DeKALB – Newly obtained dispatch audio from the Aug. 24 arrest of an Aurora man includes a DeKalb police officer calling the incident a “drug-related traffic stop,” as he coordinates getting the DeKalb County Sherrif’s Office’s K-9 unit to assist.
The 50-second audio clip from 10:57 a.m. Aug. 24, obtained by the Daily Chronicle through a Freedom of Information Act request, the DeKalb officer asks dispatch if the dog is available, to which the sheriff’s dispatcher replies yes, although the unit is on another call. The DeKalb Police Department does not have a K-9 unit.
The Aug. 24 arrest of Aurora man Elonte McDowell gained national media attention, after DeKalb police pulled McDowell over in the parking lot of Lincoln Tower, 1100 W. Lincoln Highway, but did not answer his frequent questions about why he was being pulled over. While arresting McDowell, DeKalb police wrestled McDowell to the ground and one officer appeared to wrap his arms around McDowell’s neck. A DeKalb County Sheriff’s deputy then fired a taser at McDowell while he was on the ground.
“Well we don’t need him right this second, but we may need him soon,” the DeKalb officer is heard saying. “Because we possibly have a very drug-related traffic stop in just a little bit here.”
DeKalb interim Police Chief John Petragallo called the type of stop a “Terry stop,” a special type of stop where police search someone suspected of an impending crime.
What is a Terry stop, and what are the rights for those who find themselves in such situations with police?
Ed Yohnka, director of communications and public policy for the Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said Terry stops became a frequent police procedure after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a 1968 case known as Terry v. Ohio.
The case involved a police officer detaining three Cleveland men who they said were behaving suspiciously, seemingly to prepare for an armed robbery. The police did a pat-down search of the men, which found a revolver, which then led to two of the men being charged (and convicted) of carrying a concealed weapon. The men appealed their case to the U.S. Supreme Court, claiming that the revolver only was found after what they said was an illegal search under the Fourth Amendment, which grants people the right to be protected from unreasonable searches on their person.
The court ruled the searches were legal – however, because the officer had a reasonable, explainable suspicion that the three men could be armed and dangerous.
“Under the Terry holding, a police officer can stop you and can then conduct a search of your physical person,” Yohnka said. “They don’t have to explain why, but the trade-off for that, the theory, is that the police officer has to be able to articulate some reason that the officer felt that he or she was in danger.”
Petragallo has said the officers who stopped McDowell were acting on reports that McDowell was seen advertising on Snapchat that he was coming to DeKalb “with a load of drugs,” court records show.
“In this particular case, we got a telephone call into our dispatch center from a person that described a lot of what was happening,” Petragallo said in a community meeting Sept. 4. “The date, time that this vehicle would be coming into town. There was a lot of information as part of this tip. So the DeKalb police coming upon Mr. McDowell was based on the info we received and was corroborated, so we have records of this information coming in.”
Petragallo said law enforcement officers engage in Terry stops frequently, and he described the stops as “when an officer believes a crime is being committed, about to be committed, or was committed.”
“If they have one of those three things, they have the authority to stop a vehicle or person for a brief amount or reasonable amount of time to establish whether or not crime is occurring,” Petragallo said.
Petragallo also has said he believes better communication could have occurred between DeKalb police and McDowell.
An independent and external investigation of the incident – conducted by the Illinois State Police at the joint request of Petragallo and DeKalb County Sheriff Roger Scott – is expected to take weeks.
McDowell next will be in DeKalb County court Oct. 11 for a status hearing, as he faces charges of unlawful possession of marijuana, unlawful possession of marijuana with intent to deliver, criminal trespass to property and resisting a police officer. If convicted of the most serious charge of unlawful possession with intent to deliver, McDowell could face up to five years in prison.