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Commonwealth v. Meneus

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Middlesex

January 11, 2017


          Heard: September 8, 2016.

         Complaint received and sworn to in the Cambridge Division of the District Court Department on June 30, 2006. A pretrial motion to suppress evidence was heard by James L. LaMothe, Jr., J., and a motion for reconsideration was considered by him; and the case was heard by Michele B. Hogan, J.

         After review by the Appeals Court, the Supreme Judicial Court granted leave to obtain further appellate review.

          David Gerson for the defendant.

          Randall F. Maas, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

          Present: Gants, C.J., Botsford, Lenk, Hines, Gaziano, Lowy, & Budd, JJ.

          HINES, J.

         After a jury-waived trial in the Cambridge District Court, the defendant was convicted of various firearms charges. The firearm was discovered after the defendant and a group of young black males were stopped by Cambridge police officers to investigate a report of shots fired at a vehicle. The defendant filed a motion to suppress the firearm, claiming that the police lacked reasonable suspicion for the stop. The motion judge denied the motion, as well as a motion for reconsideration thereof filed in light of our decisions in Commonwealth v. Martin, 457 Mass. 14 (2010), and Commonwealth v. Narcisse, 457 Mass. 1 (2010)[1] The defendant appealed from his convictions and the Appeals Court affirmed in an unpublished memorandum and order issued pursuant to its rule 1:28. We allowed the defendant's application for further appellate review. We conclude that the police lacked reasonable suspicion for the stop and that the denial of the motion to suppress was error. Therefore, we vacate the conviction and remand for a new trial.


         We summarize the facts as found by the motion judge, supplemented by uncontroverted evidence drawn from the record of the suppression hearing and evidence that was implicitly credited by the judge.[2] Commonwealth v. Melo, 472 Mass. 278, 286 (2015).

         In the late evening hours of April 29, 2006, Debra Santos reported to police that a gunshot struck her vehicle as she was driving on Windsor Street in Cambridge. At approximately 10:50 £.M., Cambridge police officers Janie Munro and David Porter met Santos at the intersection of Windsor and Washington Streets, near the location where the shots allegedly were fired. Santos told the police that she heard a loud noise that she believed was a gunshot and that immediately thereafter she saw a group of young black males run into the courtyard of the Washington Elms housing complex. She did not indicate to the police that this group was involved in the shooting at her vehicle, and she provided no additional descriptive information about the individuals she had seen running into the courtyard.

         While speaking to Santos, Officer Munro observed a group of young black males who were standing on a sidewalk near the Washington Street entrance to the housing complex. The group was "[l]iterally right around the corner" from where Santos had stopped after hearing what she believed to be gunshots. Officer Munro's attention was drawn to the group by one of the males who "st[u]ck his head outside [of the courtyard] and st[u]ck his head back inside." The officers drove their cruiser to where the group was standing and approached the group on foot. The defendant, one of five or six young black males in the group, was wearing a black bomber jacket with a visibly distinctive orange lining. The officers asked if anyone had information about gunshots being fired in the area. They denied any knowledge of a shooting.

         After questioning the group, the officers requested permission to pat frisk them for "officer safety." At the time of this request, the police officers had had no prior interaction with any of the young men in the group and no information that anyone previously had been involved in criminal activity. The judge made no finding that the defendant or anyone else in the group engaged in suspicious or potentially threatening conduct toward the police at any time during the encounter. Up until the request to pat frisk the group, the tone had been conversational. But thereafter, the young men expressed their displeasure with the stop and with being asked to submit to a patfrisk. Some of them submitted to the officers' request but they were "unhappy" about it. The judge made no finding that the defendant consented to the patfrisk.

         The defendant became argumentative when the police began pat frisking some members of the group, and he attempted to terminate the encounter by walking away. As the defendant "started moving backwards" away from the group, one of the officers started pursuing him. The defendant turned and began running away from the area. The officers yelled, "Cambridge police, stop, " and pursued the defendant into the housing complex. The defendant ignored the order to stop and continued running. During the chase, the defendant passed Santos, who grabbed his clothing, slowing his flight from the area. After a brief chase, the police eventually caught up to the defendant on Windsor Street where he was "assisted to the ground" by Officer Porter. As the defendant was being brought to his feet, the officers discovered a firearm that had been underneath his body. Although Santos remained on the scene while the police investigated the group, the police did not ask if she could identify anyone as being in the group of young men she observed running into the courtyard after hearing the gunshots.

         The judge explicitly credited Officer Munro's testimony that, at the time the police initiated the pursuit of the defendant into the courtyard, she had "no information" that the defendant was a suspect in the shots fired call or any other crime. Consistent with this finding, Officer Porter acknowledged that, at the time of the request to pat frisk the group, he had no information implicating the defendant or any of the other young black males in criminal activity. Officer Porter agreed that ...

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