Black teens and young adults have legitimate reasons to try to run away from police in Boston, but prosecutors can use testimony by the officers who arrested Tykorie Evelyn after he ran away from them - and present the gun they found in evidence - when he comes up for trial for the 2017 murder of Khisean Desvarieux outside the Orchard Gardens Community Center Boys and Girls Club in Roxbury, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled today.
Although the state's highest court sided with District Attorney Rachael Rollins's office and allowed the testimony and evidence, it added that going forward, when police are looking for gun suspects, it may not be enough to detain or arrest somebody who is young and Black because he acts nervous. In 2016, the court ruled that running away from police alone is not a reason to arrest somebody, since Black people, especially young Black people, in Boston, might want to run from police even if they have done nothing wrong.
Evelyn's attorney, Kathryn Hayne Barnwell, had sought to bar the officers' testimony and the use of the gun on the grounds that the officers did not have enough "reasonable suspicion" to "seize" Evelyn, then 17, when he ran away from them after they had tried to talk to him about the shooting 13 minutes later and about a half mile away.
Officers had initially stopped when they spotted Evelyn walking alone in the bitter cold on a deserted Melnea Cass Boulevard near Shawmut Avenue; he refused, they slowly kept pace with him in their cruiser for about 100 yards and kept trying to get him to talk to them, even as he kept his hands in his pockets and began to appear "nervous" and started "blading," or hiding one side of his body from them, before running away. They caught up with him, ordered him to stop and arrested him - and found a gun they say he managed to toss under a car during the pursuit.
Barnwell,pointed to the 2016 SJC ruling, in which the court overturned a Black man's Boston gun conviction, and statistics from a BPD data release earlier this year on its "field interrogation observations" that young Black residents might want to run away from police even if they have done nothing wrong because police historically and disproportionately target them for stops.
She also sought to have the state's highest court acknowledge research by an Iowa professor that police officers were no better than untrained college students at identifying people who were actually carrying firearms.
In its ruling, the court acknowledged the legitimacy of Barnwell's basic argument over interactions between police officers and young Black people as set out in its 2016 ruling:
We conclude that this reasoning remains pertinent to the reasonable suspicion analysis, and should be extended to other types of nervous or evasive behavior in addition to flight.
But the court continued, in this case, the police officers did have enough valid suspicion to detain Evelyn:
Here, the officers encountered the defendant thirteen minutes after the shooting, one-half mile distant from it. It was a cold night, and the officers had not seen any other pedestrians on the nearby streets. The defendant was walking away from the location of the shooting, with his hands in the pockets of his jacket. The time and location was consistent with the theory that he had been present at the shooting and had walked to Dewitt Drive in the intervening minutes. These facts track closely with those in Depina, supra, where the defendant was found three blocks from the shooting, ten minutes after it had occurred. Therefore, his proximity to the crime supported reasonable suspicion. ...
Additionally, the crime being investigated here was a shooting that had left the victim in critical condition. These circumstances indicated a potential ongoing risk to public safety,and therefore weighed in favor of reasonable suspicion.
The court said the judge in the case did nothing wrong by discounting the Iowa study, both because the field of "threat detection" is in its infancy - the professor's paper was the first of its kind - and because the officers she studied "had not been trained in the detection of concealed firearms," unlike Boston officers.
Briefs by prosecutors, defense attorneys and interested parties.