous tip
The U.S. Supreme Court in Alabama v. White, 496 U.S. 325 (1990), held, that an anonymous tip alone seldom demonstrates the informant’s basis of knowledge or veracity. But even so, there are situations in which an anonymous tip, suitably corroborated, exhibits sufficient indicia of reliability to provide reasonable suspicion to make the investigatory stop.
Therefore, reasonable suspicion is dependent upon the content of the information possessed by the detaining officer as well as its degree of reliability. In this case, it’s not at all clear from the tip or testimony that the tipster was in a position to have firsthand or reliable knowledge of any of the things about which he communicated to the officer. Therefore, we find the tip here, alone, did not possess sufficient indicia of reliability to provide the agents with reasonable suspicion to stop the group, or any of its individual members.
But in this case, the tip was not the sole basis for the agents’ actions—here, the agents personally observed what they deemed suspicious behavior as soon as they arrived on the scene, thereby establishing an independent ground for reasonable suspicion.
Therefore, based upon the agents’ personal observation of suspicious activity (an individual within the group of interest hiding something under his shirt), as well as their corroboration of certain (albeit vague) details provided in the tip (approximate location and existence of the group), we hold that, objectively speaking, the agents possessed specific, articulable facts constituting a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot. This justified the stop of the first individual acting suspicious.
B. Seizure of Cole
We agree with Cole that he was temporarily detained once the initial questioning of the group began. Even so, we still hold that both the inception of the stop—and its accompanying detention—were lawful under Terry. This is because the anonymous tip implicated a group of individuals possibly distributing narcotics.
The agents, when approaching the group of interest, then personally observed an individual within the group of interest acting suspicious. When investigated further, the agents discovered marijuana on at least three individuals. Treating those discoveries as verification of the information received in the tip, and coupled with their independent observations, we hold that the agents were justified in their temporary detention of the remaining individuals comprising the group for purposes of investigating possible criminal behavior.
C. Terry Frisk of Cole
In light of what the agents had discovered up to that point in their investigation (narcotics and a firearm), we also find that the agents were justified in their decision to frisk Cole. This is because the officer need not be absolutely certain that the individual is armed; the issue is whether a reasonably prudent man in the circumstances would be warranted in the belief that his safety or that of others was in danger.
The U.S. Supreme Court in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), said that when an officer is justified in believing that the individual whose suspicious behavior he is investigating at close range is armed and presently dangerous to the officer or to others, it would appear to be clearly unreasonable to deny the officer the power to take necessary measures to determine whether the person is in fact carrying a weapon and to neutralize the threat of physical harm.
D. Arrest of Cole
In Cooper, we said that where a Terry stop has not been completed due to a suspect’s flight, the officers are provided with further reasonable suspicion to justify pursuit. More importantly, in Dies, this Court held if a suspect flees from the police when he has been detained on reasonable suspicion, the officers acquire probable cause to effectuate an arrest.
E. Drugs and gun abandoned
Cole was not considered arrested under the Fourth Amendment until he was captured by the chasing agents and placed into custody. In Harper v. State, 635 So. 2d 864 (Miss. 1994), this court held that abandonment of objects during flight removes any protection of the law as to unreasonable searches and seizures.
A person relinquishes any privacy rights as to property that is abandoned or discarded when fleeing from police. Thus, Cole cannot rely upon the Fourth Amendment for protection.
F. Search Incident to Arrest
Lastly, because we find that the pursuit, seizure, and ultimate arrest of Cole were legal, it necessarily follows that the additional marijuana found on his person was lawfully obtained—therefore, it was not fruit of the poisonous tree.
That is because a custodial arrest of a suspect based on probable cause is a reasonable intrusion under the Fourth Amendment. That intrusion being lawful, then, a search incident to the arrest requires no additional justification.