It was a pretty typical Saturday afternoon in Aurora, Colo. People were bustling around town going about their business. For about 40 unlucky people, though, the next two hours were going to be anything but typical.
Someone robbed a Wells Fargo bank in Aurora. Police say they received word that the suspect was almost certainly in a car at a particular intersection. They didn’t have a description of the suspect. They didn’t know if it was a man or woman or what race the suspect was. They knew nothing, but they said afterwards that it was a “virtual certainty” that the suspect was somewhere at that intersection.
What the Aurora police did next makes it clear that they’ve never heard of the Fourth Amendment and have no respect for innocent people.
Police quickly blocked the intersection from all sides. I’ve heard differing reports on the number of cars in the intersection, but it was in the neighborhood of 20 to 25 vehicles. Even though police had no reasonable suspicion of any particular person or vehicle, they handcuffed every single adult in every single one of those cars. It was about 40 people. You can see from the picture above that they went in with guns ready to blow the heads off of these innocent people. Doesn’t that kid look like a bank robber?
After everyone was handcuffed, police asked for permission to search the handcuffed people’s cars. Can you imagine the absurdity of that? They’re essentially under arrest, but they’re being asked for permission — as though they feel free to refuse. Being good little citizens who don’t refuse police requests — and probably also scared to death — everyone consented to the searches.
Over the next two hours, police searched each vehicle. It wasn’t until they got to the very last vehicle before they found a couple of loaded weapons. They arrested the man inside and he’s been charged with the bank robbery.
Aurora Police Chief Daniel Oates said Monday that he’s sorry innocent bystanders got caught up in the search for the suspect, but it didn’t seem to bother him that much. According to Denver’s CBS affiliate, “Oates also said the ends justify the means since the suspect was caught.”
It’s pretty well-established in this country that police have to have probable cause to stop a vehicle or to detain someone. Believing that there was a good chance that a suspect was somewhere among about 20 cars doesn’t constitute probable cause. In any sane legal universe — which might have already passed us by anyway — this is a completely illegal search. Here’s what the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
The people who happened to be driving down the street minding their own business weren’t secure last Saturday. There was no legal reason to detain any one of those people. They were false arrests. The entire operation was what you’d expect in a police state, not in one where we allegedly have the freedom to avoid such arrests.
So was the police chief right? Do the ends justify the means? Is it worth giving up our constitutional rights in order to make the police force’s job easier? Unfortunately, many people would say it’s just fine with them, but I’ll bet quite a few of the people who ended up with guns pointed at their heads — see the picture again — wouldn’t feel that way.
My suspicion is that the city of Aurora is going to be facing some lawsuits over this. The city should lose and the people who ran this operation — starting with the police chief — should be out of jobs. But that’s in a sane universe, not in a police state.
Update: To give you some insight into the scary mindset of the police culture, here’s a response I received about this Thursday morning on Facebook from Brittany Nicole Hudon, who says she’s a former police officer:
I’m not horrified. It’s the same concept as a sobriety check-point. That kid doesn’t look like a kid from behind. I couldn’t tell until I read the description of the photo. I totally agree with the police actions here. As a former Police Officer I understand their actions. They did not illegally detain anyone. You can detain anyone for up to 24 hours for any reason. Sorry. We’re being proactive. 2 hours get over it. Would you rather have a gun pointed at you by a trained officer who will not shoot you unless you make aggressive lethal movements toward him, or a criminal who will shoot you for flinching or catching a glimpse of movement from the corner of his eye? Personally I feel much safer knowing the cops are here handeling the situation. Also, this kid could be a bank robber. If you can be charged at 14 as a adult for murder you can totally plan a robbery. No description yet of suspect. Sure, I’m not taking my chances. Let me see your hands, and get on the ground. It’s not the cops job to determine innocence or guilt. Their main concern is keeping everyone alive and healthy. As long as no one was injured, I’d say this was a job well done!