The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

August 21, 2013

Court agrees cops overstepped their authority

SHARON — State Superior Court has agreed with a Mercer County judge that two Sharon policeman overstepped their authority when they handcuffed and questioned a man without having any indication that a crime had occurred.

The court on Friday upheld Common Pleas Court Judge Christopher J. St. John’s decision to suppress evidence – evidence that prosecutors said they need in order to proceed with the case against Henry Cooks IV, 20, of Hermitage, who was charged with false identification and loitering and prowling at night.

“I do not expect the commonwealth to attempt to appeal this case to the Supreme Court,” District Attorney Robert G. Kochems said Monday. “A further appeal is not likely to be successful and may waste scarce resources.”

The sides differed over whether Cooks was investigatively detained or custodially detained, and such cases are “highly fact-specific,” Kochems said.

“While we believe the police acted reasonably and in conformity with their training to keep themselves and the defendant safe and control the situation, the judge and the appellate court did not agree.”

Assistant Public Defender Charles F. Gilchrest, who represented Cooks, said Tuesday he had not seen the Superior Court opinion.

“I feet that Judge St. John had ruled correctly and I am pleased for my client’s sake that the Superior Court agreed,” Gilchrest said.

The incident occurred at about 1:20 a.m. Sept. 7 at Walgreens, 900 E. State St.

Patrolmen Marc Adamo and Ryan Chmura said they received a call of a suspicious person at the store and confronted Cooks as he left the store. A clerk told police that Cooks was the person called about.

Police had no information that Cooks had stolen anything or was casing the store, and he did not cooperate with their questioning, including refusing to identify himself.

Police put handcuffs on Cooks and told him he was the subject of a criminal investigation.

Cooks eventually identified himself as Edward Cooks and gave a birth date different from his own.

After the case was filed, Gilchrest filed a motion to suppress evidence, arguing police had no probable cause to arrest Cooks.

St. John agreed and ruled police could not use the answers Cooks gave against him at trial. St. John said police had effectively arrested Cooks without probable cause and were required to give him his Miranda rights – such as the right to remain silent – in order to question him.

Kochems’ office appealed, arguing Cooks had not been arrested, only investigatively detained, and that the police questions were legal under that circumstance.

A three-judge panel of Superior Court said an investigative detention is brief, with limited questions, and police must have reasonable suspicion that the person questioned was involved in a crime.

A custodial detention is “the functional equivalent of an arrest,” the court said. Police must have probable cause that a crime has been committed and the key question in defining it is whether a person “was denied freedom of movement to the degree associated with formal arrest,” the court said.

Statements made by someone in custodial detention “in the absence of Miranda rights are presumptively involuntary,” the court said.

In the Cooks case, the court said police custodially detained him by making “the implicit show of force” by detaining him in the early morning, using restraints, informing him he was the subject of an investigation, and questioning him.

“Cooks was denied freedom of movement to the degree normally associated with a formal arrest,” said Judge Robert E. Colville, writing for the three-judge panel.

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