Police Had No Right to Stop Running Men, Panel Finds

, New York Law Journal

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Police did not have grounds to stop two men, one with a known criminal history, who were running while looking over their shoulders near Times Square, the Appellate Division, First Department determined.

As a result, William Brown and Patrick Thomas had their convictions for fraudulent accosting and larceny vacated.

According to a pair of decisions handed down Thursday, police saw Brown and Thomas running in the early morning. Police knew Brown had previously committed fraudulent accosting, scamming people emerging from strip clubs.

Two officers stopped the men. Another man standing outside a club told a third officer that his silver Rolex watch had been stolen. The officers who arrested Brown and Thomas asked them where the watch was, and Thomas took it out of his pocket.

Acting Supreme Court Justice Michael Sonberg (See Profile) denied their motion to suppress the watch, and both men were convicted.

They appealed separately. Justices Sallie Manzanet-Daniels (See Profile), Angela Mazzarelli (See Profile), Peter Tom (See Profile), David Saxe (See Profile) and Karla Moskowitz (See Profile) heard Brown's appeal, and Manzanet-Daniels, Tom, Saxe and Justices Luis Gonzalez (See Profile) and Judith Gische (See Profile) heard Thomas' appeal.

Manzanet-Daniels wrote the majority opinions, saying the watch should have been suppressed in both appeals, finding that neither Brown's criminal past nor the fact that the men were running and looking behind them was a reason to stop them under People v. DeBour, 40 NY2d 210 (1976).

Saxe wrote a dissent in both cases, joined by Tom. He wrote that the majority's finding was "discouraging police work that is not only constitutionally proper but also laudable."

Brown was represented by Bruce Austern of the Center for Appellate Litigation. Thomas was represented by Steven Banks of The Legal Aid Society and by Matthew Delude, an associate at Primmer Piper Eggleston & Cramer in Connecticut.

The appeal for the prosecution in Thomas's case was handled by Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Yuval Simchi-Levi and by David Cohn, senior appellate counsel at the DA's office. The appeal in Brown's case was handled by Cohn.

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