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State v. Stepney

January 27, 1997

STATE OF WASHINGTON, RESPONDENT,
v.
JOHN STEPNEY, AKA MARK JONATHAN BURR, APPELLANT.



Appeal from Superior Court of King County. Docket No: 95-1-04021-3. Date filed: 09/11/95. Judge signing: Hon. Janice B. Niemi.

Authored by William W. Baker. Concurring: C. Kenneth Grosse, Walter E. Webster.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Baker

BAKER, C.J. - John Stepney asks this court to decide whether a police officer can approach an individual for questioning in the course of an investigation and frisk that individual for weapons based upon officer safety concerns without a reasonably articulable suspicion of criminal activity. We hold that, because the officers who searched Stepney had no articulable suspicion of criminal activity, the trial court erred in denying suppression of the evidence obtained during the illegal search. Because no other evidence was presented to sustain Stepney's conviction, we reverse.

FACTS

Stepney was found guilty at a bench trial of unlawful possession of a firearm. Before trial, Stepney moved to suppress the gun seized by the police, arguing that they did not have a reasonable suspicion that he was engaged in criminal activity when they conducted a search of his person.

The trial court denied Stepney's suppression motion and entered the following findings of fact and Conclusions of law:

I. UNDISPUTED FACTS

1. On May 31, 1995 at about 9:30 p.m., Tukwila Police patrol officers Robert Abbott and Gerard Klein[-S]mith were dispatched to 3721 S. 152nd Ave. S. after their dispatcher received a 911 call from that residence and the caller hung up.

2. Before the officers arrived, dispatch had reestablished phone contact [with] the apartment and the reporting party who stated she was having trouble with some of her neighbors who were gathering outside her apartment. She further indicated that while the male in the group was not currently part of the problem, she has known him to have previously carried a gun in the front of his pants.

3. When the two officers arrived, they located a group of individuals in the apartment complex. The only adult male in the group was identified as [Stepney]. Officer Abbott asked [Stepney] to move his hands away from his waistline. [Stepney]

kept his hands in the area of the suspected weapon. As Officer Abbott held [Stepney]'s hands away from the waistline, Officer Klein[-S]mith patted down [Stepney]. Klein[-S]mith patted down only the exterior of [Stepney]'s clothing and did not look or reach in any pockets. As he did that, a fully loaded .22 caliber semi-automatic handgun slid down the inside of [Stepney]'s pant line and onto the pavement.

II. DISPUTED FACTS

1. There are no disputed ...


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