ROCKVILLE, MD — Thousands of motorists were brought to a standstill when police conducted a massive roadblock to find three crime suspects. Twelve lanes of traffic were shut down and swarms of armed government agents combed through a giant traffic jam performing warrantless vehicle-to-vehicle searches.
The busy Tuesday morning commute was abruptly halted just after 10:00 a.m. on March 11th. One driver told ABC News that traffic stopped and he witnessed 30 police cars pass on the shoulders of I-270 near Rockville. “Then, when I saw a wall of police officers with automatic weapons approaching our cars, it was apparent that something serious was taking place.”
Police had received intelligence that a local bank had been robbed that morning and the vehicle carrying the 3 suspects had turned onto the interstate highway. A throng of officers from the Rockville, Montgomery County, and Maryland State Police Departments blockaded all lanes of traffic in both directions and began conducting an intense manhunt.
There was “a lot of yelling, a lot of orders being given, helicopters, dogs barking, sirens, police cars driving by,” said eyewitness Carlton Higdon to WJLA.
Miles of cars were stranded and motorists were confined to their vehicles, with no explanation, for over an hour. Confused people exiting their vehicles were met with hostility from the police. WTOP reported that one woman leaned out her door to vomit, she was shouted at by cops to close her door.
“It’s just awful,” motorist Carmel Desroche to WJLA, describing the traffic jam. “I’ve never seen both directions of 270 like this before. It was painful.”
While stuck in traffic, motorists were approached by armed agents and ordered at gunpoint to submit to warrantless searches of the interior of their vehicles. The Washington Post interviewed an innocent driver named Don Troop who experienced the ordeal.
A group of officers made its way to his car and other cars around him. “They were just walking along saying: ‘Pop the trunk! Pop the trunk!’”
He overheard a man in a truck next to him call out to another motorist: The police are looking for bank robbers. A short time later, about nine officers approached his car — including state police in tan uniforms, county police in dark uniforms and at least one plainclothes officer wearing a yellow tie.
Among their commands to motorists that Troop heard:
“Stay in your car.”
“Pop the trunk.”
“Get your hands on the steering wheel. Get you hands up where we can see them.”
As described, these searches were in no way consensual and were performed with the motorists under duress. Nothing ordered at gunpoint can ever be considered voluntary. Not surprisingly, we have not seen a report of anyone brave enough to refuse the hostile violation of the 4th amendment.
The police ultimately located and arrested the suspects and took them into custody. They did not resist, and they were not located in anyone’s trunk.
The search was described later by Montgomery County Police Captain Paul Starks as an operation of “systematically checking the trunks and rear hatches” of the detained vehicles.
The bank’s $7,000 was ultimately safe and sound, although the same could not be said of the rights of many innocent commuters. The authorities simply explained that their oath to uphold the Constitution does not apply during “exigent circumstances.” Rockville Police Chief Tom Manger remained unapologetic even after getting angry emails about the tactics.
“For those folks that wondered how is that the police can just walk through traffic like that and get folks to show their hands, get folks to pop their trunks, between the exigency of the circumstances and the information that we had, it gave us the legal foundation to do what we did,” the chief said, according to WTOP.
Apologists argue that the ends justify the means in law enforcement; that as long as the bad guys were caught one way or another, the operation was a success. This position easily suits the purposes of the police state. The erosion of liberty is simple when the people applaud as their rights are violated.
The reality is that crisis situations are exactly the times when individual liberties are most vulnerable and needing to be defended. These are also the most challenging and unpopular times to defend civil rights, as swathes of fearful people clamor for the government to keep them safe. The folly of letting the government pick and choose when it
must may follow the constitution should be obvious, however. To keep our rights intact we must refuse to accept these mass suspensions of the constitution for an increasingly wide variety of excuses.
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Demand that the 4th Amendment be upheld at all times, even when it is inconvenient.