Ramsey County District Court File No. 62-CR-12-469
Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and John J. Choi, Ramsey County Attorney, Thomas R. Ragatz, Assistant County Attorney, St. Paul, Minnesota (for respondent)
David W. Merchant, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Benjamin J. Butler, Assistant Public Defender, Daniel Weber (certified student attorney), St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Kalitowski, Presiding Judge; Worke, Judge; and Chutich, Judge.
On appeal from his conviction of possession of a firearm by an ineligible person, appellant Isaiah David Pirtle contends that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress the gun. He asserts that police officers violated his constitutional rights when they seized him without reasonable, articulable suspicion that he was involved in criminal activity. Because police officers found the firearm during a lawful search following Pirtle's flight from officers, we affirm the district court's denial of Pirtle's motion to suppress the gun and his conviction.
The facts of this case are undisputed. One morning in January 2012, St. Paul Police Sergeant Dan Zebro was driving in an unmarked police car when he saw two men near the bus shelter at the corner of Lexington and University Avenues. Sergeant Zebro knew that a police investigation of narcotics trafficking in the previous week involved one of the two men. He therefore requested that nearby patrol officers approach and identify the men.
Officer Heather Teff was the first to arrive at the bus stop, followed by Officer Jason Bain. Officer Teff asked the men if she could speak with them; the men did not refuse and one of the men, Pirtle, conversed with Officer Teff. While the officers were speaking with the men, the men were inside the bus shelter, facing the street, and the officers were standing in front of the men with their backs to the street. Officer Teff asked the men if they had seen anyone harassing an elderly woman at the bus stop. The officer had no report of any harassment, but used the question to initiate conversation. The men said that they had not seen anyone harassing an elderly woman, and continued speaking with the officers.
When Officer Teff asked the men for identification, Pirtle told her that his name was Isaiah Williamson; he was from Cedar Rapids, Iowa; he was in town visiting a friend; and that the person with him was his cousin. The second man gave his name as Maurice Dixon. Pirtle told Officer Teff that he did not have a phone number, but later took out a cellular phone and used it. Officer Teff testified that Pirtle appeared nervous and his hands were shaking.
Officer Bain ran a check of the names provided by the two men through the police system. The check returned results of "not on file" for both names which, Officer Teff testified, is a common indicator that a person gave a false or incorrect name. Pirtle then asked Officer Teff if he could go into a nearby restaurant to use the bathroom. Officer Teff responded that he should wait and told him that they were "almost done."
When Officer Teff moved towards her squad car to inform Sergeant Zebro of the unverified names the men provided, Pirtle began to run west on University Avenue. Officer Todd Bjorkman, who was in a squad car near the scene at the time, tried to stop Pirtle. The officer got out of his car, ordered Pirtle to stop, and attempted to restrain him. Pirtle then pushed or kicked Officer Bjorkman and resumed running. Officer Teff arrived and blocked Pirtle's path, and Officer Bjorkman restrained him. After the officers handcuffed Pirtle, he informed them that he had a pistol in his jacket and they removed a .22 caliber revolver from his pocket.
Charged with possession of a firearm by an ineligible person, Pirtle moved to suppress the gun, claiming that the seizure was illegal. The district court denied Pirtle's motion, finding that although Pirtle was seized at the bus stop when he asked to use the bathroom and was told by Officer Teff to wait, the officer "had specific facts giving rise to reasonable suspicion of criminal activity afoot." The totality of the circumstances cited by the district court included information that one of the two men was involved in a recent drug investigation; the officers' name check of the men returned a "not on file" response—a common indicator of a false name; and Pirtle's ...