School Bomb Threat Justifies Parking Lot Stops
- by Jack Ryan
Legal & Liability Risk Management Institute
In the case, In Re David Lester, 2004 Ohio 1376 (Ct. App. Ohio 12th Dist. 2004), the Ohio Appellate Court, dealt with a car stop on school property which led to the seizure of a firearm.
On October 30th 2002 an anonymous female caller reported overhearing some males indicating that they were going to plant a bomb at the Warren County Career Center, a vocational school. As a result of this call several officers were stationed at the school the next day. The officers were to watch for cars that would enter the sc
hool parking lot operating in a suspicion manner. Such suspicious activity the officers were looking for was vehicles that entered the lot and then left without parking or discharging passengers.
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At some point during the open police surveillance of the lot, officers observed David Lester drive into the lot. Lester “pulled into a parking spot, appeared to notice the various police cruisers, made eye contact with Sergeant Fritz, then immediately backed out of the parking space and drove toward the exit.” Lester was stopped as he attempted to drive out of the lot.
An officer approached Lester and told him why the officers were present. The officer then asked Lester if he had any explosives in his car. Lester responded by saying he did not think so. Lester then became nervous and at some point indicated that the “may be” an unloaded firearm in the vehicle. A canine sniffed the outside of Lester’s vehicle and alerted on the pickup’s bed. A search of the truck bed based on Lester’s consent led to the seizure of a firearm. Lester sought to have the firearm suppressed arguing that his consent was the result of an illegal stop.
In its review of the case the Ohio Appellate Court began by noting that police may stop individuals based on reasonable suspicion. The court found that Lester’s conduct, pulling into a parking space and immediately pulling out after making eye contact with the police, coupled with the bomb threat information, amounted to reasonable suspicion to make the stop.
The court went on to note, that Lester’s evasive answers regarding explosives and his nervousness gave officers heightened suspicion to believe that Lester was involved in criminal activity. Finally the court noted that the canine alert provided the officers with probable cause to search Lester’s vehicle even if he had not consented. In conclusion, the court held that the search of the truck was lawful.