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I recently watched this video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FSJTxalznxE

It's of a man open carrying a shotgun and filming from a public street. Nothing he did was illegal which later in the video is even confirmed by the female officer.

Yet when the man asks the cop if he was being detained she responded "Yes" and when asked for a reason, she said something along the lines of I'm carrying out an investigation from a call we received .

I read another post on this website about what constitutes probably cause and it's my understanding that in the instance of this video, the police officer did not have probable cause to detain this man.

Given that there is no probable cause as per my personal understanding of the situation and that no law was broken, according to the officer's own words, would it be illegal to walk away from the cops?

Bonus question: If this man decided to run away, what reasons do the cops have to chase after him and if they did in fact chase after him, what would the reason for his arrest be?

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There is a lot of confusion over the difference between reasonable suspicion and probable cause. They are not the same thing. Reasonable suspicion is any justifiable belief that a crime has been or is about to be committed.

Probable cause requires an officer to have actual, tangible evidence that you have committed a crime. Only after probable cause has been established can an officer arrest you (with limited ability to search your immediate person and effects).

Reasonable suspicion only requires some articulatable justification that you did something wrong. The police can detain you on reasonable suspicion, and they do not have to tell you why. This is called a Terry stop (after Terry v. Ohio where the Supreme Court ruled this was legal). However, they can only detain you long enough to ascertain whether or not they have probable cause to arrest you. If after conducting a preliminary investigation they can't find probable cause to make an arrest, they have to let you go.

In that video, we have a guy walking around in Texas with a shotgun and some shells. We never see what this guy looks like or how he's carrying himself, but he appears to be a troll. The cops received a call, so they investigated. They had all the reasonable suspicion they needed to detain him.

Texas is an open carry state (a person can walk around openly with a gun), and it is not a stop-and-identify state (the police cannot demand that you ID yourself). Therefore the man did not break any laws. But neither did the police officers. They were doing their job by asking questions, and after failing to find any evidence, they let him go.

If he had run before the officers had cleared him to leave, they could have chased him down and arrested him. That is, after all, what a detention is. You don't get to run away because you don't recognize a cop's authority to stop you. And fleeing a law enforcement officer is a crime. But you do have the right not to answer any questions, including (in some states) what your name is.

  • Fair answer. What crime would he be charged with had he ran away? – Rstew Aug 7 '17 at 15:01
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    @Ryan; That's what the last paragraph of my answer was about. In Texas Penal Code 38.04, it is a class A misdameanor if he "intentionally flees from a person he knows is a peace officer or federal special investigator attempting lawfully to arrest or detain him." If he had run away, they would've chased him down and arrested him. – Wes Sayeed Aug 7 '17 at 16:18
  • Reasonable suspicion is specifically not a hunch. It has to be based on articulatable facts. – cpast Aug 7 '17 at 22:43
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    @cpast; This is where the confusion comes from. The "specific and articulatable facts" can be entirely subjective. A person who looks out of place, walking strangely, visibly nervous, appears to be observing others, doesn't appear to know what they're doing, etc... All of these are reasonable suspicion, and are often times people just being people. They only have to be specific and articulatable in that the officer must justify why he/she suspected this person of a crime. I will remove the word hunch, but effectively that's what most officers' intuition is. – Wes Sayeed Aug 7 '17 at 23:27
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Police are not required to explain the basis of their claimed reasonable suspicion or probable cause to the people they are detaining or arresting. If they were, it would be impossible for them to do their work effectively or safely. The place for challenging a police officer's grounds for detention or arrest is in court, which of course means that the challenge must come long after the fact. So yes, it would be illegal to walk away.

The specific charge for someone running away in that circumstance would vary from one jurisdiction to another, but likely candidates include failure to obey a lawful order and resisting arrest.

  • So what you are telling me is that any police officer can give a lawful order to anyone whom they wish to detain? So whenever there's an interaction between a citizen and a officer, the officer can ALWAYS state that the citizen is being detained because it's a lawful order? Even though there is no basis for that order? Because after all an officer can detain you without arresting you, so there is close to 0% chance of there being any repercussions against the officer for illegally detaining you... – Rstew Aug 6 '17 at 22:44
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    @Ryan Yes. Police officers have power. Power can be abused. That's just something we have to live with. – phoog Aug 7 '17 at 5:14

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