Armed (but not necessarily) Dangerous
On a mid-summer evening, a 911 call in Toledo reports “a guy walking down the street” with his dog “carrying a gun out in the open.” Upon further inquiry from the dispatcher, it was determined to be a handgun, not an assault rifle or other illicit firearm. Responding to the dispatch, a Toledo police officer approached Shawn Northrup and asked him to put his hands over his head. When Northrup did not answer, the officer walked up and unsnapped and temporarily took possession of Northrup’s weapon. After a brief exchange, Northrup was arrested for Inducing Panic. The police officer argued he had reasonable suspicion to stop Northrup because of two specific and articulable facts: (1) Northrup was visibly carrying a gun and (2) the officer was responding to a 911 call. The Sixth Circuit disagreed. Northrup v. City of Toledo Police Department, et al., No. 14-4050, (6th Cir. 2015). As the Court noted, the Fourth Amendment permitted the police officer to approach Northrup and ask him questions. The Fourth Amendment did not permit the police officer to rely on these same facts to stop Northrup, disarm his, and eventually handcuff and arrest him. Clearly established law required this officer to point to evidence that Northrup may have been armed and dangerous, not just armed. Ohio law permits the open carry of firearms. Ohio law, however, does not require a gun owner to produce or even carry their licenses for inquiring officers. Without doubt, the open-carry law places police officers in awkward and potentially dangerous situations. This decision highlights these encounters and spotlights the need for effective and situational police officer training.