A St. Paul attorney remains under police investigation nearly a year after prosecutors declined to charge him in a traffic crash that killed a man out for a walk on a late winter afternoon, authorities said.
The disclosure came late last week after police rejected a Star Tribune request for body camera footage from the scene in the aftermath of the February 2017 crash. Witnesses saw Peter Berge, 62, distracted by his cellphone and drifting between lanes shortly before he fatally struck Scott Spoo, 35, in a Mississippi River Boulevard crosswalk.
Police spokesman Sgt. Mike Ernster said his department is keeping the video under wraps for now because "the investigator is still trying to access certain electronic evidence" from Berge's cellphone while the case remains open and active.
An attorney representing the Spoo family in a wrongful-death suit against Berge said Monday that police told him their investigators are waiting for court approval to do a forensic examination of the cellphone, which is in possession of police. But Berge's attorney, Steve Sitek, said police have always had approval to examine the phone but have yet to do so "for some unexplained reason."
Prosecutors in Hennepin County, who handled the felony-level case because Berge has been a supporter and contributor to Ramsey County Attorney John Choi's campaign committee, said Berge had no drugs or alcohol in his system when he hit Spoo at 4:39 p.m. and had not been on his phone since 4:26 p.m.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said at the time of the decision that "had Mr. Berge been drinking or if he had fled the scene, we could have charged him with criminal vehicular homicide. That was not the case. There was no evidence of gross negligence, either."
Soon after the collision, Berge, 62, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer and five tumors, which factored into the Hennepin County attorney's decision not to file charges.
A couple of months later, St. Paul City Attorney Lyndsey Olson also declined to pursue gross misdemeanor or misdemeanor charges after her office made a "careful review of all the evidence and each of the witness statements."
Berge wants phone back
Ernster pointed out Friday that the prosecutors in both offices "did not charge based on evidence when the case was presented. [Let's] see what happens" going forward.
In the meantime, Berge is taking the city to court, seeking the return of his phone, 2013 BMW, keys, passport, wallet and "other miscellaneous items" seized by police when he was arrested the day Spoo was hit.
Sitek said there are "potentially critical pieces of evidence" among the items that Berge needs to investigate to defend himself against a wrongful-death suit filed by Spoo's family in October.
The Spoo family's attorney, Jay Urban, has said that he has viewed the responding officers' body camera video footage and it shows Berge "fully capable and competent. … He wasn't falling down. He wasn't having seizures, none of that."
A doctor determined that Berge's medical condition caused him to experience stroke-like symptoms and significant vision problems at the time of the collision, Sitek wrote in a court filing, adding that evidence showed Berge was not on his phone and was not impaired by alcohol or drugs.
At the time of the crash, Berge was the ethics chairman for the Hennepin County Bar Association. He also was web director for Minnesota Continuing Legal Education, a nonprofit established by the Minnesota State Bar Association that develops various educational services for lawyers. He left that job weeks before the crash.
Spoo, of Woodbury, was valedictorian for New Richmond (Wis.) High School's Class of 2000. He attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point before transferring to and graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. He received his master's from the University of Minnesota and worked for 3M in the Twin Cities for 11 years and as an engineer.
He also was an avid runner and bicyclist who "worked to bring more awareness to bicycle safety for both bicyclists and motorists," his online obituary read.