No. 204 October Term, 1979, No. 982 October Term, 1979, No. 205 October Term, 1979, No. 983 October Term, 1979, No. 206 October Term, 1979, No. 984 October Term, 1979, Consolidated Appeals from the Suppression Order by the Court of Common Pleas of Lycoming County, Criminal Division, at Nos. 78-10,543; 78-10,550; 78-10,551; 78-10,548; 78-10,549; 78-10,545; 78-10,546 and 78-10,547.
Robert F. Banks, Assistant District Attorney, Williamsport, for Commonwealth, appellant at Nos. 204, 205 and 206; and appellee at 982, 983 and 984.
John M. Humphrey, Williamsport, for appellants at Nos. 982, 983 and 984; and appellees at Nos. 204, 205 and 206.
Cercone, President Judge, and Watkins and Hoffman, JJ.
[ 274 Pa. Super. Page 574]
These are consolidated appeals from a suppression order of the Court of Common Pleas of Lycoming County. In Nos. 982-984, Leslie Gambit, Sharmel Howard and Geneva Massey [hereafter, appellants] contend that the suppression court erred in refusing to suppress evidence police seized when they searched appellants at the police station after arrest. They argue that the search followed arrests without probable cause. In Nos. 204-206, The Commonwealth contends that the suppression court erred in suppressing evidence obtained from a warrantless search of a car executed after appellants' arrest. We hold that, in Nos. 982-984, the suppression court erred and should have suppressed the evidence seized at the station as the product of arrests without probable cause, and that, in Nos. 204-206, the suppression court correctly suppressed the evidence seized during the search of the car.
At about 2:15 p. m. on July 28, 1978, Mary Dauberman, radio dispatcher for the Williamsport Police Department, received a phone call from an employee of Jones Specialty Shop, a clothing store located in the business district of Williamsport.*fn1 The caller stated that another employee had just noticed that an expensive suede coat was missing and that she suspected that the coat had been taken by three black women in the store minutes before. She suspected the black women because only a few other customers, all well known to the sales personnel, had been in the store. She gave a detailed description of the three women. Lt. John Reiff was standing by Dauberman when she received the call and heard the conversation. Immediately, he and Corporal George Stack left to investigate the incident. As Reiff departed, he heard the phone ring again but did not hear the ensuing conversation.
[ 274 Pa. Super. Page 575]
Dauberman broadcast a radio report based on the call from Jones' Specialty Shop. The second phone call was from another clothing shop located near Jones'. The second caller reported that he had seen three black women, identical in appearance to those in Jones', trying on clothes in his store. Soon after they left, he realized some articles were missing. Dauberman broadcast this message also.
Minutes after leaving the station, Reiff and Stack spotted Gambit and Howard standing by a white car parked in the business district about a half block from the police station. As the officers approached, Reiff saw one of the women place her hand on the door of the car, turn, look in his direction and then begin to walk off slowly in the other direction with the second woman. Reiff called to the women, who walked back towards him. Reiff asked the women to come with him to the station, and the women complied. When he looked in the car's window, Reiff observed a filled black plastic bag in the back seat. Reiff ordered Stack to guard the car while he escorted the women to the station. The doors to the car were locked and a car was parked at each end of the vehicle, blocking its exit. Reiff arrived at the station with the two women at about 2:30.
After watching the car for five minutes, Stack left his post to drive another officer's car to the station. During his absence, some employees of the victimized stores guarded the car. As he returned to the white car, Stack saw another officer, Mnick, standing with the third woman, Massey. He took Massey to the station, after which he returned to the car to guard it. Except for the five minutes when he was away, Stack had the car under constant surveillance until it was searched.
At the station, the police searched all three women, discovering items taken from several stores. All the items had their sales tags, indicating that appellants had not paid for them. None of the women had keys to the car which, the police learned by tracing the license plate, was registered in the ...