A federal judge ruled Thursday that a Colorado sheriff’s deputy acted appropriately during a traffic stop that resulted in the arrest of Seth Jeffs, brother of fugitive polygamous leader Warren Jeffs.
U.S. District Judge Robert E. Blackburn denied defense attorneys’ requests to block prosecutors from using statements and evidence seized during the Oct. 28 stop, saying the “totality of circumstances” warranted Pueblo County sheriff’s Deputy Eric Medina’s suspicions that something was amiss.
Seth Jeffs was charged after the stop with harboring a fugitive, his brother.
In other rulings, the judge:
Rejected Jeffs’ request to unseal documents and testimony used to request a warrant to search his vehicle.
Refused to return items seized from Jeffs’ 2005 Ford Excursion, including a laptop computer, a black leather bag, a Palm Pilot, calling cards, cell phones and a GPS unit.
Granted Jeffs’ motion to suppress the use of information from the GPS device, noting prosecutors have said they don’t plan to use the unit as evidence.
Medina pulled Jeffs and driver Nathaniel Allred over after Pueblo County dispatchers received a report of a possible drunken driver, a stop that resulted in the best break yet for authorities trying to track down Warren Jeffs.
Warren Jeffs is prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a polygamous sect with communities in Hildale, Utah; Colorado City, Ariz.; Eldorado, Texas; Mancos, Colo., Pringle, S.D.; southeastern Nevada; and British Columbia. Jeffs is wanted on a federal charge of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution on an Arizona charge related to his role in facilitating the sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl by a 28-year-old man.
The men gave “evasive and conflicting” statements about who owned the vehicle, their destination and their relationship, the judge noted. The deputy also observed Allred was sweating and shaking, which he saw as signs of possible drug use or nervousness.
Together, “these facts and circumstances, when considered as part of the totality of circumstances calculus, reasonably justified suspicion that criminal activity was afoot,” the judge said.
Medina surmised they were involved in drug activity or smuggling stolen goods and asked for another officer to bring a search dog. But dispatchers had trouble reaching the officer because his wife had turned off the telephone in their bedroom.
The evidence should not be suppressed “due to delay caused innocently by the spouse of a police officer trying solicitously to protect his sleep,” the judge said.
The search dog subsequently gave a positive alert for drugs, prompting Medina to request a warrant to search the vehicle.
Deputies found more than $142,000, along with the various electronic items.