A Pennsylvania state judge has ruled that police illegally stopped a 22-year-old unarmed black man in East Germantown in 2015 before a dozen mostly white officers surrounded him and beat him down, an incident caught on videotape that went viral.
Common Pleas Judge Kai Scott on Wednesday ruled that drugs police allegedly seized from the man, Tyree Carroll, cannot be admitted as evidence, because the arresting officer wasn’t legally permitted to stop and search Carroll.
Narcotics officer John Ellis testified that he approached Carroll while undercover before midnight on April 3, 2015, suspecting Carroll had recently sold drugs. Carroll, who was riding a bicycle, got off his bike as the officer approached and tried to walk away. But Ellis grabbed him by the arm, leading to a confrontation in which several officers swarmed, kicking, punching, and cursing at him.
“Mr. Carroll had the right to walk away,” Scott said. “Mr. Ellis grabbed his arm based on nothing. There was no reasonable suspicion, and no probable cause.”
Scott rejected the argument made by Assistant District Attorney Whitney Golden that once Carroll bit an officer, it did not matter whether the initial stop was legal. The bite, Golden maintained, gave police the right to arrest Carroll for assault.
Carroll’s defense attorney Michael Wiseman called that logic “mind-boggling.”
“Our position is none of this would have happened but for the illegal initial encounter,” Wiseman said. “They cannot benefit from their initial illegal actions.”
Prosecutors have charged Carroll, who is now 24, with aggravated assault, simple assault, recklessly engendering another person, resisting arrest, and drug offenses.
A spokesman for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office said prosecutors have not yet decided whether to appeal to Superior Court.
Wiseman said he’s confident Scott’s order would survive a challenge. If that happens, all of the charges against Carroll will likely completely fall apart.
“If the suppression order is upheld, they will have no case, and they will be forced to dismiss,” Wiseman said.
Every year, according to an independent monitor that is reviewing pedestrian stops and frisks in Philadelphia, a third of the hundreds of thousands of stops are done so illegally, as the judge said Carroll’s stop was performed.
Furthermore, black residents are targeted disproportionately, and weapons are seized after pat-downs less than 1 percent of the time. A new batch of figures updating the public on what percentage of police stop-and-frisks are performed without meeting the reasonable suspicion standard is expected in the coming months.
Carroll, meanwhile, has two other cases pending. The first involves an additional drug charge occurring after the filmed incident, but Wiseman accused police of planting the drugs on Carroll as retaliation. Scott will also preside over that case. Carroll was on probation for a marijuana conviction at the time of the April episode, so he faces a court date for violating probation with a different judge.
Carroll served nearly five months in prison as a result of the contested April 2015 arrest, according to his attorney Wiseman.
At a hearing on Tuesday, Carroll covered his ears as Scott from the bench watched on an Ipad a video of the incident that has been viewed nearly 200,000 times on YouTube.
Bert Elmore, one of Carroll’s defense attorneys, put an arm around Carroll to console him.
When the motion hearing finished on Wednesday, delivering Carroll a major win, he hoped he would never have to experience the graphic images again.
It has been encouraging, he said, to see community activists rally behind his cause and protesters taking to the streets demanding justice on his behalf. Yet after a major breakthrough in the case, he left the courthouse feeling cautious, even apprehensive.
“I’m still nervous,” Carroll said. “I don’t want the cops to kick my ass again because I beat the case.”