Based on the totality of the circumstances, it was reasonable for the officers to prevent Mr. Wright and Harris from leaving the hotel until they could investigate further.
State v. Wright
2022 – Ohio – 2161
First District Appellate Court
Hamilton County, Ohio
June 24, 2022
Sharonville Officer Zachary Jones testified that he was called to the Baymont Inn, 10900 Crowne Point Dr, Cincinnati, Ohio 45241, twice on the night of Thursday January 21, 2021.
In the early hours of Thursday January 21, 2021 Sharonville P0lice responded to two disturbances here at the Baymont Inn located at 10900 Crowne Point Dr, Cincinnati, Ohio 45241. The second call for service resulted in a CCW arrest and an appeal.
Officer Jones first responded at 1:17 a.m. to a complaint about noise and a fight on the fourth floor. The first body camera video showed that Officer Jones and three other officers went up to the fourth floor, where they heard loud noises coming from room 408. Officer Jones knocked on the door and eventually a man answered. The room was noisy and full of people. Officer Jones asked the man who had rented the room. The man said he would get the person and come right back.
When the door reopened, many of the individuals, including Mr. Wright and Ms. Olivia Harris, the woman he was later stopped with, left the room and walked down the hall. Mr. Wright spoke to Officer Jones, apparently attempting to put him at ease by telling him that they respected him and the other officers and were leaving. Officer Jones clarified to the men who remained in the hotel room that he had not ordered everyone to leave and that he was simply investigating a complaint about noise and a fight. At that point, many of the people, including Mr. Wright and Ms. Harris, returned to the room. On his way back into the room, Mr. Wright spoke with Officer Jones again, this time joking with Officer Jones. The officers reminded the occupants to keep the noise down and they left the hotel.
Later, at approximately 3:40 a.m., Officer Jones, accompanied by Sharonville Police Officer Siefring, responded to another call at the Baymont Inn about a fight in progress on the fourth floor. Officer Jones did not know who the complainant was, and the complainant did not describe the suspects.
Officer Jones testified that as he and Officer Siefring were standing in the hotel lobby outside the elevator, he could hear “profanity and shouting; a disturbance coming from inside the elevator as it came down to the first floor.” He testified that he heard a “higher pitched” voice in the elevator, but could not discern what was being said. He also heard “banging” coming from the elevator. He testified, “It sounded like an altercation in the elevator.”
The elevator doors opened and Mr. Wright and Ms. Harris were inside. Officer Jones testified that they were standing very close together, and that Ms. Harris was “almost backed into a corner” of the elevator. He testified that Ms. Harris’s hair weave had been mostly ripped off, she had an eyelash missing, and she was out of breath and appeared disheveled. Officer Jones testified that although he was unsure, he believed he recognized Mr. Wright as one of the occupants of room 408 with whom he had interacted earlier. Officer Jones was concerned that a physical altercation had occurred in the elevator, so he stopped Mr. Wright and Ms. Harris and told them they could not leave until they “sorted it out.”
The second body camera video captured the events that led to Mr. Wright’s arrest. As Officer Jones and Officer Siefring entered the hotel lobby, yelling can be heard on the video. Officer Jones and Officer Siefring looked for the stairwell to no avail and returned to the lobby. More yelling can be heard as the elevator descended to the first floor. As the elevator doors opened, Ms. Harris said, “I’m so mad.” Ms. Harris was standing in the back of the elevator and Mr. Wright was standing close to her and between her and the elevator doors. Mr. Wright and Ms. Harris walked out of the elevator and into the lobby, and Officer Jones immediately blocked Mr. Wright and Ms. Harris from leaving the lobby. He told them, “Hold tight, hold tight, don’t leave, you’re not leaving.” Mr. Wright and Harris both said they were trying to leave. Officer Jones said, “I know, but we can hear screaming, pounding.” Ms. Harris said, “We’re not, that’s them [pointing upstairs]. We didn’t do it, we’re here together, we’re not even here with them.” Ms. Harris’s hair was clearly disheveled.
Mr. Wright said, “We ain’t got nothing to do with it.” Officer Jones said, “No, you’re gonna wait, we’re gonna figure it out. We’ll probably just get you out of the hotel.” Officer Siefring asked Mr. Wright, “Are they still fighting up on the fourth floor?” Mr. Wright responded, “Yeah, they up there fighting,” and started to walk away. Officer Jones told Mr. Wright, “You’re not leaving yet man.” Officer Siefring reached for Mr. Wright’s arm, and Mr. Wright ran down the hallway. Officer Siefring caught up with him outside the exit doors and tackled him to the ground. Officer Jones followed and aided Officer Siefring in detaining Mr. Wright. Officer Jones’s body camera was knocked off his body and became obscured during the struggle, but the camera recorded audio of Siefring telling Mr. Wright, “Quit reaching, quit reaching.” Officer Siefring said, “He’s got a gun.” Officer Jones yelled, “Gun, gun, gun.” Officer Jones testified that the handgun had been “kicked” out of Mr. Wright’s hands during the struggle. Mr. Wright denied owning the handgun.
Mr. Wright filed a motion to suppress the handgun and statements he made to officers after he was arrested. The trial court denied the motion to suppress. Mr. Wright
was indicted for carrying a concealed weapon and having a weapon while under a disability. He pled no contest as charged, was sentenced, and filed this appeal.
Analysis and Holding
An officer is not required to wait until an offender commits a crime before investigating, or “shrug his shoulders” and allow a criminal to escape simply because he does not yet have probable cause to believe that the individual committed the crime. Officer Jones and Officer Siefring were called to the hotel to break up a fight and investigate any corresponding criminal conduct. Once in the hotel lobby, they heard yelling and “banging” coming from the elevator as it descended. Officer Jones testified that it “sounded like an altercation” was occurring in the elevator. When the elevator doors opened, Ms. Harris was in the back of the elevator and Mr. Wright was standing close to her and between her and the doors. Officer Jones believed that he recognized Mr. Wright from his earlier visit to the hotel. Ms. Harris was clearly disheveled and upset and said, “I’m so mad.” Based on the totality of the circumstances, it was reasonable for the officers to prevent Mr. Wright and Harris from leaving the hotel until they could investigate further.
Next, Mr. Wright argues that the officers’ words and conduct in the hotel lobby constituted more than an investigative stop and amounted to an arrest that lacked probable cause.
An arrest occurs when the following four requisite elements are involved:
(1) An intent to arrest.
(2) under a real or pretended authority.
(3) accompanied by an actual or constructive seizure or detention of the person; and
(4) which is so understood by the person arrested.
State v. Darrah
64 Ohio St.2d 22, 26, (1980)
Officer Jones and Officer Siefring had reasonable, articulable suspicion to make the initial stop. They attempted to gather more information, but Mr. Wright quickly fled. The officers did not use or display force or “intrude” on Mr. Wright’s “personal security” until he fled. The officers’ words and actions in the hotel lobby evince an investigative stop, not an arrest.
Wright’s sole assignment of error is overruled, and the judgment of the trial court is affirmed.
Information for this article was obtained from State v. Wright, 2022 – Ohio – 2161.
This case was issued by the First District Appellate Court and is only binding in Hamilton County, Ohio.
- The primary question in this case was whether Sharonville Police Officers Jones and Seifring had reasonable suspicion to detain Mr. Wright and Ms. Harris as they exited the elevator. When the U.S. Supreme Court established the Reasonable Suspicion Doctrine in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), the court defined the doctrine as follows “[T]here is no ready test for determining reasonableness other than by balancing the need to search or seize against the invasion which the search or seizure entails. And in justifying the particular intrusion the police officer must be able to point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant that intrusion.”. In this case the “specific and articulable facts” included but were not limited to the first call for service, the banging in the elevator, Ms. Harris exclaiming “I’m so mad”, her position in the corner of the elevator, her hair weave had been mostly ripped off, an eyelash missing, she was out of breath and generally disheveled. These factors were plenty of “specific and articulable facts” to rise to the level of Reasonable Suspicion.
- Wright’s legal team also made a feeble attempt to suppress the handgun that he was carrying by alleging that the investigative detention was an arrest before probable cause was established. In other words, when Mr. Wright made an ineffective attempt to flee he was arrested at the moment Officer Seifring tackled him outside the hotel. Clearly, Mr. Wright was being detained under investigative detention and not an arrest. At the moment of the tackle Officer Seifring did not have probable cause, however, that was not the legal standard that was required.
- Both Officer Jones and Officer Seifring should be commended for their quick actions that certainly may have prevented a felonious assault or homicide on Thursday January 21, 2021 in Sharonville, Ohio. Well done officers!
Don’t fail your training.
Don’t let your training fail you!
Be safe, smart and Objectively Reasonable!