Sergeant Illanz had reasonable suspicion to investigate whether Tidwell was driving while drunk based on the unidentified Speedway customer’s tip and the officer’s own partial corroboration of that tip.
State v. Tidwell
2021 – Ohio – 2072
Supreme Court of Ohio
June 24, 2021
On November 11, 2017, at 8:00 p.m. Ohio State Trooper Sergeant Jacques Illanz was investigating a traffic accident that occurred on Fields-Ertel Road in Symmes Township. Sgt. Illanz had the vehicles involved in the accident pull into a nearby Speedway gas station parking lot while he wrote his crash report. While writing the report in his police vehicle, a Speedway customer called out to Sgt. Illanz from the doorway of the gas station convenience store to investigate another vehicle in the parking lot. Illanz said that the customer yelled to him, directing his attention to the vehicle in question: “Hey, you need to stop that vehicle. That lady is drunk.”
Speedway gas station at 12184 Mason Montgomery Road, Cincinnati, Ohio where Sgt. Illanz was alerted to an impaired driver.
Sgt. Illanz testified that he watched the vehicle back out of a parking space very slowly and saw a blank stare on the driver’s face. He did not observe a traffic violation. Sgt. Illanz then motioned for the driver to stop. When the driver did not stop, he walked and stood in front of the vehicle. The vehicle stopped, and Sgt. Illanz began talking to the driver, Ms. Sherry Tidwell. Sgt. Illanz asked Ms. Tidwell to roll down her window, turn off the vehicle and hand him her keys, which she did. Sgt. Illanz testified that Ms. Tidwell’s eyes were bloodshot and glassy and her speech was slow and slurred, and that he smelled alcohol in the car. When questioned, Ms. Tidwell admitted to Sgt. Illanz that she was out buying alcohol and heading home, and that she had been at a party watching a college football game. Earlier in the day THE Ohio State Buckeyes defeated the Michigan State Spartans 48 – 3.
This is the beer cooler where Ms. Sherry Tidwell grabbed a twelve pack to return home. The clerk told the customer behind Ms. Tidwell to alert Sgt. Illanz, who in the Speedway parking lot, that she was impaired. The customer who did alert Sgt. Illanz has never been identified.
Sgt. Illanz asked Ms. Tidwell for her driver’s license, which she retrieved. Sgt. Illanz described her movements as slow and exaggerated. At about that time, Deputy Randy Reynolds of the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office arrived and took over the investigation while Sgt. Illanz went inside Speedway and spoke to the clerk. The customer who had called out to Sgt. Illanz had since left the scene and was thus unavailable for questioning and remains unknown. Dep. Reynolds conducted field-sobriety tests on Ms. Tidwell and concluded that she was under the influence of drugs or alcohol and placed her under arrest. Subsequent breath testing revealed a blood-alcohol concentration of .213. Ms. Tidwell was charged with operating a vehicle while under the influence (“OVI”), in violation of R.C. 4511.19(A)(1)(a) and 4511.19(A)(1)(h).
Ms. Tidwell filed a motion to suppress evidence gathered from the stop. Following a hearing, the trial court granted Ms. Tidwell’s motion to suppress. The trial court found that there was no erratic driving, and that the anonymous tip provided by the Speedway customer was unreliable and could not have justified Sgt. Illanz’s initial contact with Ms. Tidwell, much less an investigatory stop of her vehicle. The Twelfth District Appellate Court upheld the trial court and determined that Sgt. Illanz stop of Ms. Tidwell was unreasonable.
The Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office appealed to the Supreme Court of Ohio which overturned the lower courts and determined that the stop was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court of Ohio held “Sergeant Illanz had reasonable suspicion to investigate whether Tidwell was driving while drunk based on the unidentified Speedway customer’s tip and the officer’s own partial corroboration of that tip. Considering the totality of the circumstances then confronting the officer, we hold that the brief investigatory stop of Tidwell was reasonable and thus did not violate the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”.
Information for this article was obtained from State v. Tidwell, 2021 – Ohio – 2072 and a phone interview with Sgt. Jacques Illanz on Thursday September 2, 2021.
- The Supreme Court of Ohio solidified that an in-person tipster can be relied upon with partial corroboration. Here, Sgt. Illanz had to make a split-second decision to attempt to stop Ms. Tidwell or let her leave. If the sergeant had asked the in-person tipster for his name, date of birth, address, phone number or other identifying information, Ms. Tidwell would have been long gone. If Sgt. Illanz had permitted Ms. Tidwell to leave then she very well may have injured herself or others since her BAC was .213 – that is like Lindsay Lohan level drunk. Consequently, Sgt. Illanz very well may have saved Ms. Tidwell or others from significant injuries or death.
- The Tidwell case was decided in part based on Adams v. Williams, 407 U.S. 143 (1972) which had a similar fact pattern. In that case Sgt. Connolly of the Bridgeport Connecticut Police Department got flagged down by an in-person tipster at 2:15 a.m. The tipster told Sgt. Connolly that a male in a car in community park had a firearm in his waistband. This occurred in the 1960’s though a specific date is not identified. At that time there were no CCW laws that permitted private citizens to carry a firearm concealed. Connolly retrieved a revolver from Mr. Robert Williams waistband. A search of the car revealed heroin, marijuana [a felony at that time] and a second revolver. The tipster left the area and was never identified. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the pat down of Mr. Williams’ was reasonable even though the tipster was never identified. The U.S. Supreme Court held “[T]he information [informants in-person tip] carried enough indicia of reliability to justify the officer’s forcible stop of Williams.”. Id at 147.
- What the Tidwell case does leave unanswered is what level of corroboration is required for an in-person tipster who is not identified. Based on Adams and now Tidwell, it is not much. In Adams, the mere presence of the car and person in the park was enough and in Tidwell, upon detention Sgt. Illanz corroborated that Ms. Tidwell was impaired.
- For more information on tipping citizens see Supreme Court Fence Sitting.
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Don’t let your training fail you!
Be safe, smart and Objectively Reasonable!