April 11, 2017

A Lesson on Reasonable Suspicion



I penned this in response to a recent editorial that appeared in a local newspaper. I’m not naming the newspaper which was the only publication to raise questions concerning the officer’s actions after he was cleared through independent investigations by the Illinois State Police and the Kane County State’s Attorney. Doing so would somehow lend credence to their rather obscure claim that doubts the thoroughness of the investigations by both the ISP and Kane County.

Dear Newspaper Editorial Team,

You recently penned an editorial asking for more information about the 2016 traffic stop that led to an exchange of gunfire between the passenger in the vehicle and one of our Aurora police officers. Because the relationship our police department has with the residents of this community is built on trust and transparency, and we recognize that we are accountable to our citizens first and foremost, I am more than happy to oblige with the information you seek. Any opportunity to educate is an opportunity to be seized.

In your editorial, you correctly outlined the actions that Mr. Martell took against the officer. The vehicle he was riding in was pulled over. When the officer approached the vehicle, Mr. Martell fled on foot and began firing at the officer. The officer fired back. Fortunately the bullets from both weapons did not strike their intended target. I say “fortunately” because just below keeping our citizens safe from harm is ensuring that our officers charged with this great responsibility go home to their families after their shift. After the exchange of gunfire, Mr. Martell attempted to overtake a family by committing a home invasion. I’m sure he was looking for refuge and was likely surprised when a female from inside the residence physically forced him out of the home. It was at that time that Mr. Martell made the decision to place his gun to his own head and pull the trigger. That was a terrible tragedy because I cannot begin to understand even for a moment the loss his family must still be feeling. I am also devastated for the innocent and undeserving family who still has to endure the trauma of what occurred before their eyes.

The facts of this case are agreed upon but the lingering question for your team is the reason for the traffic stop. In your editorial, you suggest that the answer to this question would “heighten our confidence in the thoroughness of the investigation.” You have requested a clearer explanation of what “reasonable suspicion” is. Allow me to restore confidence in your Aurora Police Department by edifying you on the concept of reasonable suspicion as defined by the supreme law of our land.

Reasonable suspicion is a standard established by the Supreme Court in a 1968 case in which it ruled that police officers should be allowed to stop and briefly detain a person if, based upon the officer’s training and experience, there is reason to believe that the individual is engaging in criminal activity. The officer is given the opportunity to freeze the action by stepping in to investigate. Unlike probable cause that uses a reasonable person standard, reasonable suspicion is based upon the standard of a reasonable police officer.

Mr. Martell happened to be riding in a vehicle that passed a residence that was struck by gunfire not once but several times in the recent past. The vehicle circled the location several times. In our profession, we call that a clue. Snarkyness aside, when you place the totality of these incidents together, a reasonable police officer would make a decision to stop the vehicle and check it out in an attempt to thwart criminal activity. That’s our job.

I hate to point out the obvious but I feel the need to do so: the officer was right.

Mr. Martell had a gun. We don’t have the luxury to know what Mr. Martell was going to do with that loaded weapon had the officer not pulled him over. But we do know that he was brazen enough to fire that weapon at a police officer in an attempt to kill him.

I stand with my officer and I applaud his skill and vigilance that led him to be suspicious and to take action against an individual who may have meant to cause harm. An independent police agency and the Kane County States Attorney applied the law and determined that the officer acted appropriately. Sitting behind a computer and questioning these legal entities is interesting — but it is your right. Fortunately, we have 289 sworn police officers in the City of Aurora who, despite your criticism and skepticism, suit up every day and put themselves in harm’s way to keep you and yours safe from harm.

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