Walker v. Donahoe, No. 20-1547 (4th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
A week after a gunman opened fire inside a Parkland, Florida school with an AR-15-style assault rifle, a 911 call reported a man with an assault rifle walking along Route 33 in Putnam County. Corporal Donahoe and Deputy Pauley were dispatched, knowing that a k-12 school was less than a mile ahead of the armed man (Walker), who was wearing military-style clothing. Seeing Walker, the officers believed that he could be under the age of 18. It is generally legal in West Virginia for persons over the age of 18 to openly carry firearms. Walker challenged the officers’ authority to stop and detain him and initially declined to produce identification, He relented but refused to provide information about his gun and his reason for carrying it. Donahoe did not restrain Walker, pat him down, or otherwise touch him. Donahoe called for a criminal history check, telling Walker “I have the absolute legal right to see whether you’re legal to carry that gun,” indicating that Walker could not leave. Learning that Walker was 24 and only had a misdemeanor conviction, Donahoe returned Walker’s identification papers and told him that he was free to go. The encounter lasted less than nine minutes.
The Fourth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Donahoe in Walker’s suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. There was reasonable suspicion supporting Donahoe’s investigatory detention of Walker. Lawful conduct can contribute to reasonable suspicion; the circumstances of Walker’s firearm possession were unusual and alarming enough to engender reasonable suspicion.