On November 16, 2021, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decided Allen v. City of Ecorse[i], which serves as an excellent review of the law related to warrantless home entry in hot pursuit. The relevant facts of Allen are as follows:
After midnight on April 15, 2017, Officers Craig Cieszkowski and Amjad Issa patrolled a neighborhood in Ecorse. Around 2:00 am, they spotted a black male wearing a white hooded sweatshirt engaging in a “hand-to-hand transaction” that they suspected involved drugs. Soon after, they watched the individual driving a moped without regard for traffic signs. The officers activated their emergency lights and siren and tried to stop him. Instead of complying, the driver accelerated. He began to chart an unwieldy course, swerving between oncoming vehicles and driving over sidewalks. He lost control of the moped and fled on foot.
Issa got out of the car and ran after him, yelling directions over the radio. He lost sight of the man, but Officer Edward Otis (not a defendant here) radioed that he saw someone matching the suspect’s description run into a house on West Goodell Street.
The officers went to Otis’s location. A man standing on the front porch of the house next door stated, “he went in there,” indicating 15 West Goodell Street. A patrolman secured the rear exit.
The officers forced entry. They found plaintiffs Felicia Allen and Arturos Turner in their bedroom in the basement. Turner was not wearing a white sweatshirt and said he had been sleeping. Officers arrested Turner for fleeing from the police, a felony. See Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.479a(2). The State later dropped the charges.[ii]
Unrelated to this incident, Turner passed away the following year. Allen filed suit against the officers and City on behalf of Turner’s estate and alleged that the officers illegally entered their residence and falsely arrested Turner in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Allen also sued for false arrest under Michigan state law. The district court granted summary judgment for the officer and city and dismissed the suit, finding that the officers did not violate the constitution. Allen appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
On appeal, the court first set out to examine Allen’s Fourth Amendment claims. The first claim was whether the officers violated the Fourth Amendment when they entered Turner’s home without a warrant. The second claim was whether the officers violated the Fourth Amendment by arresting Turner without probable cause.
Issue One: Did the officers violate the Fourth Amendment by entering his residence without a warrant?
The court of appeals first examined the law related to this issue and stated
The Fourth Amendment typically requires officers to obtain a warrant or permission before they enter a home. Lange v. California, 579 U.S. 486, 141 S. Ct. 2011, 2016, 210 L. Ed. 2d 486 (2021). But exceptions exist. One is that an officer may enter a home in an emergency. Id. The “hot pursuit of a fleeing felon” is one kind of “emergency” covered by this exception to the warrant requirement. Goodwin v. City of Painesville, 781 F.3d 314, 330 (6th Cir. 2015); see United States v. Santana, 427 U.S. 38, 42-43, 96 S. Ct. 2406, 49 L. Ed. 2d 300 (1976).[iii]
The court then examined the facts of the case that were relevant to this issue. First, the court noted that the officers observed Turner engage in a hand-to-hand transaction, which they suspected was a drug transaction. Second, they observed Turner ride away on his moped and dangerously disregard traffic signals. Third, when the officers activated their lights and sirens to attempt to stop Turner for the traffic violations, he fled and ultimately crashed his moped. Fourth, after Turner crashed, he fled from the officers on foot. The court of appeals noted that fleeing under such circumstances, after an officer’s lawful order to stop, is a felony under Michigan state law.[iv] Fifth, Officer Otis (who was not a defendant in this suit) and a neighbor both saw a male who met the physical description of the suspect enter the residence. In light of these factors, the court of appeals held that the officers acted reasonably under the Fourth Amendment when they entered Turner’s residence under the hot pursuit exception to the warrant requirement.
Allen argued that there were two factual disputes that made summary judgment inappropriate on this issue. First, she argued that the officers did not mention the hand-to-hand drug transaction in their incident reports. However, the court of appeals noted that the officers still properly initiated the traffic stop when they observed the moped being ridden in violation of Michigan law by disregarding traffic signals. Since the driver fled after a lawful order to stop, regardless of whether or not he had bought drugs, the officers still reasonably believed he had committed a felony.
Second, Allen argued that Turner had been in bed asleep all evening and could not have been the person that fled on the moped. The court of appeals noted that the officers being sued in this case all heard Officer Otis (who was not being sued) and a neighbor state that they saw a fleeing suspect enter Allen and Turner’s residence. As such, the court of appeals held that the officers being sued (Cieszkowski, Issa, and Barkman) operated under a reasonable belief that the suspect had entered the residence.
Thus, the court of appeals affirmed summary judgment for the officers regarding the warrantless entry.
Issue Two: Did the officers violate the Fourth Amendment by arresting Turner without probable cause?
The court of appeals first noted that
Officers may arrest a suspect where there is probable cause to believe he committed a crime. Barrera v. City of Mount Pleasant, 12 F.4th 617, 620 (6th Cir. 2021). The question is whether, based on all of the facts and circumstances, the officers had an “objectively reasonable basis” for concluding that Turner committed a crime. United States v. McClain, 444 F.3d 556, 563 (6th Cir. 2005) (quotation omitted).[v]
The court then considered that Officer Otis and a neighbor told the officers that they had seen the fleeing suspect enter Turner and Allen’s residence. Based on this information, the officer’s entered the residence, and located Turner, who met the physical description of the suspect who had fled. The court held that, based on this information from Officer Otis and the neighbor, it was reasonable for them to believe that Turner was suspect they were looking for.
Allen argued that the neighbor that provided the tip remained anonymous and thus could not support probable cause. To this, the court of appeals stated
Allen objects to the officers’ dependence on the directions provided by her neighbor, who refused to identify himself, and she questions his reliability, relying on Florida v. J.L., 529 U.S. 266, 120 S. Ct. 1375, 146 L. Ed. 2d 254 (2000). But J.L. says that officers may base their actions on reliable tips, even if the tipster remains unnamed. Id. at 270-71. The basis for the neighbor’s knowledge was clear; he was an eyewitness. And Officer Otis corroborated his account over the radio. The officers reasonably factored the neighbor’s description of the suspect’s movements into their probable cause determination.[vi]
Allen also argued that Turner had been in bed all night and could not have been the suspect. However, the court of appeals stated that her allegation does “not detract from the other evidence allowing the officers to believe reasonably that the suspect was inside.”[vii] She offered no other evidence that there was anyone else in the house that also met the description of the suspect. The court stated
The Fourth Amendment does not require an officer to be right, only to be reasonable.[viii]
Here the court held the officer’s were reasonable in their belief that probable cause existed to arrest Turner. As such, the court of appeals affirmed the grant of summary judgment for the officers.
The court also affirmed the grant of summary judgment on the state law false arrest claims since they found that the officer reasonably believe probable cause was present.
Lastly, the court affirmed the grant of summary judgment for the City because there was no underlying constitutional violation.
[i] No. 21-1268 (6th Cir. Decided November 16, 2021 Unpublished)
[ii] Id. at 1-2
[iii] Id. at 3 (emphasis added)
[iv] Id. at 4 (citing . Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.479a(2))
[v] Id. at 7-8 (emphasis added)
[vi] Id. at 8
[vii] Id. at 8-9
[viii] Id. at 9 (emphasis added)