When the police received a tip from an informant about individual, later identified as Tajuan Simmons, carrying a gun in a building in Manhattan, they responded and arrested the man. What happened in the interim was the subject of a hearing, and a decision, by Federal Judge Alvin Hellerstein, that does not bode well for the actions of certain law enforcement personnel.
After the call was received from the informant, he was told by his “handler,” a police sergeant, to call a police hotline for anonymous tips. This was done, and the hotline detective then called 911 and relayed the information to the operator. When the complaint was sworn to before the magistrate, however, there was no mention of the informant. Instead, it said that the tip had been received from an “anonymous” 911 caller. The sergeant said he had omitted mention of the informant in order to protect its source.
This is one of the issues that came to light during a suppression hearing filed on behalf of Mr. Simmons by his lawyer, a federal public defender. At issue was whether the evidence, in this case the gun, should be allowed into evidence. In addition to the misstatement/omission concerning the source of the tip, prosecutors also admitted that another statement in the complaint, to the effect that Simmons began to run to the north when he saw the police prior to his arrest, was not true. On the heels of this admission, the arresting officer stated, for the first time, that he saw a “bulge” (presumably the gun) in Simmons’ waistband. The bulge was not mentioned in the complaint.
After testimony that involved statements not only from the police department, but also from an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Judge Hellerstein concluded that the allegation that Simmons had attempted to run from police was “nonsense,” and that the officer’s statement about seeing a bulge was entitled to “no credibility.” He also found that investigators had created a story to justify stopping Simmons; that the ATFE agent was “shading the truth”; and that the testimony of three police officers was “not worthy of belief.”
Interestingly, this turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory of sorts for the defense, since the judge, ruling on the suppression motion, refused to suppress the gun, finding that notwithstanding the misstatements, the original tip justified the stop and the arrest.
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