SPRINGFIELD – The city police officer Seth Barker testified Thursday that his actions during a traffic stop were governed by his fear for his own life. But a defense lawyer argued that Barker's logic does not make his actions acceptable under the law.
Kevin Lopez of Springfield was driving along Mill Street around 12:30 on January 4th in a rented Nissan Rogue SUV when Barker stopped him. Lopez ended up being accused of carrying a firearm without a license and having a firearm with a defaced serial number.
Defense lawyer Timothy M. Farris discussed Thursday before Judge Francis Flannery of the Hampden Superior Court that evidence of the traffic stop should be suppressed.
Barker said he stopped the car because he had no working tail lights or license plates. But private investigator James Simmons produced a document on Chicopee's Enterprise Rental that showed that there were no lights repairs on the car that Lopez was driving.
Assistant District Attorney Thomas F. Prendergast claimed that the document does not prove that the vehicle's lights were not repaired.
Farris said the police should have given Lopez a civil summons for the lights and let him go.
But Barker said a number of factors made him tell Lopez and his passenger to get out of the car. These same factors led Barker to open the central console, where he found a gun.
The officer said that Lopez's hands were trembling and breathing rapidly, with his chest rising and falling. Lopez cast a glance at the center console, Barker said. Lopez's answers to Barker's questions were slow, Barker said.
Barker said that these things "make me fear for my life".
Farris asked Barker if another cruiser and two other officers arrived on the scene, and Barker said they had arrived as an escort. Farris claimed that seeing two cruisers and four police officers for a civil infringement would cause someone to be nervous.
Under Farris' interrogation, Barker said that Lopez had no furtive movements. Farris has argued that high court decisions on traffic stop procedures usually require sneak movements by the arrested person for police to start a search.
Barker said that when he ran Lopez's driving license, he found that Lopez had already committed firearms offenses. Barker said he added to his fear.
He testified that there had been a call for shots fired on Knox Street two nights earlier. A car was damaged by a gunshot, he said. This was another factor in his decisions, Barker said.
There had been a murder on Knox Street several months earlier, Barker said. He said it was the killing of Christopher Montgomery. Montgomery was actually killed in March 2018.
"Knox Street Posse is an active band in that area," Barker said. He said there was no information that Lopez was dealing with that gang.
Prendergast said that it is the totality of the factors that made Barker's actions to get Lopez out of the car and search the console legally.
Flannery took the motion to suppress the evidence under consulting.