(In January of 2023, the 5th disagreed with the District Court about at what point this car was seized. That discussion can be found here. They sent the case back to District Court to determine whether there was sufficient reasonable suspicion at time of seizure. That discussion follows below).
In 2020, the Corpus Christi Police Department received a suspicious vehicle call. The caller—who asked to remain anonymous— told dispatch that a gold Toyota Corolla was parked on Tanglewood Drive near Glen Arbor Park and that the occupants were dealing drugs.
A core factual dispute is whether the tipster made the bare accusation that the individuals in the car were “dealers” or whether he claimed to see them dealing drugs. The dispatcher’s call summary log indicated that the tipster said that the occupants of the gold Corolla were “drug dealers,” that they were in “his park,” that the police needed to clear them out, and that he would shoot the suspects if necessary to defend himself.
Later, however, the police convinced the tipster to identify himself and testify at the suppression hearing. There, he gave slightly more detail—he claimed that he told police dispatch “that there was a gold Toyota Corolla . . . at the pavilion doing a re- up, giving drugs to the transients that deal in that park.”
Regardless of what precisely the tipster said on the phone, the truncated “call summary log” was sent to Officer Jakobsohn, who was already in the area. As soon as she received the bulletin, she headed toward Glen Arbor Park and arrived within a few minutes. There, she spotted a gold Corolla parked on Tanglewood Drive, just as the tipster had said. She executed a three-point turn and pulled up behind the vehicle with her red and blue flashers activated. Almost immediately, the driver (Jacob Wright) opened the driver’s door and moved to exit the vehicle. Jakobsohn shouted “stay in your car!” She repeated the command two more times, but Wright ignored her and stepped out of his car.
Jakobsohn then got out of her police cruiser and confronted Wright. After a verbal altercation, she handcuffed Wright and arrested him for resisting detention. She proceeded to search the car, which revealed a pistol and synthetic marihuana.
Wright conditionally pled guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm but reserved his right to appeal the stop. The District Court found that the Fourth Amendment was not implicated until after Wright and Jakobsohn got out of their cars and after their verbal altercation. We disagreed. We held that Wright was seized as soon as Jakobsohn pulled behind Wright with her lights flashing and “almost simultaneously” ordered him to remain in his car.
Still, a Terry stop must be justified by reasonable suspicion, and it was unclear whether Jakobsohn had reasonable suspicion at that point. We remanded for the district court to determine, in the first instance, whether Jakobsohn had reasonable suspicion to seize Wright at the moment she pulled up behind him and ordered him to stay put.
On remand, the district court helpfully clarified three critical facts. First, it specified that the anonymous tip came as a suspicious vehicle report, not through the 911 system. Second, the court explicitly found the tipster’s testimony at the suppression hearing credible. And third, the court found that the tip included both the information in the dispatcher’s call summary log and the additional details furnished by the tipster at the suppression hearing. Therefore, the court found that the tipster gave a contemporaneous and eyewitness account to dispatch that he had seen drugs dealt out of the gold Corolla.
The district court also offered several new legal explanations to support its ruling. For one thing, it found that the anonymous tip could be reliable under the totality of the circumstances even if the call was not made through 911 and was not traceable. It also noted that Jakobsohn knew that Glen Arbor Park was rife with drug crime, and that experience supported her reasonable suspicion. Finally, the court relied on the so-called collective knowledge doctrine to conclude that the combination of the dispatcher’s and Jakobsohn’s knowledge could justify the Terry stop. Based on that reasoning, the district court reaffirmed its original finding that Jakobsohn had reasonable suspicion. The 5th affirmed.
Jakobsohn seized Wright based on a reasonable suspicion that he was involved in drug dealing. Her belief was based on the combination of (A) the tip, (B) the high-crime area, and (C) Wright’s exiting the vehicle.
Our circuit has used four factors to determine whether a tip is sufficiently reliable: (1) the credibility and reliability of the informant; (2) the specificity of the information contained in the tip or report; (3) the extent to which the information in the tip or report can be verified by officers in the field; and (4) whether the tip or report concerns active or recent activity or has instead gone stale. See Gomez.
In determining whether an anonymous tip can support reasonable suspicion, the first consideration is the reliability of the tipster. While that inquiry depends on the specific circumstances of each case, SCOTUS Navarette v. California, 572 U.S. 393 (2014) helpfully clarified that an anonymous tipster is sufficiently reliable where (1) the caller necessarily claims eyewitness knowledge of illegal behavior, (2) the call is made contemporaneously with the observation of criminal activity, and (3) the caller uses the 911 emergency system, making their claim traceable and risking criminal liability for a false tip.
Two of the three Navarette factors are present. By stating that he saw drugs being dealt out of the gold Corolla, the tipster necessarily claimed eyewitness knowledge of illegal behavior. Furthermore, the call was made at the same time as the drug dealing that the tipster claimed to witness. Admittedly, the tipster did not use 911 to make his report, using a suspicious vehicle reporting line instead. But Navarette did not establish an exhaustive set of necessary requirements for an anonymous tips. It only identified three factors that, considered in context, made a tip reliable.
Although the tipster did not use 911, the call was not completely anonymous. The tipster strongly suggested that he lived near the park. Indeed, the police found the informant merely by knocking on doors near the spot where Wright was arrested. More persuasively, Jakobsohn testified that almost no “bogus” leads came through the suspicious vehicle reporting line, so she was inclined to believe the tip. Those facts support the tip’s reliability, even in the absence of a 911 call.
The information in the tip was short but specific. It gave the make, model, and color of the car. It gave the road where the car was parked and the cross streets. And it described the illegal activity that was seen—the car’s occupants were giving drugs to transients. The police were also able to verify most of the tip’s contents within minutes; the only allegation Jakobsohn did not confirm with her own eyes was the supposed drug dealing. Yet that is why she initiated the investigatory stop in the first place—the whole point of a Terry stop is to allow officers to freeze the status quo and see whether there is any reason to be concerned. And finally, the tip was contemporaneous with the event observed. We give much more weight to contemporaneous tips than to older reports about criminal activity. See Alvarez.
Since Navarette, we have clarified that there is no per se rule prohibiting investigatory stops based on anonymous tips that fail to provide predictive information. See Rose. A non-predictive tip that is highly specific can still create reasonable suspicion where an eyewitness reports observed criminality and key elements of that tip are corroborated at the scene.
A3. Verified by officers in field
Under our circuit’s collective knowledge doctrine, information known by one officer can be imputed to another when assessing whether police had legal basis for a seizure. See Zuniga.
When police receive an anonymous tip and relay that information to officers in the field, the dispatcher will be unable to corroborate the tip in the field. That means the dispatcher will often lack independent reasonable suspicion to authorize a stop. But once another officer corroborates the tip or learns additional information supporting its reliability, he or she might obtain the final puzzle pieces supporting reasonable suspicion.
A4. Recent activity
Because the Officer arrived at the area approximately ten minutes after the caller made the suspicious-vehicle call, the described suspicious activity was recent.
B. High crime activity
There was a second factor supporting reasonable suspicion: The area was known for the precise type of criminal activity alleged in the tip.
Jakobsohn testified at the suppression hearing that she often patrolled the corridor near Glen Arbor Park. In a ten-hour shift, she would receive three to four calls coming from the area. Those calls mostly regarded “drug users in that area . . . showing signs of public intoxication,” “drug dealers in the area,” and “a lot of homeless.” The anonymous tip was consistent with her concerns about the area, as it reported drug dealing at Glen Arbor Park to transients.
The fact that a stop occurred in a high crime area is among the relevant contextual considerations in a Terry analysis. See SCOTUS Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119, 124 (2000). That is especially true when a high-crime area is combined with other suspicious behavior.
A person’s presence in an area of expected criminal activity, standing alone, is not enough to support a reasonable, particularized suspicion that the person is committing a crime. See McKinney. But here, the high-crime area did not stand alone. Wright’s presence in a park known for drug crimes was bolstered by an anonymous tip linking him to the exact type of crime familiar to the officer and frequent in the area.
C. Exiting vehicle
Third and finally, Jakobsohn became justifiably concerned when she pulled behind Wright and he opened his car door. In Goodin, we reasoned that there was reasonable suspicion when a defendant immediately exited his vehicle upon being pulled over. It made the police officer’s hair stand up because it presented safety concerns and suggested the defendant was trying to keep the officer away from the car. Although that case dealt with a prolonged traffic stop instead of the justification for an initial seizure, the suspiciousness of the behavior is equally relevant. As in Goodin, Wright’s confusing and alarming attempt to exit the vehicle supports reasonable suspicion.