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State v. Thompson

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

May 13, 2019

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
Randy Lee Thompson, Appellant.

          Beltrami County District Court File No. 04-CR-17-2384

          Keith Ellison, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and David L. Hanson, Beltrami County Attorney, Bemidji, Minnesota (for respondent)

          Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Kate M. Baxter-Kauf, Special Assistant Public Defender, Lockridge Grindal Nauen, P.L.L.P., Minneapolis, Minnesota (for appellant)

          Considered and decided by Worke, Presiding Judge; Johnson, Judge; and Bjorkman, Judge.


         If a tribal police officer suspects a person who is not an Indian of violating a Minnesota criminal statute on an Indian reservation, and if the victim is not an Indian or there is no victim, the tribal police officer lawfully may detain the person and deliver him or her to state law-enforcement authorities for further investigation and prosecution.


          JOHNSON, JUDGE

         Randy Lee Thompson was convicted of first-degree driving while impaired. He challenges the district court's denial of his motion to suppress the state's evidence. He argues that he was unlawfully arrested by a Red Lake Band police officer before he was arrested by a Beltrami County deputy sheriff. We conclude that the district court did not err by denying Thompson's motion because Indian tribes have inherent authority to expel a non-member who is suspected of criminal activity from the tribe's reservation by detaining and delivering the non-member to a non-Indian law-enforcement agency. Therefore, we affirm.


         The facts relevant to this appeal are contained in two written reports, both of which were introduced into evidence at the hearing on Thompson's motion to suppress. One report was prepared by Officer Bendel, an officer of the Red Lake Police Department; the other report was prepared by Deputy Roberts, a Beltrami County deputy sheriff.

         The report prepared by Officer Bendel states that, on August 16, 2017, Thompson's brother was treated at the Red Lake Indian Health Service Hospital in the city of Red Lake on the Red Lake reservation. The hospital's lead nurse called Thompson by telephone and asked him to come to the hospital to pick up his brother, who was being discharged. While speaking with Thompson, the lead nurse perceived that he was intoxicated. The lead nurse spoke with Officer Bendel by telephone and asked him to remove Thompson's brother from the hospital and also stated that Thompson seemed intoxicated.

         Officer Bendel drove to the hospital, where he saw Thompson's brother sitting in a wheelchair, waiting for a ride. The lead nurse asked Officer Bendel to drive Thompson's brother to his home beyond the boundaries of the reservation or, at the least, to the reservation boundary. Officer Bendel contacted his supervisor, who instructed him not to drive Thompson's brother home. Officer Bendel then saw Thompson arrive at the hospital, driving his brother's green pick-up truck. As Thompson exited the truck and approached his brother, Officer Bendel observed that Thompson's eyes were "watery and bloodshot," that he was "slurring his words," and that he smelled of an alcoholic beverage. Officer Bendel administered a preliminary breath test, which indicated that Thompson had an alcohol concentration of 0.121. Officer Bendel administered several field sobriety tests, which further indicated that Thompson was intoxicated.

         Officer Bendel informed Thompson that he was being detained on suspicion of driving while impaired. Officer Bendel placed handcuffs on Thompson's wrists, read him the Miranda warning, and placed him in the back seat of his patrol car. Officer Bendel asked the Red Lake dispatcher to contact the Beltrami County Sheriff's office to request that a deputy sheriff meet Officer Bendel at the reservation boundary and take custody of Thompson, who Officer Bendel apparently knew was not a member of the Red Lake Band. Before transporting Thompson, Officer Bendel administered a second preliminary breath test, which indicated an alcohol concentration of 0.136.

         As Officer Bendel drove south on State Highway 89, he spoke with Deputy Roberts, who agreed to meet him at the reservation boundary. During that conversation, Officer Bendel briefed Deputy Roberts on the situation. Officer Bendel waited at the boundary until Deputy Roberts arrived, at which time Officer Bendel transferred custody of Thompson to Deputy Roberts.

         The report prepared by Deputy Roberts states that, upon meeting Officer Bendel at the reservation boundary, Officer Bendel told him that Thompson had failed field sobriety tests and two preliminary breath tests. Deputy Roberts handcuffed Thompson and placed him in the back seat of his squad car. As Deputy Roberts did so, he observed that Thompson had bloodshot and watery eyes. Deputy Roberts drove Thompson to the Beltrami County jail, where he read Thompson the implied-consent advisory. Thompson agreed to submit to a breath test, which revealed an alcohol concentration of 0.11.

         The state charged Thompson with first-degree driving while impaired (DWI), in violation of Minn. Stat. § 169A.24, subd. 1(2) (2016). Thompson moved to suppress all of the state's evidence on the ground that he was unlawfully arrested by Officer Bendel because, he asserted, Officer Bendel is not a "peace officer," as that term is defined in the relevant Minnesota statute. See Minn. Stat. § 169A.03, subd. 18 (2016). A brief omnibus hearing was held in early September 2017. The district court identified the sole issue as "whether the Red Lake officer is an officer per the statute." The prosecutor and Thompson's attorney agreed with the district court's statement of the issue and agreed to submit memoranda of law.

         In Thompson's memorandum, he argued that Officer Bendel is not a peace officer for purposes of the Minnesota DWI statute, that Officer Bendel unlawfully arrested Thompson, and that the unlawful arrest required the suppression of all evidence arising from the arrest. In response, the state argued that Minnesota law cannot authorize Red Lake tribal police officers to act as peace officers for purposes of the Minnesota DWI statute; that Thompson was "subject to the Red Lake Officer, as that is who enforces the law on the Red Lake Indian Reservation"; and that Thompson's argument, if adopted, would imply that no one may enforce DWI laws on the Red Lake reservation.

         In early November 2017, the district court filed a two-page order and memorandum in which it denied Thompson's motion. The memorandum states, in full, as follows:

Public Law 83-280 (codified as 18 U.S.C. § 1162, 28 U.S.C. § 1360, 25 U.S.C. §§ 1321-1326) granted jurisdiction of Indian Reservations to the States; in Minnesota this included all Indian Reservations except the Red Lake Indian Reservation. Minnesota law does not govern on the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indian Reservation; the Red Lake Nation governs and polices itself. Because Red Lake is a sovereign nation, the state of Minnesota can neither grant nor deny authority over how the Red Lake Nation makes or enforces laws, including laws granting law enforcement authority. No Minnesota statute specifically authorizes Red Lake Police officers to act as peace officers and perform sobriety tests and arrests because Minnesota does not have the authority to do so.
Furthermore, neither the Minnesota State Patrol nor the Beltrami County Sheriff's department has jurisdiction on the Red Lake Indian Reservation; to hold that the Red Lake Police Department also cannot enforce the DWI laws against non-band members on the Red Lake Indian Reservation would create an absurd result.
Defendant's motion to suppress and dismiss is denied.

         At trial in early December 2017, Thompson waived his right to a jury trial, stipulated to the prosecution's evidence, and agreed that his right to appeal would be limited to the district court's ruling on the pre-trial suppression motion. In addition, both parties agreed that the pre-trial ruling would be dispositive of the case. See Minn. R. Crim. P. 26.01, subd. 4. ...

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