- Young Kwak
For students, plagiarism means you get an F. For cops, it could mean the man you believe is drunk and driving over 100 mph might face no consequences.
In June, Spokane County District Court Judge Aimee Maurer threw out blood-draw evidence gained with a search warrant because Spokane County Sheriff's Deputy Skye Ortiz copy and pasted another deputy's words into the warrant application without attribution. In doing so, Ortiz falsely stated that he observed things that he did not see, Maurer ruled.
"We're not happy with the decision, and we know the deputy made a mistake," says Sheriff's Office spokesman Deputy Mark Gregory. "But we still respect the system and the judge's ruling."
Gregory adds that Oritz's omission wasn't malicious or intentional and that the situation highlights the importance of attention to detail in police work.
In the warrant application filed at 2:25 am on March 22, Ortiz writes that he observed a truck driving over the 35-mph speed limit near Pines Road and Eighth Avenue in Spokane Valley.
Ortiz writes that when he finally caught up with the truck, he clocked it driving approximately 103 mph and pulled the driver over. The man began "digging around on the floorboard," and told the deputy to "f—k off," adding "I am a constitutionalist, and I don't have to identify myself," Ortiz writes in an application for a warrant to draw the man's blood.
The problem is, that description came from Deputy Tyler Kullman's police report. Ortiz didn't arrive on scene until after Kullman had already stopped the driver, David Allen Davis.
Davis was also apparently driving on a suspended license and without an ignition interlock device, meaning he's likely been caught driving drunk before, according to police reports.
When Ortiz did arrive, though, Davis was calling other deputies "motherf—kers," and "assholes," according to Ortiz's police report. Davis, 53, was also slurring his words, staggering side to side and had watery, bloodshot eyes, Ortiz writes of his own observations.
Before securing the warrant to draw Davis' blood, Ortiz writes that Davis "continued to make racial slurs and use profanity at me."
Judge Maurer and Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell both declined to comment on the case because Davis is still facing charges.
In court, prosecutors argued that Ortiz's copy-and-paste shortcut is allowed under the so-called "fellow officer rule," which allows one cop to use another cop's observations to establish probable cause to make an arrest.
In her ruling, Maurer says that is a faulty application of the rule, especially in this case where Ortiz did not attribute his fellow deputy's observations.
Maurer's decision to throw out the blood evidence delivers a blow to the case against Davis, though prosecutors can still use the deputies' observations (slurred words, staggering, bloodshot eyes). Not to mention the fact that Davis was driving over 100 mph in a 35-mph zone without a court-ordered ignition interlock device — that evidence is still on the table.
Haskell says the case could go to trial. Yet, Deputy Prosecutor Isaac Wells asked the judge to dismiss the case, arguing in court that "the practical effect of the court's order, by suppressing the blood test, actually results in a termination of our case."
Public Defender Todd Dixon fires back that "if the state doesn't have a case ... they should dismiss" the charges. "If this suddenly terminated their case, they never had a case to begin with."
Maurer declined to dismiss the case and in doing so reads the prosecutor's written motion from the bench, which contained inaccurate dates and descriptions of her original ruling.
"It would appear that in the state's motion to suppress, there was cutting and pasting, which continues to be the issue at question," Maurer says in court.