Here we go again. Back in March we brought you this story about Maryland police locking down an interstate and holding citizens at gunpoint in a massive manhunt for three bank robbers who had stolen $7.500. It was a mind-boggling overreach of police authority. We asked if the Fourth Amendment was dead. Guess what?
The same thing happened in Aurora, Colorado on June 2nd, 2012. As expected, the media ignored the story. If it wasn't for a new federal lawsuit by 14 of the people trapped in the dragnet, this would never have come to light.
It was a bank robber yet again in Aurora. After he drove away from the Wells Fargo he had no idea there was a GPS tracker inside the bag of stolen cash. Authorities used the GPS to track the bag to the intersection of E. Iliff Avenue and S. Buckley Road but, due to a breakdown in communications, had no description of either the suspect or the getaway car.
"We didn't have a description, didn’t know race or gender or anything, so a split-second decision was made to stop all the cars at that intersection, and search for the armed robber," Aurora police officer Frank Fania said.
Once that decision was made police cars swarmed the area and, according to the lawsuit, "immediately surrounded and barricaded all nineteen vehicles stopped at the red light at that intersection," and further explains that officers "had no description of the vehicle in which the robber fled” and “could not even pinpoint from which vehicle the transmitter’s signal was emitted."
Apparently, Aurora Police decided that the Fourth Amendement is only a guideline in their city. After all, "unreasonable searches and seizures" and "probable cause" are so hard to explain. That's why we hold off teaching it until 3rd grade. In Aurora, the 4th Amendment was completely disregarded.
Sonya Romero, one of those trapped by police, to KMGH-TV in Denver, "Cops came in from every direction and just threw their car in front of my car. We didn’t know what the heck was going on. We didn’t know if were were in the line of fire, or what the hell was happening."
As police used their vehicles to blockade the street, they demanded the occupants of every vehicle in the intersection hold their arms up and outside the vehicle windows. Anyone who happened to be driving on that intersection was treated like a criminal. Ben Barker witnessed the events of that day and told reporters, "They got behind shields. They had M-4's, shotgun out; tasers, everything".
According to the lawsuit, police "brandished shields and pointed assault rifles directly at innocent citizens, including children under ten years old. Officers with dogs were at the ready. No one was free to leave."
The lawsuit goes on to explain that "officers, weapons still drawn, proceeded to each vehicle". Those who seemed "overly nervous or anxious" - because why should anyone be nervous with rifles aimed at them, police screaming orders, and dogs straining at leashes all without any explanation?
Police began a vehicle to vehicle search that dragged on for more than two hours. As each vehicle was cleared the occupants were handcuffed and ordered to sit in a line on the sidewalk even after their vehicles were found to be clear.
The bank robbery suspect was caught, but only after police searched 19 vehicles and left 28 adults handcuffed on the sidewalk for no reason other than they were driving down a public road.
Too often "exigent circumstances" is used as a shield against abuse of police power. There was a GPS tracker in the bag so why not follow that tracker a little further? Instead, officers trapped innocent bystanders in a felony pursuit so any kind of shootout leaves them in the crossfire or at risk of a hostage situation.
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