Dirty DUI Stings ‘Repugnant,’ But Allowed

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A California sheriff’s deputy who set up dirty DUI stings did not violate his alleged targets’ Fourth Amendment rights, but his conduct was “repugnant to the American system of justice,” a federal judge ruled Monday.
     Stephen Tanabe, a deputy in the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office, was accused in a 2011 lawsuit of helping private investigator Christopher Butler set up a “dirty DUI” sting on winery owner Mitchell Katz, who claimed in his lawsuit that his ex-wife hired Butler to help her prevail in divorce proceedings.
     Butler, a former police officer and colleague of Tanabe, agreed to pay Tanabe for his help with cash, cocaine and a Glock firearm, according to U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer’s ruling.
     Katz’s claims are also entangled in a 2013 lawsuit by William Howard, a former reserve deputy sheriff in the county, who claimed that the sheriff’s department demoted, ostracized and fired him for blowing the whistle on the sting operation.
     In the case at issue, Katz is a plaintiff along with Hasan Aksu, who claims he was the victim of a similar scheme by Butler and Tanabe.
     Breyer said that Tanabe did not violate the Fourth Amendment by stopping plaintiffs’ cars because they were in fact driving while intoxicated beyond the legal limit.
     “There is no dispute in either the Aksu or Katz case that Tanabe was tipped off by Butler that the plaintiffs were intoxicated, or that, when stopped, plaintiffs were indeed intoxicated,” Breyer wrote in the 12-page ruling.
     For this reason, there was both reasonable suspicion for Aksu’s and Katz’s traffic stops and probable cause for their arrests, Breyer said.
     Aksu and Katz argued that their arrests were nonetheless illegal because Tanabe’s role in the dirty DUI scheme negates probable cause, but Breyer said that the argument was unpersuasive.
     But the judge refused to stay a trial on the plaintiffs’ Fourteenth Amendment claims because “no officer who agreed to participate in a scheme to target individuals in dirty DUI stings in exchange for cash, cocaine, and a Glock handgun would reasonably believe that his conduct complied with the law,” and that “any reasonable officer” would understand that Tanabe’s conduct violated their equal-protection rights.
     Andrew Schwartz, who represents Aksu, said his client’s Fourteenth Amendment claims are more significant than the Fourth Amendment ones.
     “This police officer conspired with criminals to violate the constitutional rights of these two plaintiffs,” he said. “From our perspective, the Fourteenth Amendment violation is much more important.”
     The county could not be reached for comment.
     Schwartz is with Casper Meadows in Walnut Creek, Calif.

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