On the afternoon of June 2, the authorities say, a former music teacher named Christian Paetsch walked into a Wells Fargo bank waving a gun and ordered everyone to lie down.

About 15 minutes later, a phalanx of police cars descended upon an intersection a few miles away, blockading dozens of shocked motorists — including Mr. Paetsch, whom the authorities had tracked with a GPS device buried in the $26,000 he was accused of stealing.

But with only the faintest physical description and unsure which vehicle the device was in, the police trained their weapons on all 20 cars at the intersection and ordered people to show their hands. For nearly two hours, the police ordered every driver and passenger to step out of their cars, even handcuffing some of them, before discovering the missing money and two loaded firearms in Mr. Paetsch’s S.U.V.

The case, now winding its way through the federal court system, is being watched by Fourth Amendment lawyers and law enforcement experts. While advanced technology now gives the police the power to shadow a suspect moments after a crime is committed, there are still legal questions over how wide a net the authorities can cast while in pursuit.

At issue is not Mr. Paetsch’s involvement in the robbery. Rather, his lawyer, Matthew Belcher, a federal public defender, has argued that evidence seized from Mr. Paetsch’s vehicle should be thrown out on the grounds that the roadblock was unconstitutional.

The crook’s lawyer offers a lawyerly interpretation of how he’s trying to get his client off. He says the coppers just had a hunch. Wrong. They had a signal from an RFID tag planted in the stolen money.

The local coppers certainly did a crappy job of handling the public – but, they did what they’re instructed to do when the call is for “armed and dangerous”. The FBI didn’t show with their RFID detector for an hour and the Aurora PD doesn’t own one.

The question still comes down to [1] OK to use any and all tech to catch crooks – or [2] do we violate the privacy of suspects by responding to that tech?



  1. Gwad his own self says:

    Nope, try [3] is it OK to violate the rights of totally innocent people just to catch a single bad guy who MAY or MAY NOT be among them? Clearly, the answer is NO. You might as well just trash the entire constitution and admit that we’re no better than Stalinist Soviet Russia, which we were taught were the REAL BAD GUYS.

    • Gwad his own self says:

      My daughter worked her way through college as a bank teller. She was robbed twice at two different banks. The first guy was some poor slob who’s wife was dying of cancer, and without insurance, he was trying to get some money for her treatment. After robbing the bank, he ran into a Home Depot next door and tried to shave off his beard with an electric razor. The battery died about halfway through, which was also about the time the cops tracked him down with the radio pack mixed in with the money.

      The second time my daughter gave the robber most of the money in her drawer but forgot to include the bundle with the radio. When he got halfway to the door, she yelled to him “Wait there’s one more” and handed him the radio pack. He was also caught a few minutes later.

      Her reward from the banks for managing the robberies properly? She got the rest of the day off with pay.

      Whoo peeeeeeeee frickin doo.

      She’s a criminal defense lawyer now by the way, just coincidence I think.

  2. JS says:

    1) In this situation, it was not a matter of “us(ing) any and all tech to catch crooks”, it was a matter of following a crook who was foolish enough to take a tracker hidden in his booty.

    I am against police using any and all tech to catch crooks – that means random stops, infrared detectors pointed at houses with no warrant, etc. Warrants have a purpose – they protect (in theory) police from going after people without sufficient suspicion/evidence. The BS recently about using smartphone GPS capabilities to track folks when no warrant has been issued is, well, BS.

    2) See the answer to #1.

    The police were correct to stop the robber who had a weapon when they could. As noted, they did a crappy job of handling the public, and the innocent folks caught in the dragnet.

  3. Drone -on says:

    What is with the constant incorrect use of the term “RFID Tag”? Police did not find him using RFID because you can not detect an RFID tag from more than a few feet away. The bank obviously embedded a GPS device that was able to broadcast the location of the money within 50 or so yards.
    If you want to comment on tech you should at least try to educate yourself a little on how the technology works. BTW Infowars.com or MSNBC are not good sources of information on how anything works.

    • MikeN says:

      You can detect RFID from more than a few feet, as that’s what’s used in toll booths, including open road tolling where there are no booths.

  4. tcc3 says:

    The focus of this article seems wrong. The bank robber is screwed and rightfully so. I dont see how he has any case.

    The other 20 innocents who were wrongfully detained on the other hand should be suing the pants off the city. Dragnets like this are sloppy police work and violate everyones rights. They shouldn’t be allowed.

    • MikeN says:

      Bank robber has a case. If the police use bad methods, then the criminal is let go, as punishment for the police for using bad methods. It is the stick that deters the police from using illegal measures. It’s why if you search a house without a warrant, the criminal is let go.

      • tcc3 says:

        The robbers rights werent violated though. An illegal search that incriminates you violates *your* rights. Improper questioning violates *your* rights. In this case the rights of others were violated during the detainment of a criminal. I dont see how he has standing to bring suit since he wasnt harmed. Letting him go to “punish the police” does nothing to remedy the rights violation and is not in the public interest. There are other methods of reprimanding the police for illegal tactics.

        • MikeN says:

          No, you have it wrong. Even if your house is searched without a warrant, it is not your rights that have been violated. It is the society’s right to privacy that has been violated. That is the reason for the ban on warrantless searches. The release of the criminal is not because his rights are violated, but because the police went too far, and this is the punishment to protect society’s rights.

        • MikeN says:

          To put more clearly, the Constitution does not say that a criminal is to be let go if police search without a warrant. It just says no searches without a warrant. So how to enforce this provision? In the 1940s the court decided to throw out convictions that come from warrantless searches.

  5. MikeN says:

    This case will go nowhere, as the government already conducts roadblocks when there is no criminal present, just to search for drugs or conduct DUIs.

    • spsffan says:

      Indeed. I’m far more comfortable with the roadblock and questioning following an armed robbery, with evidence that the actual culprit is in the group than I am with just stopping random (or every) car driving down the street on the off chance that someone might have a joint in the car.

      Yes, indeed, the police in this instance mistreated some members of the public, and they should press charges. But the roadblock and questioning/search itself in this case is justified.

  6. WmDE says:

    HOWTO – Non-invasive search of twenty vehicles.

    Blockade adjacent intersection.

    Have each car proceed to the second intersection one at a time.

    Check location of swag.

    Repeat.

    HOWTO – Binary search of numerous vehicles.

    Blockade adjacent intersection.

    Have half of cars proceed to other intersection.

    Check location of swag.

    Release group of cars without swag.

    Repeat.

  7. kerpow says:

    Why is it when $26,000 gets stolen from a bank they go all out but if you were to report a $50,000 car stolen they don’t do shit?

    • Drone -on says:

      Because “You didn’t build that” car, but the Gubment did build the banks. Everyone takes care of their own in this world and you and your stolen car are not your gubments’ problem.

    • spsffan says:

      I dunno. Did they stick a gun in your face while steeling the car? No ? They just hotwired it or towed it away?

      Cue Miss Emily Latella: Never Mind.

    • Cap'nKangaroo says:

      Because thru the FDIC the federal government is insuring the solvency of the bank. By robbing the bank of money, the robber is threatening the solvency of the bank, therefore involving the FBI.

      The local police are interested because the robber displayed a weapon, threatening grievous harm or death.

      To steal without involving the government, follow the examples of some unnamed Wall Street firms and use credit default swaps, CDOs, etc.

  8. Glenn E. says:

    You should see the movie “The Brinks Job” (1978), about the 1950 Brink’s Building robbery. About $2.7 million in cash, checks, and money orders, were stolen. And what I found significant about the movie. Was they showed how the authorities basically threw a dragnet over the whole city, hours after the robbery. Cars and their drivers were searched on bridges, leading out of the city. No warrants of any kind. Fourth Amendment Rights were just suspended, because of the dollar amount involved. Or the loss of confidence in Brinks security. Who basically had near zero security in place, to protect millions of dollars of their clients’ money.

    The FBI got involved, more as self promotion, to get a bigger operating budget. More was probably spend in the entire investigation, than was actually stolen. Only about $58,000 was ever recovered. Remember this was 1950. So suspending 4th Amendment rights, whenever the occasion seems to demand it, isn’t anything new. Though it probably wasn’t questioned as much, back in 1950, as it is today. But this doesn’t seem to be stopping or slowing things down much.

  9. MartinJJ says:

    In this case it’s an intersection with 20 motorists. Next time a busy mall. Then a football stadium. Next a city. etc, etc.

    Last would be the whole country with the military on the streets, armed drone surveillance and road blocks everywhere. Everyone is guilty until proven otherwise. And that may take a while (or never end).

    It’s only a matter of time before everyone gets used to these things. Then they will take it to next level. This principle already works nicely for the TSA also.

    So, they may loose this court case, but that is hardly the point. Nobody is paying attention anyway. Or they find a judge who’s not really worried about it as ‘it is for your own safety’. After that it will be even harder to protest. The police done things like this before and they will do it again until you give up.