On June 15, 2021, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decided the United States v. Jones[i], which serves as an excellent review of the law related to reasonable suspicion required to detain a person.  The relevant facts of Jones are as follows:

On the night of April 6, 2019, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) alerted police officers Jasmine Turner and Brianna Ennis that its ShotSpotter system had identified the sound of gunshots in the 3500 block of 13th Street Southeast in Washington, D.C. Appellant’s Appendix (App.) 38-39. ShotSpotter is “a surveillance network of GPS-enabled acoustic sensors” that “use[s] sophisticated microphones to record gunshots in a specific area.” The officers arrived on the block a minute and a half after receiving the alert from MPD. J.A. 52-53. They saw Jones walking quickly and observed that there was no one else outside on the block. App. 51, 66. While the officers checked for victims, a dispatcher reported over their radio that citizens on neighboring blocks were calling 911 to report gunshots heard at either end of the 3500 block. App. 66. The officers believed these were the same shots reported by ShotSpotter, because they had heard no additional shots since arriving on the block. App. 65-66.

Finding no victims, Turner and Ennis decided to stop Jones. App. 51, 56. They followed him around the corner onto Trenton Place, where Officer Damien Williams joined them. App. 41-42, 56, 62. Turner got out of the patrol car and pursued Jones on foot. App. 43. Jones continued to walk away as she called out to him: “Hello, how ya doin’? Hello. Excuse me! Hello. You don’t hear me talking to you?” GX 1 at 03:55-04:05; see App. 43-44. Jones was wearing a hooded jacket. See GX 1 at 03:55-04:05; App. 67. After ten seconds, Jones stopped and turned back toward the officers, removing the headphones he was wearing under the jacket’s hood. GX 1 at 04:06. Ennis also approached. App. 63. Turner testified that Jones “kept moving, like moving a lot,” App. 44, and his “hand kept moving, gravitating towards his waistband area,” App. 46-47. Turner grabbed Jones’s hand and told him to stop moving. App. 46-47. Williams and two other officers then converged on Jones. App. 63-64. Observing an item jostle in Jones’s waistband, Williams tackled Jones and, after a struggle, recovered the item, a pistol. App. 77-80.[ii]

Jones was indicted under federal law for unlawful possession of a firearm.  He filed a motion to suppress the gun and argued that the officers lacked reasonable suspicion to detain him regarding the gunshots.  The district court denied the motion.  He subsequently appealed the denial of his motion to suppress.

The issue before the court was whether, at the moment the officers stopped Jones, they had reasonable suspicion that Jones was involved in the shooting.

The court of appeals first noted the legal principles related to this case and stated

Under Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 27, 30, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 20 L. Ed. 2d 889 (1968), officers may stop a citizen if they are “able to point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, support a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the person seized is engaged in criminal activity.” Delaney, 955 F.3d at 1081 (internal quotation marks omitted). A Terry stop, which constitutes a Fourth Amendment seizure, “occurs when physical force is used to restrain movement or when a person submits to an officer’s show of authority.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). It is the government’s burden to show that officers had evidence to support a reasonable and articulable suspicion at the time of a stop. Id. at 1082. The Supreme Court has explained that such evidence must include more than mere “presence in an area of expected criminal activity.” Illinois v. Wardlaw, 528 U.S. 119, 124, 120 S. Ct. 673, 145 L. Ed. 2d 570 (2000).[iii]

The court then examined the relevant facts of Jones’ case.  First, the court noted that the Shotspotter alert indicated that shots were fired in the 3500 block of 13th Street Southeast.  Second, the officers arrived at the location within a minute-and-a-half of receiving the dispatch.  Third, the officers testified that Jones was the only person they saw outside on the block.  Fourth, Jones was walking quickly away from the location.  Fifth, Jones did not initially respond to Officer Turner’s repeated efforts to get his attention.  The court noted that Jones’ had on a hood and, when he stopped, he removed earbuds; however, the court also noted that Officer Turner could not see the earbuds and reasonably believed that Jones was intentionally being evasive.  The court, citing the Supreme Court, stated

A determination that reasonable suspicion exists . . . need not rule out the possibility of innocent conduct.”[iv]

The court of appeals then held that the facts above provided the officers sufficient reasonable suspicion to justify stopping Jones.

The court also addressed several arguments raised by Jones.  First, Jones argued that his presence outside, on the block, was insufficient to provide reasonable suspicion because other people could have been outside when the shots were fired.  The court countered that the officers arrived within a minute-and-a-half of the dispatch and other callers reported shots fired after they arrived.  Since the officers did not hear the shots, they could reasonably infer that the shots happened very close in time to their arrival.  Additionally, the officers observed Jones acting evasively.  The court stated

When presence where a crime is reported to have occurred is coupled with evasive behavior, we have found reasonable suspicion even when more time has elapsed. See Brown, 334 F.3d at 1165-66 & n.1.[v]

Second, Jones argued that the ShotSpotter only identifies a radius of an unspecified size.  However, the court observed that the district court credited the government’s assertion that the shots were from that specific block.  Jones provided no specific reason why that finding was incorrect.  Since the district court’s determination was not clearly erroneous, the court of appeals cannot overrule that finding.

Third, Jones argued that he was not quickly walking away when the officers observed him.  The court of appeals viewed the body camera footage from the officers and stated that the district courts finding that Jones was “quickly” walking away was not clearly erroneous.  As such, they cannot overrule that finding.  Furthermore, the court stated

[E]ven if Jones’ pace was not suspicious, his initial failure to respond to Turner was evasive conduct that, together with the other facts, supports [reasonable suspicion].[vi]

Last, Jones argued that officers had no reason to believe the shots were fired by someone outside, rather than inside, a residence.  The court stated that the fact that people from different blocks in the area called 911 to report the shots, provided the officers a reasonable belief the shots occurred outside.

Therefore, the court of appeals affirmed the district court’s finding that the officers had reasonable suspicion to detain Jones and the denial of his motion to suppress.



[i] No. 20-3034 (D.C. Cir. Decided June 15, 2021)

[ii] Id. at 2-3

[iii] Id. at 5 (emphasis added)

[iv] Id. at 7 (quoting United States v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 277, 122 S. Ct. 744, 151 L. Ed. 2d 740 (2002))

[v] Id. at 10 (emphasis added)

[vi] Id. at 11

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