Appeals court tackles BRPD DWI checkpoint case

Checkpoint rules followed during traffic stop

About a year after City Court Judge Yvette Alexander ruled that the Baton Rouge Police Department conducted an unconstitutional DWI checkpoint, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal overturned her decision.

The main issue is whether Lt. Cory Reech, BRPD’s DWI Task Force commander, violated guidelines set by the Louisiana Supreme Court by both deciding how the checkpoint would be run and working as a field officer at the checkpoint — two duties the high court ruled in 2000 should fall to separate people.

Alexander ruled last May that evidence gathered from the 2010 checkpoint should be suppressed because “rules and regulations set for that checkpoint are to be done by ‘people who are supervisory,’ ” not by people who, like Reech, work to enforce traffic laws on a day-to-day basis, according to court hearing minutes.

One of the four guidelines, established in State vs. Jackson, mandates that “supervisory or other administrative personnel rather than the field officers implementing the checkpoint” must establish the location, time, duration and other regulations for operations of the checkpoint.

Cliff Ivey, a former city police officer who had challenged the checkpoint, argued that Reech did not fit the qualifications of “supervisory” set forth by the high court’s ruling because his regular duties include writing tickets and patrolling the city to enforce traffic laws.

“He, in fact, is the officer in the field whose discretion that decision was trying to limit,” Ivey said Friday in an interview.

In the appellate court ruling by judges John T. Pettigrew, J. Michael McDonald and Page McClendon, the judges said that even if one of the four guidelines is not followed, that would not be enough to deem the checkpoint unconstitutional.

Their ruling also states that Police Department documents indicate Reech was not a “checkpoint officer” at the 2010 checkpoint. The documents, in fact, list Reech as a “logistics officer.”

Reech testified in City Court that as a “logistics officer” at the checkpoint, he helped set up cones and a road sign clearly identifying the checkpoint but that any discretionary decisions were left to the “checkpoint supervisor,” Cpl. Mickey Duncan.

Both officers are part of a four-member DWI task force headed by Reech.

A Police Department spokesman on Thursday declined to comment on the constitutionality issue.

“We’re going to let the courts decide,” said the spokesman, Cpl. L’Jean McKneely. “We’ll be sure to get in line with whatever decision is made.”

Ivey’s client, Brian Parks, 35, was issued a misdemeanor summons for operating a vehicle while intoxicated after being stopped at the checkpoint on Dec. 17, 2010. At some point, police recorded Parks’ blood-alcohol content at 0.231, nearly three times the legal limit for adults while driving.

Ivey said he plans to either ask the court of appeal for a rehearing or to ask the state Supreme Court to review the lower court’s decision.

Thursday’s ruling served as a win for the City Prosecutor’s Office, which previously had been denied a review of Alexander’s decision by a state District Court judge in Baton Rouge — a move that forced prosecutors to ask for a review from the court of appeal several months ago.

“We were always confident that we would prevail,” said City Prosecutor Lisa Freeman. “We had a position of merit, and the 1st Circuit agreed.”

Follow Ben Wallace on Twitter @_BenWallace.