Ohio Police Threaten Unconstitutional Searches To Stop Citizens Who React “Suspiciously”

croppedThe police in Mayfield Heights, Ohio are clearly put out that the Supreme Court has ruled out checkpoints for drugs. They have come up with what they believe is the next best thing: fake drug checkpoints. They are effectively threatening an unconstitutional stop to see which drivers flee . . . and then searching their vehicles. It turns out that Police Chief Fred W. Bittner has support from the local prosecutors in threatening police abuse as a basis to stop cars.

When the Court allowed sobriety checkpoints, many civil libertarians objected to the reduction of protections for suspicionless searches. Yet, in Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz, the Court ruled 6-3 that such stops were reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. As a result, citizens are now routinely stopped in these checkpoints.

However, City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, 531 U.S. 32 (2000), the Court drew the line at drug checkpoints and ruled that such stops were unreasonable. The Mayfield Heights police and prosecutors are clearly disappointed that they cannot search all citizens driving on roads around this city of just 19,000. So they came up with the faux stop idea.

Here is how it works. The police post large yellow signs on the Interstate warning of a drug checkpoint ahead and to be prepared to stop for a drug-sniffing dog. Instead of a checkpoint, police just watch for any suspicious response to the sign. The police say that they nabbed four people this way.

Putting aside the low yield, there is the abuse of threatening unconstitutional acts to see if citizens try to avoid it. Yet, Dominic Vitantonio, a Mayfield Heights assistant prosecutor, insisted that “We should be applauded for doing this. It’s a good thing.”

It’s a good thing that police threaten citizens with unconstitutional actions and then search them when they seek to avoid it. I would challenge any such stop. There are ample reasons for citizens to want to avoid police abuse, which is what the signs are promising since police cannot engage in such action.

In one case detailed in this story, a man missed his exit and was pulled over to check his phone for direction. He then pulled back on the freeway. He the pulled over again to connect his phone to a re-charger as he is supposed to do rather than multitask while driving. Police then pulled him over and demanded to know what kind of drugs he had in the car. He was told that it would be better for him to simply confess before the arrival of the drug-sniffing dog. The man agreed to a search and no drugs were found.

The fact that the prosecutor, Mr. Vitantonio, supports such abusive practices shows a serious gap of judgment in this jurisdiction. He appears to believe that citizens should be stopped if they take any effort to avoid an act of police abuse. I hope that one of these four citizens will challenge their arrests and put Mr. Vitantonio’s theory to the test.

Source: Washington Post

38 thoughts on “Ohio Police Threaten Unconstitutional Searches To Stop Citizens Who React “Suspiciously””

  1. It seems it is illegal to flash you lights at an oncoming car to indicate there is a cop in the bushes speed trap. I suppose a warning billboard would then be equally illegal. When did the world turn on its head and the cops and prosecutors are the bad guys (by their own actions)?

  2. By construing invocation of the right to remain free from unreasonable search and seizure–here, evading the drug checkpoint–as reasonable suspicion or probable cause to stop the driver, Mayfield Heights is chilling the exercise of fundamental rights. If the Sixth Circuit is anything like the First or Ninth, this policy might not last too much longer. See, Fletcher v. Town of Clinton, 196 F.3d 41, 54 (1st Cir.1999)(“It is important to note that Fletcher’s refusal to let the officers into her house cannot serve as the justification for her arrest. Fletcher says that Genest threatened her with arrest if she denied them access to the house so that they could arrest McDonald. If that were the justification for Fletcher’s arrest, that arrest would be in clear violation ofthe Fourth Amendment.”); U.S. v. Prescott, 581 F.2d 1343, 1350 (9th Cir. 1978)(FourthAmendment confers “constitutional right to refuse to consent to entry and search”; assertion of Fourth Amendment rights “cannot be a crime . . . Nor can it be evidence of a crime.”)(citing, Camara v. Municipal Court of City and County of San Francisco,387 U.S. 523, at 532-33 (1967) and District of Columbia v. Little, 339 U.S. 1, 7(1950))

  3. I have seen signs on a couple of different interstates warning of drug checkpoints ahead. However, the next exit past that sign had checkpoints at the top of the ramp and were stopping people who took the exit. It has been several years since I have seen any of those, so maybe someone higher up “got the memo.”

  4. Why wait.

    If the stops are illegal and are being done under color of state law a 42 USC 1983 action would lie.

    There would be no qualified immunity because of the prior Supreme Court rulings JT mentioned.

    “Sue the bastids!”

    1. police do not know that they walk in darkness in a body that has darkness in it. Without the Lord in them police will be in fear looking for people that look suspicious. Religious pharisees acted like that. They saw Jesus as being a suspicious character because he was not of this world.

  5. Buy Pit Bulls…. Train them to only react to Police……

  6. How about renting a large billboard a couple miles before the exit for the town on the interstate? Make the sign read “Mayfield Heights uses abusive police searches, avoid the next exit for your own safety.”

    See how long their tactics last after the merchants complain to the town council.

  7. Police are said to give freedom being our protector. To break down a door being suspicious is not giving freedom. Nether is that act protecting anyone. It is having people think,..am I going harmed or killed by the people said to protect us? Police are like an immune system gone wacko. Stop your


  8. Police are said to give freedom be our protector To break down a door being suspicious is not giving freedom. Nether is that act protecting anyone. It is having people think,..am I going harmed or killed by the people said to protect us? Police are like an immune system gone wacko. Stop your foolishness.

  9. Interstate 271 runs through the middle of this burg. Aside from the speeders there or occasional shoplifting at Walmart or the various other shopping outlets, and the “heavy domestics” in this lower-to-middle class empire, there’s little for the cops to do. Typical for a suburb, any action causes multiple cars to respond and overdo something city cops either take in stride or ignore.

  10. There has been a wholesale abandonment of the rule of law in the US. In exchange, we now have rule by law. That is, the use of laws to intimidate, control, bully and punish people.

    Govt., small and large has many tools with which to silence dissent, to frighten and intimidate the public into submission to injustice. As we see in the story below this, failure to reign in proprietorial abuse is simply one more dangerous way of denying fundamental rights in our Constitution.

    Rule by law stands the rule of law on its head. This comes from the top and has spread to the most local law enforcement (although some small fiefdoms have been in operation for a very long time).

    Here is part of a speech by Harold Pinter in 2005. I think it describes our nation quite well and is well worth contemplating: “Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed…The truth is to do with how the United States understands its role in the world and how it chooses to embody it.

    But before I come back to the present I would like to look at the recent past, by which I mean United States foreign policy since the end of the Second World War. I believe it is obligatory upon us to subject this period to at least some kind of even limited scrutiny, which is all that time will allow here.

    Everyone knows what happened in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe during the post-war period: the systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression of independent thought. All this has been fully documented and verified.

    But my contention here is that the US crimes in the same period have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognised as crimes at all. I believe this must be addressed and that the truth has considerable bearing on where the world stands now. Although constrained, to a certain extent, by the existence of the Soviet Union, the United States’ actions throughout the world made it clear that it had concluded it had carte blanche to do what it liked.

    Harold Pinter’s Nobel Lecture 2005

  11. Increase funding for federal “color of law” investigations and enforcement. The DOJ Civil Rights Division is very skilled with corrupt public officials, especially corrupt law enforcement!

  12. What is suspicious about taking action to avoid unconstitutional and intrusive action by government agents?

  13. Arrests and crime must be down in Mayfield! Sheriff Andy Taylor would have never abided this. But, I could see Barney thinking it a good idea.

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