Legal expert: YouTube shooter shouldn't have been stopped after police questioning

While investigators continue piecing together clues behind Tuesday’s shooting at YouTube headquarters in San Bruno, Calif., there are on-going questions over pitting the needs of law enforcement against the rights of everyday citizens.

“What the police have to do in order to avoid breaking the law and violating somebody’s constitutional rights, is to have a reasonable suspicion or probably cause to detain somebody,” said Professor Margaret Russell, a Santa Clara University constitutional law expert.

She says based on vague information gleaned by two Mountain View police officers, shooting suspect Nasim Aghdam shouldn't’ have been stopped or held for further questioning. Investigators say a missing person’s report from San Diego County led two officers to find the 39-year-old sleeping in her car early Tuesday morning. That in-and-of itself isn’t uncommon in this section of Mountain View.

“Assessed her state of mind. Asked her if she wanted to hurt herself or others. And determined that she was here because she was having family problems in San Diego and wanted to relocate here and get a new job,” said Mountain View police chief Max Bosel. 

He says Aghdam was calm, clear, and cooperative throught the entire 20 minute interaction. Officers let her go, and didn’t know about her anger toward YouTube over a change in policy until an hour after the fact. Even with knowing that, experts say police still had no right to hold Aghdam or search her car.

“If they had detained her, that would have been a real problem. I think, she would have been have been able to bring suit against them for unlawful detention. Because there’s nothing there that would allow them to detain her,” said civil liberties expert Richard Konda, an attorney with the San Jose-based Asian Law Alliance.

After her encounter with Mountain View police, Aghdam drove to a gun range, and then to YouTube, where she opened fire with a legally-purchased nine-millimeter hand gun….wounding three people before taking her own life.

“If there are articulable facts that lead us to have a heightened degree of suspicion there could be violence, at that point we need to notify our neighboring agencies or whatever jurisdictions the neighboring security that may be involved with,” said chief Bosel.

Without such evidence, police are powerless to take pre-emptive measures.. A restraint Professor Russell sees as a safeguard on our countries core value of liberty.

“If we lived in a society in which people were detained by police willy-nilly just based on the accusations of others, none of us would have any freedom,” said Russell.

The over-riding fact so far in this case is that Aghdam didn’t pose or threat or break any laws, including sleeping in her car, which is legal in Mountain View.