Thousands of motorists were brought to a standstill when police conducted a massive roadblock to find three crime suspects. Twelve lanes of traffic were shut down and swarms of armed government agents combed through a giant traffic jam performing warrantless vehicle-to-vehicle searches.
The busy Tuesday morning commute was abruptly halted just after 10:00 a.m. on March 11th. One driver told ABC News that traffic stopped and he witnessed 30 police cars pass on the shoulders of I-270 near Rockville. “Then, when I saw a wall of police officers with automatic weapons approaching our cars, it was apparent that something serious was taking place.”
Police had received intelligence that a local bank had been robbed that morning and the vehicle carrying the 3 suspects had turned onto the interstate highway. A throng of officers from the Rockville, Montgomery County, and Maryland State Police Departments blockaded all lanes of traffic in both directions and began conducting an intense manhunt.
There was “a lot of yelling, a lot of orders being given, helicopters, dogs barking, sirens, police cars driving by,” said eyewitness Carlton Higdon to WJLA.
Miles of cars were stranded and motorists were confined to their vehicles, with no explanation, for over an hour. Confused people exiting their vehicles were met with hostility from the police. WTOP reported that one woman leaned out her door to vomit, she was shouted at by cops to close her door.
“It’s just awful,” motorist Carmel Desroche to WJLA, describing the traffic jam. “I’ve never seen both directions of 270 like this before. It was painful.”
While stuck in traffic, motorists were approached by armed agents and ordered at gunpoint to submit to warrantless searches of the interior of their vehicles. The Washington Post interviewed an innocent driver named Don Troop who experienced the ordeal.
A group of officers made its way to his car and other cars around him. “They were just walking along saying: ‘Pop the trunk! Pop the trunk!’”
He overheard a man in a truck next to him call out to another motorist: The police are looking for bank robbers. A short time later, about nine officers approached his car — including state police in tan uniforms, county police in dark uniforms and at least one plainclothes officer wearing a yellow tie.
Among their commands to motorists that Troop heard:
“Stay in your car.”
“Pop the trunk.”
“Get your hands on the steering wheel. Get you hands up where we can see them.”