Court: Police erred in arresting drunk Fontana man after crash

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Kevin Murphy
Thursday, September 15, 2011
— Although a Fontana man questioned in his home about a car crash appeared “heavily intoxicated” and nearly fell over while talking to police, there wasn’t justification to take him into custody, a state appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The District 2 Court of Appeals upheld Walworth County Judge Robert Kennedy’s decision to throw out evidence that lead to Ricky Halverson’s arrest on a charge of second-offense drunken driving. The court concluded that Fontana police officer Jeff Cates didn’t have sufficient evidence that Halverson needed to be removed from his house under the “community caretaker” function.

A video shows Halverson’s speech was slurred and his eyes glassy while talking to Cates, who contacted Halverson after remembering previously seeing the crashed car at Halverson’s residence. While the “community caretaker” function allows police to take into custody individuals deemed in need of protection, Halverson answered Cates questions coherently, and Cates didn’t request medical attention for him, the appeals court ruled.

“We agree with the circuit court that these facts do not support a determination that Halverson was so intoxicated as to be unable to care for himself in his own home,” Judge Lisa Neubauer wrote in the 13-page opinion.

According to the opinion:

Halverson, 53, was arrested after a Jan. 26, 2010, accident. Cates found a car with pine branches in the grille after it had skidded off Sterns Road. No one was present, but Cates saw two opened containers of alcohol in the car.

The car was licensed to a Kelly Halverson of Ixonia, but Cates remembered seeing a similar vehicle parked at a North Shore Drive residence. He went there and talked to Ricky Halverson, who first said he was home all day and later said, “What’s the big deal? I’m home now.”

Cates subsequently set one foot inside Halverson’s house, handcuffed him and put him into a squad car. While waiting for backup, a tow truck driver and two friends arrived. Cates told the friends that Halverson was in protective custody, and they declined Cates’ request that they take responsibility for him.

Within an hour, Halverson was taken to the police station where he tested with a blood-alcohol concentration above the legal limit.

Halverson’s attorney, Andrew Walter, said the appeals decision was a “victory for the sanctity of the home.”

“There’s a difference (in police authority) when someone’s in a public place or at their home, and in this instance there was no reason to believe that (Halverson) couldn’t take care of himself and needed to be in protective custody,” Walter said.

The community caretaker function involves “a confusing area” of the law, Walter said, and he believes that despite not promptly seeking medical attention for Halverson, Cates did act in good faith in placing Halverson into protection custody.

A call to Assistant District Attorney Zeke Wiedenfeld for comment on the decision wasn’t returned before deadline.

Last updated: 6:20 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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