Haden and Weston were on their way back from dinner at their grandparents’ house when they saw the police car stopped in the street near their home. At ages 12 and 14, they had no reason to think they would be mistaken for violent criminals by the officer in the car. But as they casually walked down the street, they were suddenly ordered at gunpoint to get on the ground. They ended up in handcuffs, with police searching them for weapons.

But a federal appeals court ruled that what happened to them wasn’t technically an “arrest.” Now, the U.S. Supreme Court is being asked to consider the limits of the “stop and frisk,” and just how far police can go before they violate the Fourth Amendment’s right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures.

It’s mystifying why the officer let it go as far as it went. That evening, Springdale, Arkansas, police were looking for multiple suspects who had fled a traffic stop on foot. The suspects were grown men, described as Hispanic. Just the fact that Haden and Weston casually approached his squad car without any hesitation should have led the officer to assume they weren’t the men he was looking for.

Rather than running when confronted, the boys were instantly compliant, clearly stated their names and explained that they were just headed to their home, which was within sight. In the dash cam video of the stop, you can hear how young the boys are and sense their confusion.

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The boys’ mother, seeing the police car lights and hearing the officer’s order, came out thinking she could quickly clear the apparent confusion. But instead of listening to a mother’s pleas, the officer lied to her face, saying, “I’m looking for two kids about this age right now.” While continuing to train his gun at the boys, he then pointed his Taser at their mother ordering her to go back inside.

Again, the officer had an opportunity to release the boys to their home when their stepfather came outside to talk. Bizarrely, the officer said, “I just need to figure out who these kids are”—at which point the stepfather gave their names again.

After his backup arrived, the officer placed the boys in handcuffs, searched them for weapons and rifled through their backpack. Even as he was doing that, a police sergeant had arrived on the scene. He asked the obvious question: “Were they running?” When the response was “No, they were just walking sir,” the sergeant pointed out that the boys probably weren’t the suspects. After a terrifying ordeal in the dark and cold, the boys were uncuffed and released to their home.

Unfortunately, what happened to Haden and Weston is far from rare. “Stop and frisk” is used by officers across the country every day. It’s also similarly deployed against minors. Infamously, an entire Black family was handcuffed face down in a Colorado parking lot after they were pulled over because their car shared the same license plate number as a stolen motorcycle.

Historically, such stops were considered to be arrests, something that could only be done with probable cause. But in Terry v. Ohio, the Supreme Court ruled that the police have “narrow” authority to make “limited” stops without probable cause. But what started as narrow and limited today is used to justify cuffing children who pose no physical threat to an officer even after it’s been established that they have no weapons.

The Fourth Amendment was created to protect Americans from false arrest. Furthermore, in the wake of the Civil War, Congress created the right for Americans to sue state officials when their constitutional rights were being abused. Haden and Weston’s mother sued the officer on behalf of herself and her two children.

While a federal district court said their suit should move forward, a 2-1 decision by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed their lawsuit. Now, the Institute for Justice is appealing the boys’ case to the Supreme Court.

When you’ve done nothing wrong, the police should not be able to point guns at you and put you in handcuffs. The boys were doing nothing suspicious, identified themselves, and complied with every request. When you watch the video, you see how absurd it was that they were considered any threat at all. Yet the officer, by pointing his gun at them, threatened them with deadly force. A slip, and this incident could have become much more tragic.

Haden and Weston were traumatized but released unharmed. All too often, a “stop and frisk” goes awry, with innocent citizens finding themselves the victims of police violence or taken to jail on thin criminal charges. The Supreme Court has an opportunity in this case to set a clear limit on when a police stop becomes an arrest and when someone can get justice after their constitutional freedoms have been trampled on.

Source: Forbes

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