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Judge Rules Coin Pocket Search Unconstitutional in People of the State of Colorado v. Quinten Stump

By Raina Lucero

April 26, 2023

Quinten Stump was in court on Wednesday, April 19th for a scheduled hearing in the case of The People of the State of Colorado vs. Quinten Stump regarding the April 2020 officer involved shooting which resulted in the death of Zachary Gifford.

With just over one month before the fourth attempt at a trial, which will now be held in Prowers County beginning on June 1, 2023, after a recent Change of Venue order, both the prosecution, represented by District Attorney Joshua Vogel, and the defendant, Quinten Stump represented by his attorneys Michael Stuysinski and Beau Worthington, appeared virtually in front of the Honorable District Judge, Michael Davidson.

The purpose of the hearing was for a determination of law as to whether or not the pat down performed on Gifford was a Terry Frisk for weapons or a search for drugs, and if it was not a search for drugs, were the 4th Amendment rights of Gifford violated when the defendant admittedly inserted his finger into Gifford’s right coin pocket, which resulted in the escalation of the events that ultimately led to Gifford’s death.

The defense argued that there was valid or implied consent. They argued that prior to being asked to step out of the vehicle for what former Undersheriff Tracy Weisenhorn, the officer who made the initial stop and was ultimately not charged in the Gifford death even though she shot her duty gun twice at Gifford, said was to be a “pat-down” as she verbally stated to both the driver of the vehicle and Gifford, who was the passenger of the vehicle, that she thought they had been smoking more than just the cigarettes the driver said he’d been smoking. She stated she thought it was something more because she thought their eyes looked red—specifically asserting Gifford’s eyes look suspect.

The defense believes because of this insinuation both parties knew that they would be searched for drugs when the consent for the “pat-down” was given. Neither of the officers’ bodycams, however, distinctly indicated Gifford giving verbal consent. The defense also stated in their response, there was probable cause for a DUI, but the State argued that was false because the only indication was that their eyes were red.

The defense also stated that Zach gave the wrong birthdate at the time of the stop, which has been debunked by watching the bodycam footage of that day. Gifford did give Weisenhorn the correct birthday, therefore it was either written down incorrectly or repeated wrong to dispatch.

Before giving the ruling of the court on the matter, Judge Davidson cited John Terry v. State of Ohio, a United States Supreme Court case decided on June 10, 1968, which presented questions concerning the role of the Fourth Amendment as it pertains to search and seizure and stop and frisk.

The court’s decision in 1968 was that what is now known as a Terry Search entitles police officers to perform a carefully limited search for weapons by gliding their hands along the outside of the persons clothing.

Judge Davidson went on to describe the incident as it was recorded on the bodycams of both Stump and Weisenhorn. The footage shows Weisenhorn asking what they (Gifford and Morrell) had been smoking. Morrell’s response was cigarettes. Weisenhorn responded that she thought it was more because of the way their eyes looked, specifically pointing out Gifford’s eyes. Weisenhorn asked both the driver, Morrell, and passenger, Gifford, to step out of the vehicle. After they complied with her request, she then asked them if they minded if they did a “pat down”.

The presumption that the driver and his passenger were under the influence gave Weisenhorn reasonable suspicion to ask them to exit the vehicle and to perform a pat down.

A pat down implies a Terry Frisk will be conducted which according to statue can only be performed on the outside of one’s clothing and an officer cannot enter the pockets or inside of clothing of the individual unless they feel an item that immediately feels like a weapon. The purpose of a Terry Frisk is to ensure the safety of the officer that is conducting the stop and not to look for evidence of a crime.

While there was no mention of a search for weapons during the stop, both deputies stated repeatedly in their interviews it was a search for weapons.

The court ruled that when Stump put his finger into the coin pocket of Gifford’s jeans without consent to do so, the Terry Frisk then became an unlawful search and constituted a violation of Gifford’s 4th Amendment rights under the United States Constitution.

The events of the day spiraled out of control because of that finger entering that coin pocket where even Judge Davidson stated, “I know of no weapon that can fit into the small coin pocket.”

The defense and prosecution are now set to work together to decide the scope that the unconstitutional search ruling by the Court can be used when presenting the case to the new jury. Judge Davidson stated, “I do not want the term unconstitutional to be used generally when speaking about the defendant but should be specific to the search.”

There will be 150-200 jurors summoned in the fourth attempt to take this case to trial—for the first time in Prowers County. Jury selection will begin June 1 in the Prowers County Courtroom.

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