FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE MOTION FOR REHEARING AND
DISPOSITION THEREOF IF FILED
from the Circuit Court for Orange County, Kim Shepard, Judge.
Moody, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Pamela J. Koller,
Assistant Attorney General, Daytona Beach, for Appellant.
S. Purdy, Public Defender, and George D. E. Burden, Assistant
Public Defender, Daytona Beach, for Appellee.
State timely appeals the trial court's order granting
Maurice Lee Willis' dispositive motion to suppress. The
State argues that, based upon the totality of the
circumstances, the police officers had reasonable suspicion
to temporarily detain Willis to investigate the officers'
legitimate concerns that Willis was mentally unstable and
posed a danger. Agreeing with the State that there was
reasonable suspicion to support the investigative stop, we
facts adduced at the suppression hearing are undisputed. On
April 21, 2018, a christening ceremony was taking place at a
church in Winter Garden, FL. During the ceremony, attended by
a small group of friends and family, parishioners observed a
male, who was not a party to the christening, sitting alone
in the back of the church. Making this individual appear even
more suspicious was the fact that he was wearing a
bulletproof vest over his clothing. Concerned parishioners
called 911 and law enforcement officers responded.
Hernandez, the first to arrive on scene, spoke with Michelle
Rosado, one of the members of the church who advised
Hernandez that there was a "suspicious" man wearing
a bulletproof vest. Rosado pointed to the man, later
identified as Maurice Willis, sitting on one of the pews of
the church, still wearing a bulletproof vest. Hernandez
attempted to approach Willis, but as the officer approached,
Willis got up and walked out. Hernandez's body camera
footage was entered into evidence. As Hernandez followed
Willis out of the church, she asked, "hey, are you
alright?. . . what's with the vest?" Willis
responded that he was okay and he wore the vest for
protection. He attempted to walk away again while asking
whether it was against the law to wear a bulletproof vest.
Hernandez responded that it was not but to "hold
up" so that she could talk to him to make sure
everything was okay.
testified that, at that point, she was concerned about
Willis' mental capacity and contemplated Baker-Acting
him. Hernandez stated that she was also concerned for the
safety of those in the church because Willis could have been
armed and she wanted to know why he was wearing a bulletproof
vest. Hernandez testified that the answers Willis provided to
her questions did not make sense and did not alleviate any of
her concerns. Hernandez again asked Willis why he was wearing
the vest. In response, Willis voluntarily took out his wallet
and asked Hernandez if she needed to see his identification.
Willis denied having any weapons on his person. After
providing his social security card as his only
identification, Willis stated that he wore a vest because he
felt like he was being followed and that he came to the
church every day wearing his bulletproof vest. Hernandez
reminded Willis that there was "a lot of crazy stuff
going on in churches now" and that it was "not
normal for an everyday person to be wearing a vest and going
Officer Woodcox arrived on scene, Hernandez told Willis to
speak to him and that she would let him "go in a
sec" so that she could speak to Rosado, the original 911
caller. Hernandez testified that this was a request and not
an order. Willis did not ask for his social security card
back and he was not handcuffed or otherwise physically
restrained. However, Hernandez testified that Willis did not
dissuade her fears about him being armed or his mental
capacity. Hernandez testified that when she walked away from
Willis, he was not free to leave.
Woodcox's bodycam video was entered into evidence.
Woodcox began asking Willis why he was wearing the vest and
Willis gave the same response given to Hernandez. The bodycam
footage showed another officer, Officer Valasquez, asking
Willis if he had anything in his pockets. Valasquez testified
that as he approached Willis, he observed a large bulge in
Willis' front left pocket, which Valasquez believed to be
a weapon. Valasquez was concerned because, given the time of
year and the heat, and "this day and age," it was
not normal for someone other than law enforcement to wear a
vest in public. As reflected in the bodycam footage,
Valasquez grabbed Willis' wrist and advised Willis that
he was not going to search him, but that he wanted to pat him
down for safety. Willis refused.
Cook was the next on scene. She also testified that it was
not normal for someone to walk into a public place wearing
body armor outside of their clothing and that doing so was
indicative of an active shooter situation. Cook also observed
a large bulge in Willis' left front pocket and did not
believe permission was required to pat Willis down in light
of his suspicious behavior of openly wearing a bulletproof
vest in a church where no one recognized him as well as his
attempt to avoid contact with law enforcement. As Cook
grabbed Willis' wrist, she looked down at his pocket and
saw the hammer and grip of a gun. Willis was immediately
placed in handcuffs.
argument on the motion to suppress, Willis argued that
Hernandez's statement to Willis to "hold up"
after Willis clearly attempted to leave was a seizure. Willis
further argued that he gave his social security card to
Hernandez because he felt that he was being stopped by law
enforcement. Moreover, Willis argued that Hernandez did not
have reasonable suspicion to stop him. The trial court
granted Willis' motion, suppressing the firearm found in
Willis' pocket, as well as an additional magazine,
ammunition, and the bullet proof vest Willis was wearing.
This appeal followed.
review a suppression order to determine whether competent,
substantial evidence supports the trial court's findings
of historical fact. State v. Roman, 983 So.2d 731,
734 (Fla. 3d DCA 2008). "It has also been observed,
however, that to the extent a ruling is based on an audio
recording, 'the trial court is in no better position to
evaluate such evidence than the appellate court, which may
review the tape for facts legally sufficient to support the
trial court's ruling.'" Bailey v.
State, 31 So.3d 809, 812 (Fla. 1st DCA 2009) (citing
Dooley v. State, 743 So.2d 65, 68 (Fla. 4th DCA
1999)). We review that evidence and any inferences from it in
favor of supporting the trial court's ruling. Pagan
v. State, 830 So.2d 792, 806 (Fla. 2002). We must
"independently review mixed questions of law and fact
that ultimately determine constitutional issues."
Schoenwetter v. State, 931 So.2d 857, 866 (Fla.
2006). The trial court's ...