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People in the Interest of K.D.W.

2020 COA 110. No. 17CA1122. Constitutional Law—Fourth Amendment—Search and Seizure—Investigatory Stop—Reasonable Suspicion—Trespass—Evidence—Obstructing a Peace Officer.

July 23, 2020

Police officers in an unmarked vehicle were investigating a series of recent residential burglaries when they observed a male speaking with the driver of a van in a park. The officers followed the van as it drove away and observed another vehicle following the van. The latter vehicle later evaded police when they tried to conduct a traffic stop.

The officers returned to the park area and saw K.D.W., a juvenile, sitting on a park bench with a backpack and a trash bag. Believing he was the person they saw talking to the van driver earlier, the officers approached K.D.W. and requested that he put down his backpack and bag. He complied, but twice refused to allow a pat down by police and then fled on foot. Some officers pursued him while one officer stayed behind with the backpack and bag. When officers eventually detained K.D.W., the officer who had remained with the backpack and bag opened the backpack and found a gun, ammunition, and marijuana. K.D.W. was taken to the local jail, where his pockets were searched and he made incriminating statements about the incident to an officer relating to his possession of a handgun.

The People filed a delinquency petition charging K.D.W. with possession of a handgun by a juvenile, obstructing a peace officer, attempt to carry a concealed weapon, second degree trespass, and possession of marijuana by an underage person. Before trial, K.D.W. filed two motions to suppress. The court found that under the totality of the circumstances the officers had reasonable suspicion to conduct a proper investigatory stop, and it therefore denied K.D.W.’s motions. After a bench trial, a magistrate adjudicated K.D.W. a delinquent on all counts and sentenced him to one year of probation. K.D.W. sought district court review of the magistrate’s determinations. The district court denied his petition and adopted the magistrate’s adjudication order.

On appeal, K.D.W. contended that the district court erred in denying his motions to suppress because the police did not have reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigatory stop. Here, the facts that there had previously been criminal activity in the area and K.D.W.’s action of walking away from police officers were not sufficient to create reasonable suspicion. Therefore, the seizure and search of the backpack was a fruit of the improper investigatory stop. Further, the People failed to present any argument that the admission of the evidence in K.D.W.’s backpack was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, so its contents must be suppressed. However, K.D.W. trespassed when running through a residential backyard and obstructed a peace officer after he fled from police. These independent and willful actions broke the causal chain between the unlawful investigatory stop and the later arrest, the search of K.D.W.’s pockets, and the statements he made to officers after his arrest. Accordingly, the district court properly denied K.D.W.’s motion to suppress as to the search of K.D.W.’s pockets and the statements he made to officers while he was in custody.

K.D.W. also argued that the magistrate erred in denying his motion for judgment of acquittal on the obstruction charge because the evidence was insufficient. Here, the officers testified that K.D.W. led them on a four-block chase, jumped over a fence, committed trespass, and crouched in an alley and appeared to attempt to change his shirt. The totality of the circumstances supports the conclusion that K.D.W.’s conduct sufficiently obstructed, impaired, or hindered the police. Therefore, the magistrate did not err in denying the judgment of acquittal on this charge.

The judgment was affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

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