Dover suspect’s traffic stop ruled warranted

DOVER — A weapon and ammunition seized during a justified traffic stop last winter in Dover can be presented as evidence at trial, a Kent County Superior Court judge ruled on Jan. 5.

Dover resident Ezri Turner had argued that a Dover Police Department officer lacked reasonable suspicion to stop a Nissan Sentra vehicle he was driving on Feb. 24, 2015, and thus any items collected during an ensuing search were not admissible in his case.

Mr. Turner, 20 at the time of his arrest, took issue with the initial stop in a Royal Farms parking lot, believing it was motivated by a confidential informant’s tip of alleged firearm possession, according to court papers. The vehicle was first seen traveling southbound on Bay Road approaching a fitness center, according to the factual and procedural background of the decision.

“Defendant argues that the initial stop was not lawful because it was pretextual and because the tips provided by the CI were not sufficiently reliable or relevant to justify a stop,” Judge Jeffrey Clark wrote.

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Ezri Turner

Judge Clark found there was probable cause for the initial stop, noting a Dover Police officer testified that no turn signal was used when Mr. Turner’s vehicle changed lanes.

“Namely, the court is satisfied, by a preponderance of the evidence, that a traffic violation occurred and the [in-car police] video, during the normal course of its operation, first shows Defendant’s vehicle after the violation,” Judge Clark wrote in papers.

“Accordingly, there was probable cause to stop defendant’s vehicle.”

The police car camera’s video runs constantly but does not preserve a recording until approximately 20 seconds before emergency equipment is activated, documents said, and no traffic infraction was shown.

Also, according to the court in papers, “The CI was a past, proven and reliable source having previously provided three valid tips resulting in arrests.”

According to the judge in papers, Mr. Turner, of the unit block of Hunters Run, maintained the informant’s tip alleged no criminal conduct, only reference to possession of a gun.

“Defendant emphasizes that the possession of a gun, absent other circumstances, is not criminal,” Judge Clark stated.

While Mr. Turner cited the State v. Heath case as an example of showing the stop was pretextual and unlawful, the court said Heath has not been held by the Delaware Supreme Court and has not been followed in any other Superior Court decisions.

Citing the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, Judge Clark opined that a “reasonableness standard for a traffic stop does not depend on the actual motivations of an individual officer.

“Subjective intentions play no role in probable cause analysis under the Fourth Amendment. Therefore, as long as an officer makes a traffic stop based on a violation of the traffic code in his presence, any pretextual reasons or actual motivations that may also be involved in the officer’s actions are irrelevant.”

The state believed the arrest and vehicle search were legal because of his alleged refusal to exit, attempt to escape police and assault of an officer, the court stated in its discussion.

In closing, Judge Clark remarked the Dover Police officer had probable cause that a traffic violation had occurred, and thus make the stop.

“Likewise, he then had lawful authority to order defendant to step out of the car,” Judge Clark said.

“Defendant refused, fled, and then fought the officers. For purposes of the suppression motion, the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that defendant assaulted [an officer], resisted arrest and committed the crime of criminal mischief by damaging the officer’s property.

“It therefore follows that there was probable cause to arrest defendant at that point and to then search the vehicle incident to an arrest.”

Following investigation, Mr. Turner was indicted for second-degree assault, resisting arrest with force or violence, carrying a concealed deadly weapon, possession of a weapon with a removed, obliterated or altered serial number and criminal mischief.

The motion to suppress was submitted on Dec. 11, 2015. Deputy Attorney General Zachary George was listed as representing the Delaware Department of Justice, and J’Aime Walker for the Public Defender’s Office representing Mr. Turner.

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