After a family meal, Weston Young, 14, and Haden Young, 12, were on their way home to Springdale, Arkansas. It was a cold January night. The police officer pulled them aside, pointed a gun and ordered them to slow down. After handcuffing them, he also searched their pockets. The boys’ mother and stepfather attempted to intervene by explaining their identities, whereabouts, and plans. Lamont Marzolf the officer, however, refused to answer them both, apparently not interested in any information that suggested he was treating innocent boys as criminals.
“Neither [Weston]nor [Haden]”Did anything wrong” on that night,” the U.S. Court of Appeals of the 8th Circuit stated later. The boys were simply able to get on the stage of dangerous drama that was being played in their neighbourhood by fleeing criminals. [Weldon] [Haden]They acted courageously, responsibly, and respectfully throughout the encounter. Their families would be rightly proud. Their family was also responsible and considerate during what could have been frightening. However, in this instance, Officer Marzolf was protecting Springdale citizens from criminal suspects fleeing under difficult conditions.
In a case the Institute for Justice has asked the Supreme Court to review, Marzolf’s “doing his work” in accordance with the Fourth Amendment rules is the central issue. This week, the petition was filed by the Institute for Justice on behalf Casondra Pollreis (Weston and Haden’s mother). It argues that last August’s 8th Circuit decision that Marzolf’s actions are constitutionally flawed. According to Pollreis lawyers, the court of appeals ruled against the organization’s petition. This is a worrying tendency that expands an exception that was created by the Supreme Court in 1968. It allowed for “investigatory stop” when there was “reasonable suspicion.” According to the 8th Circuit, the line between such a stop and an arrest—which requires probable cause, a standard that Marzolf clearly did not meet—”can be hazy.”
Robert McNamara, an Institute for Justice lawyer, says that this is because the Supreme Court has allowed lower courts to approve more severe and intrusive treatment on the basis of reasonable suspicion. McNamara claims that “through silence and inaction”, the Supreme Court has permitted the doctrine of “stop and frost” to transform into “stop, drop and handcuff you and then hold on gunpoint.” The rules that protect citizens against abuse have eroded as a result of the increase in involuntary encounters between citizens, government officials and citizens in recent decades. It is clear that the Fourth Amendment doesn’t imply anything vague when it comes down to our fundamental rights to be able to conduct our daily business and not being harmed by agents of government who have lost their cool.
Walking towards a police car, ‘fleeing criminal suspects’
U.S. district judge Timothy Brooks explained, in 2020’s decision regarding Pollreis’ constitutional claims against Marzolf that “dangerous and live drama” began with a tip. Jennifer Price was wanted for drug-related charges. She was reportedly staying with Tomas Silva at 2100 Lynn Street, Springdale. Silva is a “gang member” and was a previous suspect in cases that involved guns and drugs. Silva and Price fled police with two men, one of whom was shorter than the other, in a Chevrolet Cobalt, which crashed into police. Four people fled from the vehicle, with two going north and two going south.
Marzolf answered a call from officers asking for help in catching the suspects. Following instructions, Marzolf drove to the intersection at Luvene Avenue/Lynn Street. He heard Silva say that Silva had a gun the last time he was stopped by police. “Shit,” Marzolf responded. Marzolf noticed Weston and Haden walking slowly along Lynn Street almost immediately. Apart from the obvious proximity of the chase scene, Marzolf only suspected that the two runners might have been one another. He also noticed that Haden was taller (Weston).
Others did not back up this suspicion. Haden and Weston were not running but walking. Marzolf, who later deposed, said that the boys did not appear out of breath as one would expect from fleeing suspects. They were both walking. towardMarzolf drove Marzolf in his vehicle. It was obvious that it was a police car as the blue lights flashed. According to the 8th Circuit, both brothers were cooperative during the encounter. It was not at all like they ran away from police, as the 8th Circuit also noted.
Marzolf claimed that he was concerned that either one of the boys would be armed later, but he had been informed that Silva was Hispanic and Weston is white. Silva was wearing a “blue” shirt.[e]Jacket possibly with a gr[a]Black jeans and a y hoodie beneath” Marzolf said that the boys wore “black hoodies, khaki pants, and jeans.” Haden carried a “white backpack.” Marzolf said in deposition that Haden was carrying a “white backpack” and that he would stop anyone working along that perimeter area.
This is what was caught on video by a dashcam. Marzolf, seeing Haden Weston and Haden in the car, turns on his high beams so he can aim them directly at them. He pulls over in front of the vehicle and says, “Hey! What are you guys doing?” Weston points at his house, and Weston then responds. But his words can’t be heard in the audio. “Hey, stop, stop,” Marzolf commands. “Turn aside from me.” As he draws his gun towards them, the boys obey his commands. He requests their names which they provide.
Marzolf’s attitude can be seen in his response to Pollreis when he approaches him politely after observing the shocking scenes unfolding from Pollreis’ front yard. “Officer officer, can I speak with you?” Pollreis says. Marzolf said, “Yes, I can hear your next words.” Although he can hear her clearly, he doesn’t want to listen.
“What happened?” Pollreis asks. They are my boys, Pollreis asks.
Marzolf orders Pollreis repeatedly to “step back.” Pollreis is shocked. “Are your serious?” She asks. Marzolf responds, drawing a Taser at Marzolf and pointed it at her.
“Where are you asking me to go?” Pollreis asks. Marzolf replies, “I want to ask you to return to your home.”
Pollreis asks again, “Are they serious?” Pollreis asks again. They are 12-14 years old.” Marzolf’s response is inaccurate but also telling. Marzolf’s reply is both inaccurate and telling. “I am looking for two children about the same age,” he said. “So get back to your house.”
Is there a taller one than another?
Marzolf claims that the suspects weren’t “two children about this age.” Price and Silva were both aged in their twenties when the two suspects named, Price, and Silva, respectively. According to the 8th Circuit “two men” were also named as the other suspects. This exchange between Marzolf, Pollreis makes it clear that Marzolf understood that Haden and Weston lived near their mothers, contrary to his belief that they were “fleeing criminal suspects.”
Pollreis is trying find out the truth about her sons’ deaths and Marzolf is reporting over radio, “I have two juvenile persons, dark hoodies, and pants.” Marzolf is asked by the officer that tried to arrest Price to hold them both. He then asks him to add, “Is one shorter than the other?” Both should be thin and short. Marzolf confirms one of “juvenile people” is shorter than the other.
Marzolf instructs Marzolf to tell the boys that they should lie down face-down on the ground, with their arms extended. They do. Pollreis says, “Oh, my God,” as Marzolf informs Pollreis to return home. They tell her, “You’re fine guys.” “I promise.”
Marzolf needs backup and Marzolf’s stepfather attempts to help. “Officer…can I have a word with you?” He responds. “Not right now,” Marzolf responds.
Pollreis’ husband says that Pollreis is one of her children, and she just lost her parents. [house]”There you are.” Marzolf can be connected to “witnesses” that will verify the boys’ innocence. “That’s fine,” Marzolf says. “I need to know who these kids right now. They are already known to him. In case they are not obvious, the stepfather repeats their names.
After Officer Adrian Ruiz arrives, Marzolf handcuffs both boys. Marzolf informs a sergeant that he has a parent back. This again indicates that Marzolf was unwilling to allow the boys to go, even though they told him what their actions were: walking home.
A sergeant questions the boys in handcuffs if they are running away from police. They answer no. He then asks them, “What’s your job down there?” One of the boys replies, “We were at our grandparents’…and started walking home.” Their names are again requested by the sergeant.
Marzolf then starts to frisk Weston, and searches his pockets. “Were they running?” The sergeant questions. Marzolf replied, “No, they were walking sir.” These guys are probably not them, OK? “OK, so these guys probably aren’t them?” suggests the sergeant. Marzolf agrees, “Probably not.” “I mean, we had both parents come out…”
They approach Marzolf’s grandparents and confirm his account. Ruiz began to search Haden’s bag during this conversation. Finally, the sergeant tells the officers to free the boys from their handcuffs and allow them to go.
Marzolf is heard saying, “Dumb,” as he climbs back in his car. He sighs. In a video, Keith Neely from Institute for Justice observes that “that sigh” is the sound of an officer who realizes he has just violated someones constitutional rights.
He didn’t “Threaten To Blow Their Brains out”, so what’s the big deal?
It took seven minutes for the entire encounter, seven more than necessary. Marzolf agreed that Judge Brooks’ initial stop was founded on reasonable supicion. This allows you to see how weak this standard in practice.
Terry v. OhioIn, the 1968 Supreme Court case that allowed for investigatory stops, an officer observed two men walking backwards in front of a Cleveland shop, looking into the window every time. They also consulted with a third man. The officer suspected that the two men were planning to rob the store. He stopped them and got a muffled response. The officer stopped one man and found a gun in his coat.
Court ruled that stop and search are constitutional as they were justified by “specific and articulable facts”. According to the Court, police could stop someone if it is reasonable to suspect that he is involved in criminal activities and pat him down if he reasonably suspects he may be armed. However, the Court later stated that this weaker standard is applicable to these investigatory stops because they “so substantially less intrusive that arrests,” and that the general rule requiring probable causes to make Fourth Amendment seizures reasonable could be substituted by a balancing exam.
Although Weston’s and Haden were completely innocent, their behavior was not at all like the suspect conduct detailed in TerryBrooks believed that stopping Marzolf and his accomplices was appropriate given the facts. He said Marzolf might have crossed the boundary between an investigation stop and an arrest later. His words were, “At that point the boys had to be handcuffed,” and “there’s a genuine question of material fact as to whether or not a de factoWhat happened to the arrestee? de factoArrest was supported by probable cause.”
Brooks thought Pollreis, who claimed Marzolf had violated the Fourth Amendment, should have the right to continue her lawsuits. She argued that Pollreis extended the seizure past what was reasonable, and frisked Weston. And used excessive force against both of the boys. He noted that “the 8th Circuit has held that the right to not have a gun pointed towards a compliant subject” at the least in February 2016. This was two years after Marzolf met Weston and Haden.
A three-judge 8th Circuit panel of judges disagreed with Marzolf’s claim of qualified immunity. All of Marzolf’s actions had been consistent with the Fourth Amendment. You can get a sense of what the reasoning behind that conclusion was. The majority felt holding the boys hostage at gunpoint didn’t amount to excessive force, because Marzolf, unlike other officers in previous cases, “didn’t point his gun between either boy’s ears” or “threatened to blow their brains out.” Jane Kelly, a dissident judge, believed that the stop escalated to an “arrest without probable cause”, that Marzolf was “unlawfully searching” Weston and that Marzolf used excessive force by continuing his point of his gun. [Weston and Haden]”
“I was terrified for them”
Marzolf made the difficult decision to continue and increase the detention of Marzolf even though reasonable suspicion was warranted at the time. This is despite the fact that it became more clear that the boys were innocent. Brooks stated, “The objective facts that emerged” After The initial stop was not sufficient to support reasonable suspicion. [Weston and Haden]They were fleeing suspects.”
Marzolf pushed the boys to the ground After They and Pollreis revealed to him their identities. Even after they told him, he kept drawing a gun at them. AfterThey were on the ground. He placed them on the ground and handcuffed them AfterBrooks pointed out that Pollreis’ husband, Pollreis, confirmed that the boys had been walking back from dinner at their grandparents’ home. This “provided an extremely logical alibi.” Marzolf questioned Weston who was handcuffed and the two boys’ grandparents gave the exact same story. Marzolf was allegedly worried that Weston, 14, had attempted to adjust his belt or shirt (as described by the 8th Circuit) as he lay on the floor.
Pollreis said, “I will never forget watching my boys held at gunpoint.” I was scared for their safety. This should not be something that a mother has to see. The Supreme Court should fix it so no mother has to experience what I and my sons went through.”
Institute for Justice claims that this case provides a good vehicle for the Court’s clarification of what Terry allows. It is high time that the Supreme Court revisits this case because a police officer got away with holding two innocent children in handcuffs and holding them at gunpoint. TerryMarie Miller from the Institute for Justice says, “Thank you.” The Supreme Court should make it clear that police can’t flagrantly infringe on someone’s Fourth Amendment rights and not be held responsible. We cannot trust the government’s restraint if the Fourth Amendment is not enforced by the courts.