'License Plate Profiling' in Idaho
BOISE, Idaho (CN) - An Idaho state trooper arrested and searched a 70-year-old Washington man solely because of his license plate from Colorado, where marijuana is legal, the man claims in a federal lawsuit.
Darien Roseen lives in Washington and has a second home in Colorado. He was driving east on I-84 the morning of Jan. 25, 2013, and had just crossed the Idaho-Oregon Border, when he passed Idaho State Police Trooper Justin Klitch, who was in the median observing eastbound traffic.
"Immediately after Mr. Roseen passed his location, Trooper Klitch pulled out from the Interstate median, rapidly accelerating to catch up with Mr. Roseen's vehicle," according to the 25-page complaint.
Roseen, who is retired from Weyerhauser, says he changed from the right lane to the left, and exited the Interstate to a designated rest area. Klitch followed him to the parking lot, which Roseen says made him "uncomfortable," though "he did not perceive that he had done anything wrong."
Roseen claims that Klitch's presence, high winds, precipitation and snow-covered ground, caused him to bump the curb when he parked his Honda Ridgeline.
That's when Klitch turned on his overhead lights.
According to the complaint, Klitch did not immediately explain why he "pursued and initiated" contact, but later said he made the traffic stop based on Roseen's failure to use his signal while exiting the interstate and because he bumped into the curb.
"Trooper Klitch rejected Mr. Roseen's reason for pulling into the rest area - that he had to use the bathroom," the complaint states.
With astounding insight into Roseen's internal organs, "Trooper Klitch stated, 'You didn't have to go to the bathroom before you saw me. ... I'm telling you, you pulled in here to avoid me. That's exactly what you did,'" the complaint states.
Klitch then asked Roseen why his eyes "appeared glassy" and accused him of "having something in his vehicle that he should not have."
Roseen said Klitch asked to see his driver's license, but never asked for his proof of insurance or registration, and did not immediately go back to his vehicle verify the license.
"After Mr. Roseen identified his possession of valid prescription medications, Trooper Klitch asked him, 'When is the last time you used any marijuana?' thereby assuming that Mr. Roseen had, in fact, used marijuana and inferring that he had used it recently," according to the complaint.
Klitch repeatedly asked to search the car while continuing to question Roseen about what he was "hiding."
Roseen did not give him permission, causing Klitch to characterize his behavior as "consistent with a person who was hiding something illegal."
Klitch threatened to bring in a drug-sniffing dog, but never followed through.
Roseen finally consented to a search of "parts" of the vehicle, if "it got him back on the road faster" and began unpacking its contents, some of which consisted of presents from his daughter's baby shower.
Meanwhile, Klitch ran a background check, and Roseen came up clean.
Giving Klitch permission to search his vehicle, however, proved to be a mistake, Roseen says.
"When Mr. Roseen opened the trunk compartment, and despite the strong gusts of wind and precipitation that day, Trooper Klitch claimed he could smell the odor of marijuana," the complaint states. "Mr. Roseen stated that he could not smell the odor of marijuana that Trooper Klitch claimed to be coming from the trunk compartment."
Klitch said the putative aroma gave him probable cause to search the entire vehicle and called in a Fruitland City Police Officer Christensen," first name unknown. Roseen was detained in the back of Klitch's car, but was told he was not under arrest despite being read his Miranda rights.
Christensen drove the Ridgeline to the Payette County Sheriff's sallyport, where they continued searching the vehicle. Roseen says he never gave the officer permission to drive his car and its contents were not inventoried.
A handful of unidentified officers combed through the car and after finding nothing, Klitch issued Roseen a citation for "inattentive/careless" driving.
Roseen sued Klitch, Christensen, Payette County Sheriff's Deputy Webster and the Idaho State Police in Federal Court, alleging violations of his Fourth, Fifth and 14th Amendment rights.
"At no point did Trooper Klitch's line of questioning relate to Mr. Roseen's alleged improper driving pattern," the complaint states. "Instead, Trooper Klitch immediately accused Mr. Roseen of transporting something illegal."
He says that Klitch's alleged whiff of weed was not enough to justify searching his car.
"Trooper Klitch lacked sufficient probable cause to shift the primary purpose of the stop from a traffic stop to a narcotics investigation," the complaint states. "As such, Trooper Klitch was not justified in continuing Mr. Roseen's detention beyond the time necessary to effectuate the purpose of the original traffic stop."
Roseen claims that at one point Klitch's patrol car camera was turned off.
Idaho State Police spokeswoman Teresa Baker told Courthouse News the department is not "able to comment on this case since it is in fact a legal proceeding."
Roseen's attorney, Mark Coonts, said that he "cannot speculate or guess as to what is typical or normal about this situation."
"We believe that Americans should be able to travel interstate highways without being harassed and unlawfully detained because of license-plate profiling. Our client, Mr. Roseen, is a 70-year-old retiree who was returning from his daughter's baby shower. He was stopped in Idaho and deprived of his constitutional rights because he was driving a car with a license plate from a state that ISP associated with marijuana," Coonts said.
Colorado and Washington both legalized marijuana in late 2012. Alaska is expected to follow.
Roseen seeks punitive damages for constitutional violations.
Coonts is a member of the Jones & Swartz law firm, of Boise.