Once an officer discovers that a car’s owner has an outstanding arrest warrant, he needs only reasonable suspicion that the owner is in the vehicle … Trooper Ramsey had reasonable suspicion to stop this car.

U.S. v. Pyles

904 F.3d 422 (2018)

U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals

Sixth Circuit

September 17, 2018

On Wednesday April 26, 2017, Mr. Robbie Whitis, Mr. Jason Whitis, and Mr. Joshua Pyles drove from Somerset, Kentucky to Louisville to pick up methamphetamine and marijuana to distribute in Somerset, Kentucky. On the way home, Kentucky State Police Trooper Brad Ramsey, noticed their car traveling 63 miles per hour in a 70-miles-per-hour zone where Interstate 64 and Interstate 75 merge, amidst other vehicles going much faster. Trooper Ramsey followed the car and ran its license plate number through the Kentucky law enforcement database. The database revealed that the car’s owner, Ms. Angela Burdine, had an outstanding arrest warrant.

Mr. Pyles and his co-conspirators were traveling approximately eighty miles for their meth delivery until a sharp trooper ran the license plate and stopped the vehicle full of felons and felonies.

Trooper Ramsey stopped the vehicle. He approached the car on the rear passenger’s side and noticed Mr. Pyles stuffing something under a pile of clothes in the back seat. This underscores the importance of law enforcement officers varying approaches on traffic stops.  Passenger side approaches are often safer, because of passing traffic and it is tactically safer.  One of the occupants rolled down the window, and Trooper Ramsey smelled packaged marijuana. Trooper Ramsey radioed for backup. Together, the troopers searched the car and found a loaded.380 caliber handgun, a jar containing marijuana and marijuana cigarettes, a plastic bag containing marijuana, and a shoebox holding over 200 grams of methamphetamine. The troopers arrested the Whitis brothers and Mr. Pyles. A grand jury indicted all three on drug and firearm charges.

Trooper Brad Ramsey stopped Angie’s car where I-64 and I-75 merge just north of Lexington, Kentucky.  Angie was not inside the car but both felonies and an appeal were inside.

Mr. Pyles filed a motion to suppress the evidence. After holding a suppression hearing in which Trooper Ramsey testified, the court concluded that he had reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle based on the outstanding arrest warrant of its owner. A jury convicted Mr. Pyles of conspiring to distribute methamphetamine and of possessing a firearm to aid the crime.  Mr. Pyles appealed to the Sixth Circuit Appellate Court which held “[Trooper] Ramsey consistently stated that, before he stopped and approached the car, he could not determine the gender of the back-seat passenger and could not tell whether there were more passengers in the vehicle … Once an officer discovers that a car’s owner has an outstanding arrest warrant, he needs only reasonable suspicion that the owner is in the vehicle … [consequently] Trooper Ramsey had reasonable suspicion to stop this car.” U.S. v. Pyles, 904 F.3d 422 (2018)

Angie was on the warrant list and Trooper Ramsey did have enough Reasonable Suspicion to stop her car and determine if she would be on his arrest list.

Information for this article was obtained from U.S. v. Pyles, 904 F.3d 422 (2018) and a phone interview with Trooper Ramsey on October 17, 2020.

Lessons Learned:

  1. If a law enforcement officer runs a license plate which is registered to a wanted person, the officer may conduct a traffic stop to determine if the person is in the car. Here, Trooper Ramsey made the reasonable determination to stop the car based on this information.  Thereafter he smelled raw marijuana and observed Mr. Pyles stuff ‘something’ into a pile … of clothes.  That something was a firearm.  The trooper would also discover that the car had methamphetamine.  In short, Trooper Ramsey began this investigation by observing the driver traveling 63 mph in a 70-mph zone.  His gut instinct ended with a Fourth Amendment symphony!
  1. As Trooper Ramsey approached as if there was no woman in the car and no indication of any other suspicious activity, he would have had to let the vehicle go without any further detention such as asking for a driver’s license or questioning the occupants. However, Mr. Pyles made the error of making a suspicious movement into a pile of clothes upon Trooper Ramsey’s first approach.  Law Enforcement officers should not use the ‘furtive’!  The word furtive means secreted movement.  Though this is generally accurate, officers should be very specific in the description of what the suspect did with his hands or body.
  1. On April 6, 2020 the U.S. Supreme Court issued Kansas v. Glover, 589 U.S. ____ (2020) which supported Trooper Ramsey’s stop under similar circumstances. In that case, Deputy [now Lieutenant] Mark Mehrer stopped a pickup truck because the license plate registered to a person, Mr. Charles Glover who did not possess a valid driver’s license.  See Reasonable Suspicion Fit Like a Glove(r).
  1. Trooper Ramsey should be complimented on his passenger side approach! Law enforcement officers often rely on repetition of driver side approaches.  The driver side approaches are predictable and can be dangerous.  Switching to passenger side approaches, keeps vehicle occupants guessing where the officer will approach.  In this case, Mr. Pyles gun stuffing was observed by Trooper Ramsey which led to this successful outcome.

Does your agency train on Reasonable Suspicion Traffic Stops?

Does your agency train on passenger side approaches?

Don’t fail your training.

Don’t let your training fail you!

Be safe, smart and objectively reasonable!

Robert H. Meader Esq.