A rookie cop in Lino Lakes unlawfully entered a driveway and arrested an intoxicated man whose driver’s license was later revoked, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Monday, leading the court to reverse the revocation.
The court said the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated when the officer entered the driveway, a constitutionally protected area, without a warrant for a nonemergency at 1 a.m. Though a driveway is a place where visitors might typically go, that’s not the case in the middle of the night, the court said.
Officer Jacob Cree was on patrol Aug. 31, 2019, just days after he was sworn in as an officer, when he arrested 50-year-old Scott Thomas LaClair.
Around midnight, Cree noticed a vehicle parked in a residential driveway with its headlights on, according to court documents. An hour later he saw that the headlights were still on.
Cree parked in the driveway, activated his squad lights and approached the vehicle, where LaClair was slumped over the console. Cree called dispatch and opened the driver’s side door, startling LaClair, who admitted he had “too much to drink,” according to documents.
Cree conducted a field sobriety test and arrested LaClair on suspicion of driving while impaired. LaClair was charged with drunken driving and his driver’s license was revoked, which he contested.
Anoka County District Judge Melissa Saterbak sustained the license revocation in January. But LaClair’s attorney, Adam Kujawa, appealed, arguing that Cree didn’t have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to enter LaClair’s property.
The appellate court ruled Monday for LaClair.
“I talked with Scott this morning to make him aware of the decision,” Kujawa said Monday. “He’s in high spirits.”
Kujawa said LaClair’s driver’s license will be reinstated and that he expects the drunken driving charge to be dismissed. Lino Lakes police officials did not return calls for comment.
In her opinion, Presiding Judge Jennifer Frisch noted there was no sign of emergency when Cree entered the driveway or approached the home. Nor was LaClair visible in the vehicle.
Cree “did not observe any indication of imminent danger to anyone. … And the circumstances observed by Officer Cree before his entry onto the property did not give rise to any reasonable suspicion or criminal activity. Instead, Officer Cree testified that he entered the property only to alert the homeowner of the potential for a dead car battery,” Frisch wrote.
The judge also questioned Cree for opening LaClair’s car door without first knocking or announcing his presence. Ultimately, she wrote, Cree’s actions “were not consistent with ‘best practices.’ ”
Erik Misselt, interim executive director of the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board, said Cree’s license was still active and there was no final discipline in his file. Any remedial training, Misselt said, would be internal.