Protests have been growing in Baltimore after a 25-year-old black man, Freddie Gray, died of a spinal cord injury that he sustained after he was taken into custody by several police officers.

Court documents allege that gray was taken into custody after a switchblade was found in his pocket. However, the more important question is why he was chased in the first place, and whether the police had a legal basis to pursue him.

According to Court documents, Gray “fled unprovoked upon noticing police presence.” Is this enough to allow the Baltimore police to chase and stop somebody?  An attorney for Gray’s family said that the police never saw a knife and that they only chased Gray after he took off running.  Even the Mayor of Baltimore has questioned the pursuit by the police.

An attorney for the officers said the police did not need probable cause, and that “There is a Supreme Court case that states that if you are in a high-crime area, and you flee from the police unprovoked, the police have the legal ability to pursue you……and in this type of incident, you do not need probable cause to arrest. You just need reasonable suspicion to make the stop.”  Is he correct?

In certain instances, New York State gives criminal defendants more protection that the federal government.  In this case, according to the facts that have been revealed, the police would not have been allowed to pursue and stop Freddie Gray. 

According to reports, Gray fled the scene upon noticing police presence.  In NY, this alone would not give the police permission to chase him, despite what type of neighborhood he was in.

The Court of Appeals, in People v DeBour, has identified a four-part test for evaluating citizen-police encounters.  To simply approach and question an individual on the street, the police need an objective, credible reason to do so.  It cannot be speculative. More importantly, a person is free to not respond, walk away or even run away. Should the individual run, such flight, where there is no indication of criminal activity, is an insufficient basis for pursuit by an officer.  If Freddie Gray was not suspected of being engaged in any criminal activity, his flight, without more, would be insufficient to chase and arrest him.  At least in New York.

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