A lawsuit against the city of Medford filed by a retired city attorney claiming unlawful arrest during a traffic stop has been dismissed after a federal judge ruled that the two police officers involved had reason to continue their impaired driving investigation even after observing a blood-alcohol reading far below the legal limit.
A federal judge ruled in favor of the city and dismissed Ronald Lee Doyle's case late last month in U.S. District Court in Medford, which argued that Medford police continued to hold Doyle handcuffed at a detox facility after Doyle's breathalyzer reading showed a reading of .017 — well below the legal limit of .08 — and sought a warrant for a urine sample under false pretenses during a 2014 traffic stop, according to documents filed in the case Aug. 31.
Doyle worked for the city of Medford for more than two decades before retiring as city attorney in 2005.
U.S. District Judge Michael McShane ruled that Medford officer Paul Mellgren, who pulled Doyle over the night of Dec. 4, 2014, and officer Patrick Dennis, a trained drug recognition evaluator, had enough probable cause to arrest Doyle and transport him to detox.
"Even if Mellgren's belief that probable cause existed was in error, that belief was reasonable under the circumstances," McShane said in his ruling.
The Jackson County District Attorney's Office never prosecuted Doyle on a Medford police arrest charging him with driving under the influence of intoxicants. In 2014, an administrative law judge reversed Doyle's license suspension at a DMV hearing on grounds that Mellgren "lacked probable cause to arrest Doyle," according to the ruling. McShane said that the federal court "carefully studied" the DMV proceeding but reached "its own conclusions."
McShane's ruling determined that "a strong odor of alcohol coming from Doyle, as well as Doyle's bloodshot and watery eyes, slow movements and what Mellgren believed at the time to be slurred speech" met the "relatively low" threshold for probable cause in Oregon cases of driving under the influence of intoxicants.
The ruling also determined that Mellgren and Dennis were within their rights to keep Doyle detained for a drug evaluation after Doyle's low breathalyzer reading.
"Contrary to Doyle's assertion, dissipation of symptoms is not the same as dissipation of probable cause, nor does a low BAC end a DUII investigation," McShane's ruling states, noting that an individual could be "impaired by something other than alcohol."
Doyle had also claimed the officers made a false statement to a judicial officer in getting a search warrant for his urine sample. Mellgren told a judge he believed Doyle to be under the influence of fast-acting drugs or inhalants, but only marijuana metabolites were found in Doyle's system.
McShane ruled that "the fact that no such evidence was ultimately found cannot sustain a claim for judicial deception."
"At most, it could be said that Mellgren omitted the fact that Dennis was the source of his information about fast-dissipating substances, but the court cannot conclude that such an omission was material," the ruling says.
McShane drew from dashcam video in the ruling, which notes that Mellgren "articulates some of his observations supporting probable cause to Doyle," and also showed Doyle's refusal to comply with Mellgren's directions to step out of the vehicle and Doyle's "odd speech patterns," what Mellgren believed to be slurred speech, and a repeated statement that he is the former Medford city attorney and recording Doyle making an "improper request."
Doyle was recorded saying to Mellgren, "Tell me what I can do to make this right with you."
— Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.