COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — When Donald Trump praised “stop-and-frisk” practices recently in Cleveland Heights, he was speaking a few miles down the road from the spot where the controversial police action has its legal roots.
The Terry v. Ohio case originated in Cleveland — at the intersection of Huron Road and Euclid Avenue — and went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Louis Stokes represented the defendants. The court’s 1968 ruling held that police can stop a person if they have reasonable suspicion that the person has committed a crime or is about to commit a crime.
Now, two nephews of the perpetrators are Columbus law enforcement officers. One actually trained the other. They learned of their mutual connection to the case then, in 2004, but didn’t acknowledge the bond until Thursday at the Columbus police department’s bicentennial celebration.
Cleveland police officer Martin McFadden stopped three men after watching them act suspiciously, pacing back and forth in front of stores in the middle of the afternoon. He patted them down and found handguns on two of the three, John Terry and Richard Chilton, and charged them with carrying concealed weapons.
Terry, a heroin addict, was in and out of jail for much of his life and eventually died while incarcerated. Chilton was killed while attempting to rob a Columbus pharmacy the year before the case was decided by the Supreme Court.
Now the practice taught in police academies across the country is known as a Terry stop, or stop-and-frisk.
BOB STEWART’S PATH
Terry’s nephew, Bob Stewart, was 14 when the crime happened, and he remembered visiting his uncle in jail.
Stewart’s mother — former East Cleveland mayor Mae Stewart — would try to make the visits seem normal, fun. She would tell Stewart and his siblings they were going on a picnic and pack a picnic basket of food.
Stewart remembers his uncle as a nice guy at times who had an inner demon he couldn’t get rid of. He loved his uncle — he was family — but knew that wasn’t the direction he wanted for his life.
An older boy Stewart looked up to became a Cleveland police officer, and after high school Stewart enrolled as a cadet. Stewart knew his uncle was involved in a big case, but didn’t realize the impact until he was in a constitutional law class at Cuyahoga Community College.
“As I got more and more involved in being a police officer, it was like a secret I had,” Stewart said. “I could have answered all the questions about stop and frisk.”
What did Terry think of his nephew’s chosen profession?
“He didn’t see a lot of future in it,” Stewart said. “I said it was the same for me but the other way around — I didn’t see a lot of future in what he was doing.”
Stewart never spoke to Terry again. He went on to Kent State University and joined the Columbus Police Department, where he served for 39 years.
During his 15-year stint as academy drill sergeant, a recruit came through with a familiar name: Chilton.
CHRIS CHILTON’S EXPERIENCE
Chris Chilton was only 1 year old when his uncle Richard Chilton was shot and killed during a robbery on Columbus’ south side.
The Chilton family didn’t talk much about Richard, somewhat of a black sheep, and Chris didn’t learn of his uncle’s nefarious past until he was in the police academy.
Commander Robert Meader — then a lieutenant — had studied the case at length and asked if Chris was related to Richard Chilton. Meader showed Chris a picture of Richard that could have passed for his father.
It was an “Oh, wow” moment, Chilton said, but he quickly moved past it.
Stewart knew and Chilton knew of their shared connection, but they didn’t talk about it at academy. Stewart was Chilton’s boss. Stewart was more concerned with doing more push-ups, more sit-ups, running faster.
“It’s not something I wanted to contemplate too much,” said Chilton, who now works third shift patrolling the city’s Hilltop neighborhood. “But it’s ironic that of all places, it happened here.”
A REUNION OF SORTS
Meader has studied and, in the best meaning of the word, obsessed about Terry v. Ohio for years.
He invited the two nephews and two others tied to the case to the department’s bicentennial celebration Thursday. Also present was officer McFadden’s nephew, Jim Briola, and Jack Turner, the Columbus police officer who stopped a getaway car leaving the robbery where Richard Chilton died.
After giving a presentation about the case, Meader introduced Stewart and Chris Chilton to applause.
“These men carry the gun too, but for good,” Meader said.
THE TERRY CASE CONTINUES
Without Terry v. Chilton, Meader said, the last half century of policing would have been completely different. If someone was looking in your house with a flashlight at 3 a.m., Meader said, officers wouldn’t be able to stop them because there was no probable cause.
Stop-and-frisk is widely known for its blanket application by New York City police officers, which a district court found discriminatory toward black and Latino men. That’s the policy Trump reminisces about and wishes more cities would follow.
Stokes, who went on to become a congressman, argued for many years that Terry v. Ohio was a case of racial profiling 30 years before the term existed.
But Meader, Stewart and Chilton disagree with both takes. Meader said officers must be able to objectively prove reasonable suspicion under the Terry v. Ohio decision, which the court found McFadden did more than 50 years ago.
Stewart, who taught cadets for years the guidelines for a proper “Terry stop,” said that’s not something Columbus police would want to do.
“Terry is an interesting concept but it can’t be the rule,” Stewart said. “You can’t think just because you’re out there with a badge you can stop all crime. You have to know the community, have to know the rules and have to articulate what is different about this situation.”
Information from: cleveland.com, http://www.cleveland.com