On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Salem County, Indictment No. 08-10-00475.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Decided Before Judges Carchman, Graves and Waugh.
By leave granted, the State appeals from an order of the Law Division granting defendant Faron Knight's motion to suppress the seizure of a handgun. We reverse and conclude that under the circumstances presented, the police did not violate defendant's Fourth Amendment rights.
These are the facts adduced at the hearing on the suppression motion. During the evening hours of September 9, 2008, Investigator Darryl Saunders of the Salem County Prosecutor's Office received information from a reliable confidential informant (CI) regarding an altercation between two men. The CI, who had provided the Salem Police Department with reliable information in the past, informed Saunders that:
[A] person he/she knows as Faron Knight . . . and a person he/she knows as Richard Lewis . . . were having an argument in the area of Union [Street] and Magnolia Street. [The CI] stated Lewis made a comment to Knight that he was going to get . . . his shit . . . . Knight then stated to Lewis, "That's all I needed to hear," and both suspects walked away in opposite directions. [The CI] has observed . . . Knight on previous occasions in possession of a firearm. And, Lewis is known to carry a firearm with him at times, yet [the CI] has never observed Lewis with a firearm in his possession. [The CI] believed both suspects were about to have an altercation.
Saunders was familiar with Knight, who had been the recent victim of a shooting, so he proceeded to the area of Union Street and Magnolia Street with other officers.
Fifteen minutes after receiving the information, Saunders observed defendant walking south on Union Street heading towards Magnolia Street. Saunders, who was in an unmarked patrol car and wearing a vest with the marking "Police" on the front and rear, approached Knight based on "a suspicion that he may have a firearm." According to Saunders:
[A]s we approached him, he looked towards our way -- I don't [know] if he noticed our vehicle or what, but we observed him turn around and head back towards . . . [a residence on] Union Street.
I exited the vehicle. Once I got out of the vehicle, I hollered his name, "Faron." And, again, I hollered out, "Faron, stop." Faron looked back towards . . . where I was coming from, and he continued on. [ASSISTANT PROSECUTOR]: And so, he's walking one direction, sees you, and then goes in the opposite direction?
[SAUNDERS]: Yes. [ASSISTANT PROSECUTOR]: And, what did you do then? [SAUNDERS]: Like I said, at that point, I hollered out his name. Faron continued to walk towards the . . . residence. As I hollered out his name I hollered out, "Police, stop." He then picked up his pace, not running, but he just picked up in a faster walk pace to the residence. At that time I continued approaching him.
Saunders followed behind at a distance of ten feet and noticed defendant's gate was peculiar because "he held the arm that would be to the far side parallel with his body and blocked by his body[.]" Saunders characterized this movement as "blading." Accordingly, Saunders "was thinking possibly he might have had a weapon on him" based both on his stride and information from the CI. As a result, Saunders drew his gun and yelled to defendant: "Let me see your hands. Stop, police."
Sergeant Robert Hans arrived at the scene and joined Saunders on foot. Defendant ran up the porch of the Union Street address and both Hans and Saunders, who were a few feet behind, witnessed him "fumbling with something in front of him" at the door. Saunders again hollered, "Stop; let me see your hands," but defendant ...