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There's a Bank Robber in One of 19 Cars in the Intersection: What Would You Do?

There's a bank robber in one of 19 cars at an intersection in Aurora, Colorado. Problem was, the police didn't know exactly which car. So they did something a bit unusual:

Police said they had received what they called a “reliable” tip that the culprit in an armed robbery at a Wells Fargo bank committed earlier was stopped at the red light.

“We didn’t have a description, didn’t know race or gender or anything, so a split-second decision was made to stop all the cars at that intersection, and search for the armed robber,” Aurora police Officer Frank Fania told ABC News.

Officers barricaded the area, halting 19 cars. [...] From there, the police went from car to car, removing the passengers and handcuffing the adults.

“Most of the adults were handcuffed, then were told what was going on and were asked for permission to search the car,” Fania said. “They all granted permission, and once nothing was found in their cars, they were un-handcuffed.”

Even though the police did catch the bank robber, people are now asking whether handcuffing everyone on the spot was a breach of civil rights.

What do you think? Did the police do the right thing? Was it a case of guilty until proven innocent? Or was it a lawful investigative detention?

Erin McLaughlin of ABC News has the report: Link [auto-playing video]

@ "FormerCop"

Is your point that the decision of these officers should not be judged because they had such a small window of opportunity? Police should have it ingrained in them that an individual's freedom should ALWAYS be taken into account when making judgement calls. The ends should never justify the means. I am sure that there will be more than one lawsuit filed over the violation of individual's civil rights in this case, and the results of those cases will be the ultimate judgement of the officer's actions.
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"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." This quote is generally attributed to Benjamin Franklin, but whatever the source, it is true. People who want to give away their liberty and freedom to be "safe" should just stay home in bed with the covers over their heads. I (and most Americans) would rather risk a little to retain our essential liberties.
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I for one don't think the fact that they caught the suspect justifies the detainment.
What if one of the 18 innocent persons was made late for emergency pediatric surgery? J/k. I can't think what they would have done differently, but it is a very slippery slope.
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Re: that 'tip' the cops got. Here's one possibility: the cops somehow got the local cell providers to cough up the list of IMEI numbers that were connected to the relevant cells at the time of the robbery, matched arrival and departure times with the known arrival and departure time of the robber, and narrowed it down to a single IMEI. Then they went back to the cell provider and found out where that IMEI was now, and tracked it down to the area of the red light somehow - perhaps with the E911 GPS thingy that's standard in cellphones now.

I'm guessing that the people who got handcuffed weren't the only people who had their rights violated that day. I'll bet anyone who was using a cellphone in the area around the bank had their rights violated too, and never even knew it.
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The civil rights issue is not the biggy here. The biggy is a public safety issue. So they've got a potentially armed suspect and they think it's a good idea to start cuffing people within view of the suspect? What if the suspect had panicked and opened fire in among all those innocent and cuffed people?

Jeeeeesusss but cops are dumb!
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I'm reading all these comments on how the police are so wrong on this one. Well, what would you do in that situation if you were the cops. How would you have done it better? Don't worry, I'll wait.
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All these people who say it's no big deal because it's "just an inconvenience" are all to quick to give away MY constitutionally-protected freedom. If the cops stop you and ask you if you mind being searched, and you consent, that's your right and your choice. Don't take MY choice away from me please.
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Shortsighted. What a large portion of the commentators here are not seeing is how an incident like this is (can be) used as justification for future incidents. Slide rule effectively nullifies the standards of justice.

One man steals $100 and another $100mil. Both stole. The consequences might be different, but the law was broken in both cases.

The 4th amendment exists for a reason, and any breach of that amendment is breaking the law, no matter how "justifiable" that breach is. They're called "Law Enforcement" for a reason. The end does not justify the means.
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Good for the cops I say. Sure it probably rattled a few people being handcuffed, but no one was hurt so I don't see what the problem is.
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+1 to what Durango said!

you're inconvenienced for moments. you're lending a helping hand. if you're innocent, then why have such a problem? unless you have something to hide?
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Ray: You would've probably been taken into custody. I know that the handcuffs can be seen as a safety measure, but they can also be seen as a form of intimidation (which is why I would have called my lawyer immediately).

How was this safe? If the robber was going to freak and pull out a weapon, couldn't they have easily done it BEFORE they we cuffed?
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If there's been a larger single incident of mass violation of civil rights in this country, I haven't heard of it. I expect we'll be hearing about 19 lawsuits being filed in short order. Which is exactly how it should be.

Welcome to the police state. Gawd... what has become of the country I used to be so proud to be a citizen of???
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You can't really talk about this without considering the context. Do they have free health care?

Sorry, just having a flashback. I think handcuffing would be unnecessary, and I would object to it. Otherwise, they're more than welcome to look in the car, and I'd probably open the trunk for them. A full-blown search maybe I'd object to.

Whenever you cross the border, they search your car, and they search your luggage and person at the airport without probable cause. And they're not even real cops.
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The cops weren't rude or violent with the people they cuffed. They were being practical and efficient. I wouldn't mind being temporarily inconvenienced if it meant catching the bank robber. If you aren't guilty, all use is a little time and the bad guy gets caught. People claiming this is a slippery slope to cutting off whole blocks, stadiums off people, etc. are being ridiculous. This was a relatively small amount of people. What better thing could the cops have done? By what better means could they have caught the banck robber. I think anyone filing a suit over this is an opportunist.
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Errrgh. This is one of those seemingly painfully gray areas.

Bottom line: It wasn't just a breach of "civil rights," it was a blatant violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

Probable cause doesn't cover the unlawful detainment of eighteen civilians.
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I'm OK with the checkpoint, and I'm glad they asked permission, but I really dislike how the citizens were detained during the searches. I would never be OK with being handcuffed without any cause.
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It can always be worse. you could live in Australia
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There's no excuse for this. Handcuffing someone is arresting them, period. What probable cause is there for arresting 19 random people? I'd like to point out to those claiming that a "reliable tip," makes it okay, that the suspect was not actually in any of the 19 cars.
Setting up a road block and questioning everyone there, and even searching those cars that are individually suspicious is one thing. Mass arrests are way over the line of police state activities.
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Could be worse folks..

Try living in Australia.. talk about arsehole cops...

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@ignatus> With that same "Logic" if a cop shoots someone it's the other person's fault not the cops. And assassination of cops.. please give us some support to your broad and radical statement so I can find it more believable.

My only question is this.. was he a violent criminal? if the crime was violent I'd say it was not overreaction. If it wasn't violent, then I'd say it was mass overreaction.
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This is kinda stupid to ppl said, what if they get a faulty tip? What if they have 1,000 people to search? What if it was including a hostage? What if they hid it much more efficiently? But go the other way now. What if the person had a gun, and it would save a lot of people's deaths? Say there is a virus or some bug that will destroy a nation's worth of food. And what if it's someone like a terrorist?
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I agree 100% with asher and if it were a violent crime like kidnapping or murder, then I may feel differently but that bank was insured and they could have done some old fashioned police work to find the guy. Besides, how "reliable" was the tip if they didn't even know the race or gender??
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All right, let's take it one step further: there's a child kidnapping and the child and kidnapper is one of 19 cars in the intersection.

Does that change your mind?
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Sitting in a car at an intersection is not probable cause. I find it sad, and more than a little frightening that anyone would interpret the violation of a citizen's 4th amendment rights as merely an inconvenience.

If this is acceptable, then why not just "inconvenience" an entire city until all of the wanted criminals are found? Why not the whole country? This is not what a free country looks like.
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Without a doubt this was a breach of civil rights. If we don't stop this sort of thing now, it will be a real problem later. It's like being in school, one kid acts up and they punish everyone.
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It's predictable that some folks would get their panties in a knot over this, but under the circumstances, it was a reasonable action to take.

First and foremost, it was essentially an impromptu roadblock checkpoint for a manhunt. At such things, police generally do have slightly elevated powers within a very narrow scope-- finding the person they're after. It's not a fishing expedition, they have a specific goal.

Handcuffing all of the adults was completely appropriate under the circumstances, for the safety of everyone there, not just the police. The last thing needed there was a cornered robber pulling a weapon and trying to take a hostage or shooting one of the bystanders while trying to escape the dragnet.

How is this any different than the police slapping the cuffs on everyone in a drug raid, and then figuring out who is a bystander (and releasing them) and who the criminals are? A credible eyewitness report gave them probable cause to narrow the search to just a few cars, they worked quickly to identify the suspect and release everyone else. That seems like pretty good police work. If anything, it's far superior police work to drug raids, since they're catching a real threat to public safety rather than serving in the capacity of morality police.

The only way I'd see what happened as not being permissible is if the lead was shaky, they didn't treat the folks they detained professionally and courteously, they detained them longer than necessary, or if the guy they actually arrested was not involved in the robbery after all. Seems like none of those conditions is the case, though, so even if the folks who were detained briefly had standing to sue, it would be completely reasonable for them to just waive the intrusion on a civil liberty for the sake of assisting police and thus performing a public service-- but only so long as it would remain their choice to do so.
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Good thing that the robber wasn't there. What if he was there with a gun and decided to start shooting or trying to break through the barricade with his car? Having a civilian ran over while hand cuffed or a stray bullet or piece of shrapnel kill a kid in one of the cars would have looked a hell of a lot worse that what did happen.

Given how little they knew about the suspect I'm not so sure it was the best call.
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Once people felt that they could no longer leave (i.e. after "Officers barricaded the area, halting 19 cars") it was unlawful detention--except for the bank robber. 18 lawsuits and one bust.

It is a slippery slope.

Now look at the French laws on situations like this. They do have this authority and have had it since Naplolean.
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Illegal as all hell. I think all 19 should file suit. Letting them get away with this sets a precedent that will not be good. Just as pointed out, what if it were a business or block. Hell what if it were a grocery store or concert? Should they barricade a stadium and search all 50k people? This is an immature and ill thought out use of power.
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In this particular case, 19 people is hardly out of order and considering how tolerant society has become of assassinating police, I'm not having an issue with how this search was conducted. So they were briefly inconvenienced, they were first asked for permission to search, which apparently they all granted, and for their safety and that of the police busy searching, they had to wear metal bracelets for a little while. No fun, but if it saves lives by preventing someone from grabbing a gun, big whoop. Don't blame the police, blame the robbers who created the entire incident.
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And remember, the cops had no idea what the suspect even looked like. At least 18 lawsuits could be filed, but you know the suspect's defense attorney will spend his first ten minutes on the job drafting the motion to exclude.
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Exactly how many people and/or how much area exceeds the limit of reasonableness? Here we have 19 cars in an intersection. What if we knew he was on a particular section of street? An apartment building or trailer park? A city block? A small town? If it's ok to detain a majority of people known to be innocent, at what point does it stop being ok to detain everyone? If they're going to continue to do this, those questions must be answered.
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I don't think this passes the litmus test for probable cause. What if next time police get a "reliable" tip that a criminal is inside a place of business. Do the police then have the right to handcuff everyone in there and question them or search their person and possessions?

Slippery slope and all...
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