After shots were fired through the window of an apartment building in Washington D.C., police investigated a white Cadillac parked in an adjacent parking lot. While the officers spoke to the occupants of the car, a man emerged from a nearby black Cadillac to observe the scene, then walked away. Police approached the black Cadillac to question the remaining occupants when they saw, through the car’s tinted windows, one of the occupants moving from the rear seat to the front seat. An officer knocked on the rear passenger-side door where Rocky Brown was sitting, and when there was no response, the officer opened the door. Once opened, the officer observed a pistol on the floor of the car near Brown’s hand. Brown was charged and convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon.
The main issue in the case was whether the officer had reasonable suspicion to undertake a Terry stop, and reasonable fear for their safety to conduct a protective search. Garland sided with the government, writing that the reasonableness of the officers’ actions was supported by (a) the fact that the incident took place in a neighborhood known for “a lot of drug activity,” (b) the report of the gunshot fired from the parking lot through the window, (c) the man emerging from the black Cadillac to observe the scene, and (d) the passenger’s “furtive movements” in moving from the back seat to the front seat. Moreover, the fact that police were approaching an automobile, and one with tinted windows obscuring the officers’ view of the inside of the car, gave additions grounds to justify fear of physical harm.
Rogers, dissenting, noted that hours had passed from the time of the shooting to the time officers arrived at the lot, and a witness had directed police to a white car, not the black car Brown was in. Nothing in the record, Rogers said, gave officers reasonable suspicion of criminal activity or fear of danger; officers relied on generalized suspicions, not the particularized suspicions mandated by Terry. Rogers would have followed other circuits in holding that reasonable suspicion is not created by the totality of the circumstances when each piece of evidence is a weak indicator of criminal activity or dangerousness. “Cobbling together innocent circumstances, and drawing inferences in favor of the government that are unsupported by the evidence, the court concludes that because Brown … was in the wrong place … at the wrong time, the police had articulable suspicion that he was engaged in criminal wrongdoing.”