The Second District Appellate Court Affirms Josh’s Felony with the Automatic Companion Rule.

According to the “so-called ‘automatic companion rule,’” where a police officer arrests a person who is in the company of one or more companions, the officer may conduct a pat-down search of the companions to verify that they are unarmed.

State v. Leet

2020 – Ohio – 1404

Second District Appellate Court

Montgomery County, Ohio

April 10, 2020

On Tuesday June 12, 2018, Dayton Police Sergeant Randy Beane and Officer Kevin Johnson were on patrol as part of the Community Problem Response Team (CPRT) in the area of 114 North Wright. That area was high in crime, and that house in particular, had been the subject of drug complaints. The officers had made several drug arrests from people out of that house.

114 North Wright Avenue, Dayton, Ohio was a felony playground for many recidivists.

Officer Johnson checked the plate of a car in the driveway and found that it was reported stolen, with Mr. Charles Steinmetz listed as a suspect. The officers looked up a picture of Mr. Steinmetz, and observed Mr. Steinmetz leaving the house with another male, later determined to be Mr. Joshua Leet. They began to walk to the stolen car in the driveway. Sgt. Beane and Officer Johnson were both on foot and ordered the Mr. Leet and Mr. Steinmetz to the ground. Mr. Steinmetz complied, but Mr. Leet fled. He ran to a car parked on the street in front of the house, jumped through a window into the driver’s seat. Unsurprisingly, the car that Mr. Leet lept into was also stolen.  However, in that moment, neither Sgt. Beane nor Officer Johnson knew that this car was stolen. As he attempted to start the car, Sgt. Beane attempted to tase Mr. Leet, which at first was unsuccessful.  A second attempt was successful.  However, as Mr. Leet was being tased, he was still resisting, and trying to reach for what Sgt. Beane could then see was a gun in Mr. Leet’s left front pocket.  At this time Sgt. Beane was able to control and arrest Mr. Leet.

The felony playground frequented by Mr. Leet was across the street from the Washington Playground.  Thanks to Sgt. Beane, Officer Johnson, The Second District Appellate Court and the Automatic Companion Rule the Washington Playground became a safer place for children after June 12, 2018.

A search of Mr. Leet incident to the arrest yielded a bag of methamphetamine, and the officers found a second bag of methamphetamine in the car, in front of the passenger’s seat on the floorboard. How ironic that the very car that Mr. Leet stole had methamphetamine secreted underneath the passenger seat.

Mr. Leet filed a Motion to Suppress and the trial court overruled his motion.  He plead no contest and he was found guilty.  He appealed the conviction claiming that Sgt. Beane and Officer Johnson unlawfully detained him since he was not a suspect in any crime at the moment he walked out of 114 North Wright Avenue.  The Second District Appellate Court overruled the appeal based on the Automatic Companion Rule.  The court held “According to the “so-called ‘automatic companion rule,’” where a police officer arrests a person who is in the company of one or more companions, the officer may conduct a pat-down search of the companions to verify that they are unarmed. The officers in the instant case had probable cause to arrest Leet’s companion, Steinmetz, meaning that they were entitled to conduct a pat-down search of Leet’s person as part of their seizure of Steinmetz and corresponding investigation of the car theft. As the trial court noted, the officers’ encounter with Steinmetz and Leet occurred in a high crime area—specifically, in front of a residence known to be a locus of illicit drug activity—and the officers initially saw Steinmetz and Leet walking from the residence toward a stolen car. Regardless of whether a Terry stop would have been justified by the officers’ suspicion that Leet might have purchased contraband before he emerged from the residence, the fact that Leet was Steinmetz’s companion permitted the officers to stop Leet and frisk him for weapons.”.

This case was issued on April 10, 2020 by the Second District Court of Appeals which is binding in the following counties: Champaign, Clark, Darke, Greene, Miami and Montgomery.

Lessons Learned:

  1. The Automatic Companion Rule is not recognized statewide in Ohio. This rule is only recognized by both the Second District in this case – Leet and also in the Eighth District Appellate Court, which is only binding in Cuyahoga County.  On December 26, 2013 In Re D.S., 2013 – Ohio – 5740. The Eighth District Court held “The so-called ‘automatic companion’ rule is a rule that allows the police to pat-down any companion of an arrestee to give assurance that they are unarmed.”.
  1. When Sgt. Beane and Officer Johnson approached Mr. Steinmetz and Mr. Leet outside of a known and active drug house in a high crime area and Mr. Leet fled on foot, that should be enough reasonable suspicion without the Automatic Companion Rule to stop and detain Mr. Leet. The fact that the car Mr. Leet leapt into was also stolen underscores that area of 114 North Wright Avenue was nothing short of a carnival of felonies.  For more on the Reasonable Suspicion doctrine see Objectively Reasonable Launches.
  1. Both Sgt. Beane and Officer Johnson should be commended for their quick actions to detain Mr. Leet after Mr. Steinmetz complied. These decisions are made in the matter of seconds and could have meant the difference between being shot at or possibly life and death.  This outstanding team made the right decisions while on North Wright Avenue.  They made these decisions without a judge, attorney, community activist or chain of command shouting out instructions.  On Tuesday June 12, 2018 Sgt. Beane and Officer Johnson were Objectively Reasonable!

Does your agency train on the Automatic Companion Rule?

Don’t fail your training.

Don’t let your training fail you!

Be safe, smart and Objectively Reasonable!

Robert H. Meader Esq.