Skip to comments.Fake drug checkpoint in Mayfield Heights is legal, experts say
Posted on 06/30/2013 10:21:04 AM PDT by Deadeye Division
MAYFIELD HEIGHTS, Ohio -- Police are not allowed to use checkpoints to search motorists and their vehicles for drugs. So, in Mayfield Heights, officers are trying the next-best thing -- fake drug checkpoints.
Police gathered in the express lanes of Interstate 271 on Monday after placing signs along the freeway warning motorists that a drug checkpoint lay ahead.
There was no checkpoint, only police waiting for motorists to react suspiciously after seeing the signs. A Mayfield Heights assistant prosecutor says it's a lawful and legitimate tactic in his city's war on drugs.
"We should be applauded for doing this," Dominic Vitantonio said. "It's a good thing."
Civil libertarians and one of the people who was stopped and searched are skeptical. They wonder if officers were profiling motorists and whether anyone's Fourth Amendment right against unlawful searches and seizures was violated.
Nick Worner, a spokesman for the Cleveland office of the American Civil Liberties Union, said his office will examine the circumstances surrounding the fake checkpoint.
"We're going to be gathering information," Worner said. "That information will determine what we think is going on."
The fake checkpoints are legal, experts say. A 2000 U.S. Supreme Court ruling said actual checkpoints are not legal and that police can randomly stop cars for just two reasons: to prevent illegal aliens and contraband from entering the U.S. and to get drunk drivers off the road.
It's unclear if other police departments in Northeast Ohio have tried fake drug checkpoints.
On Monday, Mayfield Heights police placed a series of signs along the northbound I-271 express lanes that said: "Drug Checkpoint Ahead," "Police K9 Dog In Use" and "Be Prepared to Stop." Officers then watched how motorists reacted after seeing the signs.
Vitantonio said there were arrests and drugs seized. He said Thursday that four people were stopped and searched. Three of the motorists crossed through the grassy median or at emergency vehicle crossings, evasive actions that gave police reasonable suspicion to stop those cars.
The fourth motorist, Bill Peters of Medina, insists he did nothing wrong except to park on the side of the freeway to check his phone for directions. He was stopped and allowed police to search his car. Vitantonio said that if Peters had not given police permission to search, they would have had to let him go.
Peters, 53, said he was driving on I-271 around 11:30 a.m. when he missed the merge that would take him into the local lanes and allow him to exit at Wilson Mills Road. He said he pulled over to check his phone for directions. As he pulled back onto the freeway, he said his phone disconnected from the charger, so he returned to the berm to reconnect it.
He said he had seen the drug checkpoint signs and was not worried. Peters has long hair and distinguished heavy metal roots. He spent 26 years in sales and marketing for Warner Bros. Records, owns a music label, hosts a heavy metal radio show at John Carroll University and is an ardent promoter of local talent. Despite his background in a business where drugs are de rigueur, Peters insists he has never inhaled.
He wonders if officers targeted him because of his appearance.
"The last time I checked, it is not against the law to pull over to the side of the road to check directions," said Peters, who added that the officer who stopped him commended him for being safety conscious.
Vitantonio insisted that Peters gave police reasonable suspicion to pull him over.
After stopping and returning to the freeway, Peters said he saw a sign that said, "Be Prepared to Stop," which prompted him to slow a bit. Seconds later, a police car was behind him, lights flashing.
Peters said the officer asked if he was having car trouble. Peters explained why he had stopped on the berm and then slowed down. He said the officer quizzed him about what kinds of drugs he had in the car, saying it would be much easier to confess before other officers and a drug-sniffing dog arrived. Peters insisted he had no drugs. As promised, other officers and the dog were summoned.
"I see what they're doing, but I think it's kind of dangerous," Peters said. "It's one thing to do this on a 25 mph road, it's another on a busy interstate. I think it's a violation to just be pulled over and searched."
Ric Simmons, a law professor at the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University, said police are allowed to deceive people, thus the fake checkpoint was legal.
"They can lie to anybody," Simmons said.
Prominent Cleveland civil rights attorney Terry Gilbert thinks the reason police stopped Peters is questionable. Gilbert said police are allowed to deceive suspects, but questioned the practice of lying to motorists about a fake drug checkpoint on a busy highway.
"I don't think it accomplishes any public safety goals," Gilbert said. "I don't think it's good to mislead the population for any reason if you're a government agency."
Michael Benza, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, said motorists often do not know their rights. You must stop when an officer pulls you over for a traffic violation, but it does not necessarily mean they can search your car without your permission. Police need to be able to provide a judge with a legal and valid reason for why they ordered a search of your car."
If the Cops ran a “Conservative” check point, they would be praised to the skies!
However, we find it is possible to address large bodies of the U. S. public to achieve results when they want to.
Do you know who played the hippies in that movie? It was a bunch of the guys from the original Chicago.
There is a piece of entrapment in this, but it is not as bad as what is commonly allowed, as I see it.
For example, if the cops see a car pull a handbrake turn and screech into an illegal U-turn over the median 100 yds after the sign....that’s IMO voluntary VERY suspicious behavior.
We see cops placing ads in newspaper with lists of the names of wanted felons (or fugitives or arrest warrants) as lottery winners...and such spoofs inevitably results in some very low cost arrests. And....we laugh at those, do we not? How is this different than such a spoof? [answering my own question] Existing warrants are existing, this is “fishing”.
I’m not defending nor attacking here, just discussing.
There’s no question that the suspicious behavior that will become the stop & request to search premise is cop-induced. I guess for me, the piece of criticality is how the searches are conducted. If they are conducted under duress, then that’s already illegal (not that it isn’t done)
And Tennessee and some Southern State cops are fanatical about seizing any amounts of cash they find over pocket money amounts.
I see this tactic on I-70 in Missouri. They put the sign up right before an exit in a rural area that has no services, then wait for vehicles that suddenly exit.
It just feels to me that law enforcement has the wrong priorities a lot of the time if the goal is actual public safety. Just how many unsolved murders are there in the state of Ohio, for example?
The Uniform Crime Report from the FBI in 2011 says Ohio reported 513 criminal (non-justified) homicides. And we know in America that less than 2/3rds of murders are ever solved. So every single year, Ohio accumulates another 175 or so unsolved slayings. I don’t mean to pick on Ohio; it’s the same in other states.
You’d think that getting MURDERERS off the streets would be a high priority, but in practice, it takes a backseat to all kinds of other revenue enforcement nonsense. The focus here in Ohio seems inappropriate when there are much more pressing concerns, like several THOUSAND unsolved killings over the past couple decades.
Sure, maybe one of these checkpoints will catch a murder suspect by accident, but that’s a slender reed at best.
A real pain-in-the-a$$ kind of guy, utilizing today’s modern cell phone technology (read: Flash Mob) could do a bit of their own fakery.
Enlist the flash mob to “act suspiciously” and tie up all of the available cops. Do this repeatedly. Of course, you would need to be “clean”. You could also instruct ALL of them to refuse to allow the cops to execute a “search”...
Always liked side two of Chicago VII. I think I still have my vinyl copy with the pseudo-leather-tooled cover.
Nope, not even close.
In your scenario, the police are lying to motorists in order to get them to break the law.
In the scenario present in the article, the police are lying to motorist to observe them and see if they engage in suspicion behavior leading to probable cause to stop them. Police are not encouraging illegal activity in this case.
Although I am not a huge fan of this tactic, it is nothing like the scenario you describe.
When the victim is the arrestee / defendant, there is no crime.
I’ve met Peters a couple of times. He was interviewing a good friend of mine on his show. I called up just to goof on them. Hilarious. He’s a good guy.
Police will do anything to trash the US Constitution. There is nothing they despise more, unless they are the ones in trouble.
Police waiting for motorists to react suspiciously after seeing the signs.
LOL bet they have the best you tube material yet.
“He spent 26 years in sales and marketing for Warner Bros. Records, owns a music label, hosts a heavy metal radio show at John Carroll University and is an ardent promoter of local talent. Despite his background in a business where drugs are de rigueur, Peters insists he has never inhaled. “
He can say what he wants, but the picture of him doesn’t lie. He’s very lucky he didn’t have anything on him that day.
"They can lie to anybody," Simmons said.
Another example of something that may be legal, but still isn't a good idea. If the public comes to believe that the police are frequently lying to them, then the public is much less likely to support the police either politically or personally. After all, if they are lying about the checkpoint they might also be lying about their need for new equipment, or a pension, or what a reasonable salary for them would be. And that certainly doesn't help politically.
Moreover, successful police operations depend on the support of the community. If you alienate the community by lying to them, then you can lose the access to information necessary for successful policing.
It may turn out that it isn't illegal for anyone to lie about checkpoints ahead. That might provide a new source of amusement for radio hosts, revenue for temporary sign makers, and even a way to get more traffic to your diner.
How about some fake “Immigration checkpoint” signs ahead?