The Illegal Traffic Stop
In November 2018 a client of our office was driving through Syracuse, Nebraska on Highway 2 with two friends in a large motor home with California plates. A Nebraska State Trooper took an interest in the vehicle as it drove toward the Iowa border, called ahead to Fremont County Iowa Deputy Zach Buttercase, who has a drug detection dog, to see if he could stop the RV and deploy his dog. Deputy Buttercase then called fellow Deputy Austin Richardson to join the pursuit.
After the RV turned south onto I29 and drove for about 6 miles, Deputy Richardson pulled the RV over, claiming he had witnessed it touch or cross the shoulder line and the lane divider. The conditions were windy and slick, and several vehicles had been towed from ditches that night due to winter storm conditions. After stopping the RV, Deputy Buttercase was on scene to deploy his dog and it allegedly alerted to a narcotics odor by sitting. A search uncovered a large quantity of marijuana and prosecution for a federal drug case followed.
The client reported that he had not touched or crossed the lines as claimed, was unaware of any officer following him for miles prior to the stop, and the others with him asserted the drug dog never sat as was claimed by Deputy Buttercase. The client even testified that he overheard Deputy Buttercase later joking that his dog never sat.
The Motion to Suppress
Dean Stowers moved to suppress the evidence obtained as a result of the stop and alleged dog alert contending that the stop was baseless and that the alert never happened. The government claimed in its resistance that Deputy Richardson was following the RV on Highway 2 and continued to follow it on I29 south whereupon he observed the alleged violations.
Dean pursued discovery and the government prosecutor and Fremont County Sheriff’s Office aggressively resisted. Specifically, Dean sought the GPS location data for the two sheriff vehicles. The Sheriff’s Office and US Attorney claimed no such GPS data existed, but they did produce some limited information concerning speed and odometer readings from their vehicle from a software called Networkfleet. That data showed that Deputy Richardson had been behind Deputy Buttercase when the RV turned south from Highway 2 onto Highway 29 and had accelerated up to 112 mph to catch up to and pass Deputy Buttercase and follow the RV a short distance before stopping it.
At the initial suppression hearing, the government claimed the odometer and speed data was unreliable and should be discounted in favor of the testimony of the deputies who claimed Richardson had followed the RV for several miles before pulling it over and before his video camera began recording the RV driving well withing the lane lines. The court accepted the government’s argument and discounted the odometer and speed data in favor of the testimony of the officers. The motion to suppress was denied.
Illegally Withheld Evidence
After the hearing was concluded, Dean did not quit investigating because he was convinced the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office had not been telling the truth about the existence of the GPS location data. Subpoenas for the data from Networkfleet were issued and the data was eventually produced after the government continued to try to quash the GPS data they had been ordered to produce. Dean then hired a civil engineer to reconstruct the locations of the two deputies and their speeds and plot where they and the RV would have been at the key roadway segments. That report was then used to reopen the hearing.
A Complete Victory
At the reopened hearing the court heard the evidence and agreed with the defense expert that the testimony of the two deputies concerning where they were was untrue and that Deputy Richardson could not have observed the alleged driving of the RV where he claimed to have observed violations. The court granted the motion to suppress and the government voluntarily dismissed the case in June 2020.
This case is a good example of the never stop, never give up, attitude we at Stowers and Sarcone have on cases. Even when all seemed lost, the fight continued to a complete victory that was so overwhelming that the US attorney’s office could not even pursue an appeal.
If you or a family member or friend believe you have been subjected to an illegal search and seizure by the police or are charged with a federal drug crime, please call the offices of Stowers and Sarcone and we can handle the matter successfully.