Is that a gun in your purse or are you just happy to see me?
No, that’s not what a police officer said when he approached a woman near a Montgomery County, Md., high school the day after a gang-related stabbing in a supermarket parking lot a couple of miles away. A police gang unit suspected the high school would be the site for a retaliatory attack.
Seeking a photo ID from Edith Hernandez-Mendez, the officer reached out to grab her purse as she tried to pull it away. From the outside, the officer felt a solid heavy object that he recognized as the barrel of a semiautomatic pistol. He retrieved the gun and Hernandez-Mendez’s public school ID from her purse.
The 4th Circuit upheld the officer’s decision to frisk the young woman. Only there wasn’t a lot of clothing to frisk. On that mid-September day, Hernandez-Mendez was wearing a tank top and shorts, and carrying a purse. The officer knew gangs often depended on female members to tote their weaponry, because police were more likely to frisk males first.
The distinction between a pat down of the defendant’s clothing and a pat down of her purse “is not meaningful in this particular context,” wrote Judge Andre Davis. “Given her clothing, there were few places that she could conceal a weapon other than in her purse, making it objectively reasonable to frisk her purse in addition to her person,” Davis said. The court affirmed her firearm conviction.
The tip for the pistol-packing ladies: Plan to wear more, not less, if you want to make it harder for the police to get their hands on your purse.
By Deborah Elkins