The totality of the circumstances, together with reasonable inferences that could be drawn therefrom, support the conclusion that Officer Anderson was justified in conducting an investigatory traffic stop to confirm or dispel the suspicion that Ms. Tincher was driving while intoxicated.

State v. Tincher

2022 – Ohio – 1701

Ninth District Appellate Court

May 23, 2022

On Friday April 9, 2021 at 9:49 p.m. a caller later identified as, E.F. called Medina Police 911 to report a possible drunk driver. E.F. identified herself as a “DoorDasher,” and her name and telephone number appeared on the dispatcher’s caller identification display. E.F. reported that a woman who was “stumbling all over the place” had just exited Romeo’s Pizza at 1100 North Court Street, Medina, Ohio and was driving away in her car.

Ms. Allison Tincher stumbled out of Romeo’s Pizza at 1100 North Court Street, Medina, Ohio which led to her impaired driving arrest and an appeal.

E.F. gave the dispatcher the name and location of Romeo’s, the license plate of the woman’s car, the road on which the car was traveling – North Court Street, and the direction the car was heading. Almost immediately after she ended her call with the dispatcher, E.F. called 911 again to report that the car had entered the Taco Bell drive through located at 1061 North Court Street.  Traveling directly from a bar to Taco Bell [or White Castle] would certainly raise any officers suspicion of impaired driving.

Ms. Tincher traveled from Romeo’s Pizza to Taco Bell and was stopped soon thereafter by Officer Erica Anderson.

Unbeknownst to the dispatcher, E.F. did not personally observe the woman she called 911 to report. E.F.’s boyfriend saw the woman come out of Romeo’s, stumble, and get into her car while he and E.F. were talking on their cell phones. E.F. ended her call with her boyfriend so that she could call 911. While E.F. was on the phone with the dispatcher, her boyfriend sent her text messages with additional information that she passed along to the dispatcher. Medina Police later spoke with both E.F. and her boyfriend to obtain a written statement.

The 911 dispatcher relayed the information she received from E.F. to Medina Police Officer Erica Anderson. Officer Anderson found the car E.F. had described.  Officer Anderson found the car in the drive-thru lane at Taco Bell and waited in an adjacent parking lot. She watched as the car pulled through the lane, out of the parking lot, and back onto the roadway. While she did not observe any traffic infractions in the short amount of time she followed the car, Officer Anderson executed a traffic stop based on E.F.’s tip. Her interaction with the driver, Ms. Allison Tincher, led to Ms. Tincher’s arrest.

The trial court found that, at the time of the stop, neither the dispatcher, nor Officer Anderson were aware that the female tipster (E.F.) had not personally witnessed the events she had described. Instead, her boyfriend had witnessed the events, he had communicated that information to E.F., and she had relayed that information to the 911 dispatcher. The police later spoke with E.F. and her boyfriend, and both individuals testified at the suppression hearing.

Ms. Tincher was charged with one count of operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol. She moved to suppress the evidence against her on several grounds, one of which was that Officer Anderson lacked reasonable suspicion to stop her car.

The trial court determined that E.F. qualified as an identified citizen informant because she identified herself to the dispatcher and the dispatcher conveyed her information to Officer Anderson. Nevertheless, the court was troubled by the fact that E.F. had not personally observed the events she described. It found her tip less reliable because she had received information second-hand from her boyfriend before relaying it to the dispatcher. The court also noted that E.F.’s tip did not concern any erratic driving. She only reported that the driver had stumbled in the parking lot; a fact that, in the trial court’s opinion, also detracted from the weight to be given her tip. The trial court concluded that E.F.’s tip “fell short of providing reasonable and articulable suspicion for the stop of [Ms. Tincher’s] vehicle.” Further, it found that Officer Anderson never observed any traffic violations or other signs of erratic driving that otherwise might have supplied reasonable suspicion for the stop she executed. Because the court determined that the stop was not justified, it granted Ms. Tincher’s motion to suppress.

The state appealed the trial court’s motion to suppress and the Ninth District Appellate Court overturned the trial court and held “The totality of the circumstances, together with reasonable inferences that could be drawn therefrom, support the conclusion that Officer Anderson was justified in conducting an investigatory traffic stop to confirm or dispel the suspicion that Ms. Tincher was driving while intoxicated.”.

Information for this article was obtained from State v. Tincher, 2022 – Ohio – 1701.

This case was issued by the Ninth District Appellate Court and is only binding in the following Ohio Counties: Lorain, Medina, Summit and Wayne.

Lessons Learned:

  1. The facts of this case are closely aligned to Maumee v. Weisner, 87 Ohio St.3d 295 (1999) and the Supreme Court of Ohio concluded the traffic stop was reasonable “We … hold that a telephone tip can, by itself, create reasonable suspicion justifying an investigative stop where the tip has a sufficient indicia of reliability.”. In that case the officer received a tip from a known person but did not observe a single traffic violation, stopped the car and successfully charged and prosecuted Mr. Weisner with impaired driving. In this case the trial judge knew of this similar case and disregarded it to his detriment or did not know of the case … to his detriment, as he was overturned.
  2. Law enforcement can rely on a known tipster. The tip can create Reasonable Suspicion based upon the facts.  A known tipster is a person who provides a name and phone number.
  3. In this case the court evaluated what constitutes a ‘known caller’, specifically because witness E.F. initially identified herself as Door Dasher. However, the dispatcher had E.F.’s phone number displayed on the computer screen.  The trial court also took issue that E.F. did not personally observe Ms. Tincher stumbling towards her car from Romeo’s. However, the way E.F. was describing Ms. Tincher in real time was not known to the dispatcher or Officer Anderson.
  4. The landscape of unknown, known and in person tipsters can be challenging to officers when making quick decisions. To learn more about tipsters see Supreme Court Fence Sitting, Glenn had Enough BudWeis(N)er for a .185 BAC But Was the Traffic Stop Lawful? and Can Law Rely on an Unidentified In-Person Tipster?.
  5. Officer Erica Anderson should be commended for her quick actions of stopping an impaired driver from hurting herself or others. Though the trial court judge determined the traffic stop was unlawful, both Officer Anderson and the Ninth District Appellate Court knew better.  Well done Officer Anderson!

Does your agency train on Tipping Citizens?

Don’t fail your training.

Don’t let your training fail you!

Be safe, smart and Objectively Reasonable!

Robert H. Meader Esq.