It Wasn’t in the Report, So Did It Happen?

by | August 26, 2019

Torry v. City of Chicago, 2019 (7th Cir. 2019)

Officers stopped three black men in a gray Ford sedan to investigate a drive-by shooting that happened near a high school a few hours earlier. Witnesses described the suspect’s vehicle as a gray Nissan or Chevy SUV and related there were three black men in the vehicle. Upon seeing Marcus Torry and his companions drive past the high school three times, the officers stopped them.

Torry began to video record the officers with his cell phone. He argued and swore at the officers when they asked him to get out of the car. His two companions cooperated with the officers, one of them telling Torry to be quiet. The officers placed Torry, still shouting, recording and swearing, into a patrol car; he remained there for eight minutes.

The court applied the “collective knowledge” doctrine to impute knowledge of the events and the suspect description.

Torry and the other two men sued the officers a year later, claiming the officers stopped them without reasonable suspicion. None of the officers remembered the stop or completed a report or a field interview record.

To confirm the stop was based on reasonable suspicion, the officers relied on Torry’s cell phone video to show one of the officers explaining the suspicious behavior in the area of the shooting (driving several times in front of the school). Other police records documented that Torry’s car fit the general description of the suspect’s vehicle and the car contained three black men.

Torry claimed the imperfect match of his gray Ford sedan to the description of a gray Nissan or Chevy SUV could not justify the stop. The court disagreed, saying the match was “close enough,” if not perfect. Torry also argued the officers could not prove they’d heard the description of the suspect vehicle and suspects. The court applied the “collective knowledge” doctrine to impute knowledge of the events and the suspect description.

The court held the officers were entitled to qualified immunity. Keep in mind the generous standard of reasonable suspicion was all that was required to justify the stop and brief detention. But how much easier would it have been for the court to rule in favor of the officers if they had at least completed a field interview record of the stop and the reasons justifying it?This blog was featured in our Xiphos newsletter, a monthly legal-focused law enforcement newsletter authored by Ken Wallentine. Subscriptions are free for public safety officers, educators and public attorneys. Subscribe here!

KEN WALLENTINE is the Chief of the West Jordan (Utah) Police Department and former Chief of Law Enforcement for the Utah Attorney General. He has served over three decades in public safety, is a legal expert and editor of Xiphos, a monthly national criminal procedure newsletter. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Death and serves as a use of force consultant in state and federal criminal and civil litigation across the nation.

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