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State v. Bellcourt

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

December 16, 2019

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
v.
Raymond Joseph Bellcourt, Appellant.

          Becker County District Court File No. 03-CR-18-265

          Keith Ellison, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Brian W. McDonald, Becker County Attorney, Kristal E. Kadrie, Assistant County Attorney, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota (for respondent)

          Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Jennifer Workman Jesness, Assistant Public Defender, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant)

          Considered and decided by Cochran, Presiding Judge; Johnson, Judge; and John Smith, Judge.

         SYLLABUS

         A state-licensed peace officer employed by a federally recognized Indian tribe is authorized to seize and arrest a person outside the boundaries of the tribe's reservation for an offense that occurred outside the boundaries of the reservation if the officer is within the course and scope of employment, as provided by section 629.40, subdivision 3, of the Minnesota Statutes.

          OPINION

          JOHNSON, JUDGE

         While driving on a county highway in rural Becker County, Raymond Joseph Bellcourt failed to stop for a school bus with an extended stop-signal arm and flashing lights while the bus driver was dropping off schoolchildren. Minutes later, Bellcourt was seized in Becker County by a police officer employed by the White Earth Band of Ojibwe. The tribal police officer cited Bellcourt for the offense of failure to stop for a school bus with an extended stop-signal arm and flashing lights. Bellcourt later moved to suppress an admission he made during the seizure on the ground that the tribal police officer did not have authority to seize him outside the boundaries of the White Earth reservation for an offense that occurred outside the reservation. The district court denied the motion. We conclude that the tribal police officer's seizure of Bellcourt is valid because the tribal police officer is a state-licensed peace officer and was acting in the course and scope of his employment. Therefore, we affirm.

         FACTS

         In the late afternoon of January 19, 2018, two school buses were northbound on county highway 21 in rural Becker County, dropping off schoolchildren near their homes. The first school bus stopped on the highway to allow four schoolchildren to disembark. The second school bus stopped behind the first. The driver of the first school bus extended the stop-signal arm on the left side of the bus and activated the bus's flashing lights. As two children were in front of the first school bus and two other children were stepping off, a pickup truck with an attached snowplow passed on the right shoulder at a high rate of speed and knocked over a mailbox. The driver of the pickup stopped briefly and spoke with the driver of the first school bus before leaving the scene and continuing to drive northward.

         The Becker County sheriff's department received a call about the incident with a description of the pickup and its license-plate number. The caller reported that the pickup was heading north on county highway 21 toward the White Earth reservation. The Becker County dispatcher relayed the report to a sheriff's deputy, who went to the location of the incident. The Becker County dispatcher also contacted the dispatcher of the White Earth police department to request assistance in searching for the pickup and its driver. The White Earth dispatcher communicated the request to White Earth tribal police officers.

         At that time, Officer Bryan Byrne of the White Earth police department was on duty and on patrol on the White Earth reservation, driving south on highway 21. He later testified that, when he heard the dispatcher's report, he was approximately three to four miles from the location of the incident. He decided to take the call and to "keep [his] eyes open" for the pickup. He continued driving south on highway 21 until he reached the small community of Richwood, which he described as being "right at the south line of the reservation" and "actually right on the line," although he also testified that county highway 21 "dips down and . . . catches [county highway] 34 right by the store and then it comes back up onto the reservation." Officer Byrne further testified that he "was going to circle around [county highway] 34 after I checked the store." The parties agree that Richwood and the intersection of county highway 21 and county highway 34 are not on the White Earth reservation.[1]

         Officer Byrne drove through the parking lot of the Richwood Store and saw a pickup truck with an attached snowplow. He parked his squad car next to the pickup. He talked to the driver of the pickup and asked about the reported incident concerning the school bus. The driver, Bellcourt, showed Officer Byrne his driver's license, admitted that he had not stopped for the school bus's stop-signal arm and flashing lights, and explained that his brakes had failed. Officer Byrne issued Bellcourt a citation for three misdemeanor offenses, including failure to stop for a school bus with an extended stop-signal arm and flashing lights, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 169.444, subd. 1 (2016).

         A Becker County sheriff's deputy later interviewed the two school bus drivers. The driver of the first school bus stated that, when Bellcourt passed on the right shoulder, two children had stepped off the first school bus and were standing in front of it, and one child was standing on the ground next to the open door. The driver of the second school bus stated that he was stopped approximately 250 feet behind the first school bus, with his four-way lights activated, when he saw the pickup approaching in his rear-view mirror. He stated that the pickup passed the second school bus on the left side before swerving to the right and passing the first school bus along the right shoulder.

         The following month, the state filed a complaint in which it charged Bellcourt with the gross-misdemeanor offense of failure to stop for a school bus with an extended stop-signal arm and flashing lights by passing on the right-hand side, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 169.444, subd. 2(b)(1), and the gross-misdemeanor offense of failure to stop for a school bus with an extended stop-signal arm and flashing lights by passing while a child is outside the bus, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 169.444, subd. 2(b)(2).

         In April 2018, Bellcourt moved to suppress the statements he made to Officer Byrne in the parking lot of the Richwood Store, including his admission that he did not stop, and to dismiss the complaint. The district court conducted an omnibus hearing in May 2018. The state presented the testimony of Officer Byrne. He testified that he is licensed by the State of Minnesota as a peace officer, that he has been employed by the White Earth police department for approximately one and one-half years, and that he has 17 years of prior law-enforcement experience. When asked whether there are "circumstances where you go off the reservation to assist other officers," he answered in the affirmative and provided an example of a recent incident in which he provided assistance directing traffic in Becker County during a response to a shooting. Officer Byrne also testified about his response to the report concerning Bellcourt, as described above.

         The state also introduced five exhibits without objection: two surveillance video-recordings created by cameras inside the school bus; audio-recorded statements of the two school bus drivers; a video-recording of Officer Byrne's interactions with Bellcourt in Richwood that was created by Officer Byrne's body-worn camera; police reports; and an eight-page agreement between Becker County and the White Earth Reservation, entitled "Cooperative Law Enforcement Agreement" and dated October 29, 2004.

         The cooperative agreement states in its preamble that it is entered into "pursuant to the provisions of Minnesota Statute Sections 626.93, Subd. 4 and 471.59." The first section of the agreement states that its purpose is to:

a. Coordinate, define, and regulate the provision of law enforcement services and to provide for mutual aid and cooperation between the Reservation and the County relating to enforcement of the laws of the State of Minnesota, and laws of the White Earth Reservation, on that portion of the White Earth Reservation that lies within Becker County.
b. Establish a process by which the Reservation and the County will work together cooperatively to enhance public safety efforts on the White Earth Reservation.
c. Preserve the parties' respective jurisdictions on the White Earth Reservation so that neither the Reservation nor the County is conceding any claim to jurisdiction by entering into this cooperative agreement.

         The second section of the agreement provides, "The White Earth Reservation is authorized, pursuant and subject to Minnesota Statute Section 626.93, to enforce the criminal laws of the State of Minnesota within that portion of the White Earth Reservation that lies ...


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