- Associated Press - Thursday, May 28, 2015

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - The South Dakota Supreme Court has reversed the conviction of a panhandler who argued a police officer had no reasonable suspicion to stop and frisk him.

The high court ruled Thursday in an appeal from Rapid City resident David Walter, who received a three-year suspended sentence in June when he was found guilty of possession of a controlled substance. The court said methamphetamine evidence at trial “was the product of an illegal search” because the mere report of a panhandler at a park, who wasn’t violating state or local laws, didn’t give Walter’s arresting officer a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to pat him down.

Rapid City Police Officer Dale Ackland arrested Walter in October 2013 after he was sent to investigate reports of a panhandler near a park. Ackland arrived to find Walter, and said he feared a bulge in Walter’s pocket might be a weapon.

When he told Walter he was going to pat him down, Walter responded: “You can’t frisk me. I have needles on me.”

Ackland searched anyway and found an open bottle of liquor in one of Walter’s pockets. As the pat-down continued, according to court records, Walter manipulated something out of another pocket and a container with two syringes fell to the ground. The syringes tested positive for meth.

Walter was charged with possession of a controlled drug or substance and one count of consuming alcohol in public. Walter sought to suppress the meth evidence at trial, but his request was rejected.

In its brief filed with the Supreme Court, the state argued that the frisk was legal because it “was not the product of a mere hunch or idle curiosity, but instead was based on a complaint that defendant was panhandling.”

“Officer Ackland was dispatched to the ice arena due to a report of a possible ongoing crime,” the state explained in its brief. “… Because Officer Ackland had reasonable suspicion that criminal activity might be afoot and that Defendant might be presently armed and dangerous, the circuit court was correct to deny Defendant’s suppression motion.”

The Rapid City Police Department did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the court’s decision Thursday.

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