[W]e find that Deputy Johnson possessed a reasonable, articulable suspicion to justify a brief investigatory detention of Mr. Shrimplin.

State v. Shrimplin

2021 – Ohio 3720

Fifth District Appellate Court

Coshocton County, Ohio

October 18, 2021

On Thursday July 2, 2020, Deputy Jeremy Johnson of the Coshocton County Sheriff’s Department was dispatched to Conesville, Ohio, in Coshocton County, on a report of a suspicious vehicle with male passengers inside, driving slowly and looking into houses.

Deputy Johnson observed Mr. Jeffrey Shrimplin in a vehicle here in Conesville, Ohio. Did Mr. Shrimplin just leave a tree job, was he trying to hide drug paraphernalia … or both?

Deputy Johnson did not know the identity of the caller whose call resulted in the dispatch. When Deputy Johnson arrived in Conesville, he encountered a male and female in a truck. They stated they thought it was Mr. Jeffrey Shrimplin, in the vehicle, and it was a gold Buick LeSabre. Deputy Johnson did not know the occupants of the truck, and they did not provide their names. The occupants of the truck advised Deputy Johnson as to the general direction where they last saw the vehicle. The incident in question took place in the middle of the afternoon.

The deputy then spotted the vehicle matching the description in a back alley. The deputy did not know the name of the road. The road was not wide enough for two vehicles to pass. When Dep. Johnson came around a corner in the road, he observed a gold Buick LeSabre, with three males inside, stopped in the roadway with another vehicle facing it traveling the opposite direction.

When Dep. Johnson pulled behind the vehicle, Mr. Shrimplin pulled off to the left side of the narrow roadway and stopped. Dep. Johnson stopped his vehicle, exited, and approached the driver’s window of the vehicle and made contact with the three individuals in the car. This initial encounter would be argued later in court by Mr. Shrimplin that this began as an investigative detention, while the prosecution would argue that it began as a consensual encounter.  What do you think?

Mr. Shrimplin was the driver of the vehicle, and the two passengers were in the back of the vehicle. Deputy Johnson told the court that he found it unusual that there was no one in the front passenger seat. He asked if there had been another passenger in the vehicle and was told that there had been but that they had just dropped him off.

Dep. Johnson did not activate his overhead lights. Upon approaching the vehicle, Dep. Johnson did not ask for Mr. Shrimplin’s identification because he was familiar with Mr. Shrimplin. Dep. Johnson informed Mr. Shrimplin that he had received a report of a suspicious vehicle in the area.  The men informed the officer that they were parked in the yard of a person that the unidentified passenger previously dated, that he had approached the home and knocked on the door, but when no one answered he left a note in the door. Mr. Shrimplin also told the officer that the men had been out looking at a job site where they were going to remove some trees.

Deputy Johnson asked if there had been another passenger in the car riding in the front seat. Mr. Shrimplin stated that his stepson had been with them, but that he had dropped him off at his house.  The right rear passenger exited the vehicle with a cigarette, and Dep. Johnson requested identification from him and the other rear passenger. Theright rear passenger walked around the vehicle and provided identification to Dep. Johnson. The left rear passenger stated that he did not have any identification, did not know his social security number, and only provided a name and date of birth, which the deputy was unable to confirm through dispatch. Because he was unable to confirm this passenger’s identity, he believed the passenger gave him false information. He asked the passenger if he had a driver’s license and was told that he had a State ID in the state of Ohio. The deputy stated that if that were the case, his name and information should have been in the system. Mr. Shrimplin repeatedly told the deputy that he did not know the passenger and had just met him.  The benevolence of Mr. Shrimplin cannot be overstated.

At approximately eleven and a half minutes into the encounter while the deputy was still trying to ascertain the identity of the backseat passenger, Mr. Shrimplin asked Dep. Johnson if he could leave the scene to take his car home, explaining that he was hot and nervous about being parked in someone’s yard. Deputy Johnson told Mr. Shrimplin that the property owner was not going to give Mr. Shrimplin any trouble because he was there with law enforcement. Mr. Shrimplin should be commended for his abrupt concern with adhering to trespassing laws.

Deputy Johnson then asked Mr. Shrimplin the location of the tree job they had been looking at. After Mr. Shrimplin described the location of the job and the name of the person who wanted him to remove the trees, at approximately thirteen and a half minutes into the conversation, Deputy Johnson viewed what he believed to be drug paraphernalia, like a smoking device, between Mr. Shrimplin legs. When he asked Mr. Shrimplin what he had between his legs, Mr. Shrimplin became nervous, started to stutter and fidget and tried to place a beverage can over top of the instrument in a feeble attempt to conceal the smoking device. Ultimately Mr. Shrimplin was arrested.

Mr. Shrimplin filed a Motion to Suppress which the trial court denied.  He plead no contest and was sentenced to ten days in jail with seven days suspended.  Mr. Shrimplin appealed the denial of the Motion to Suppress to the Fifth District Appellate Court which denied the appeal, holding “Upon our review of these facts, the record and the body-cam video, we find that the deputy’s approach of the vehicle and ensuing conversation with Mr. Shrimplin and his passengers began as a consensual encounter. Once the men reported to the deputy that one of them had approached the rear of one of the houses and then was either unable or unwilling to provide credible proof of his identity, the deputy was justified in detaining Mr. Shrimplin and the passengers while he continued his investigation. We further find that the deputy did not tell Mr. Shrimplin that he could not leave the scene, only that he did not need to worry about being parked on someone else’s property at that time. For the above reasons, we find that Deputy Johnson possessed a reasonable, articulable suspicion to justify a brief investigatory detention of Mr. Shrimplin. Mr. Shrimplin sole assignment of error is overruled.”

Information for this case was obtained from State v. Shrimplin, 2021 – Ohio – 3720.

The case was issued by the Fifth District Appellate Court and is only binding in the following Ohio Counties; Ashland, Coshocton, Delaware, Fairfield, Guernsey, Holmes, Knox, Licking, Morgan, Morrow, Muskingum, Perry, Richland, Stark and Tuscarawas.


Lessons Learned:

  1. The encounter began when Deputy Johnson was dispatched on a suspicious person call. The caller was anonymous so Deputy Johnson could not rely solely on the call for service but rather had to corroborate some information before he could ripen the stop from a consensual stop a to an investigative detention stop. This is exactly what Deputy Johnson did.  He corroborated the information contained in the original dispatch information from an anonymous caller.  Once the passenger began to play the name-game, that is he was unaware of his own social security number and his information was not nestled in LEADS or other software, Deputy Johnson that criminal activity was afoot.  Once Deputy Johnson observed the narcotics smoking device between Mr. Shrimplin’s legs that matured the stop from consensual to an investigative detention.
  2. The U.S. Supreme Court issued Florida v. J.L., 529 U.S. 266 (2000) and held that law enforcement cannot rely on an anonymous tip from citizens. In that case two female Miami-Dade Police Officers arrived to the location of the call in six minutes and found J.L. [he was a juvenile so only his initials were used to identify him] and discovered he was unlawfully carrying a handgun.  The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court which suppressed the firearm, as it held “[W]e hold that an anonymous tip lacking an indicia of reliability … does not justify a stop and firsk whenever and however it alleges the illegal possession of a firearm.” Id at 273. .  Then the U.S. Supreme Court went full speed astern and issued Navarette v. California, 572 U.S. 393 (2014), fourteen years later.  In that case the court held that law enforcement could rely on an anonymous tip if the information included a reckless driver. There the California Highway Patrol received information that a pickup truck was driving recklessly and the information contained the location, description of the pickup; a silver Ford F-150 and a license plate – California 8D94925.  An officer stopped the Navarette brothers without observing one single traffic violation.  On first approach the California Highway Patrolman smelled freshly packaged marijuana.  He called for backup and searched the bed of the pick-up to discover thirty pounds of marijuana, back when marijuana was illegal in California.  The U.S. Supreme Court held “Under the totality of the circumstances, we find the indicia of reliability in this case sufficient to provide the officer with reasonable suspicion that the driver of the reported vehicle had run another vehicle off the road.  That made it reasonable under the circumstances for the officer to execute a traffic stop.” Id at 404. For more information on anonymous tips see Supreme Court Fence Sitting.
  3. Deputy Johnson encountered a male and female in a truck who believed the suspect was Mr. Shrimplin.Even though the male and female were not identified the information is reliable because the tipsters were in person.  For more on in person tipsters see Can Law Enforcement Rely on an In-Person Tipster?.
  4. Deputy Johnson should be commended for navigating the legal landscape of anonymous tips and obtaining enough information and evidence to matriculate the stop from an anonymous tip to an investigative detention an arrest, a conviction and a unsuccessful appeal by Mr. Shrimplin. Well done Deputy Johnson!

Does your agency train on Citizen Tips?

Don’t fail your training.

Don’t let your training fail you!

Be safe, smart and Objectively Reasonable!

Robert H. Meader Esq.