This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Mathew John Ellenson,
Filed May 23, 2006
Reversed and remanded
Polk County District
Attorney General, 1800 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101-2134; and
Greg Widseth, Polk County
Attorney, Scott A.
Buhler, Assistant County Attorney, 223 East Seventh Street, Suite 101,
Crookston, MN 56716 (for appellant)
Nyvold, 332 Minnesota Street, W1610, St. Paul, MN 55101
Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding
Judge, and Collins,
P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
The State of Minnesota challenges the district court’s
grant of a pretrial suppression motion filed by respondent Matthew John
Ellenson, who was arrested following the stop of a vehicle in which he was a
passenger and was thereafter charged with third-degree controlled substance
crime. See Minn. Stat. § 152.023, subds. 2(6), 3(a) (2004) (possession of
methamphetamine within a prohibited zone).
Because reasonable articulable suspicion existed to believe that the
vehicle or its occupants were involved in criminal activity, police had a legitimate
basis for an investigatory stop of the vehicle.
We therefore reverse the district court’s decision to suppress the
evidence obtained as a result of the stop and remand the matter for further
On February 28, 2005, at approximately 8:17 p.m., police
in East Grand Forks stopped a vehicle in which respondent was a passenger, a 1982
gray Chevrolet Camaro with Minnesota license plate number AGA 135. The stop was based solely on information
gathered by Nathan Brouse, a Polk County Sheriff’s office investigator, who had
been examining illegal drug use, namely methamphetamine (meth) activity, in the
At the omnibus hearing, Brouse testified that he had
gathered the following information during his investigation:
January 13, 2005, Bodine
Lecy was arrested in Grand Forks County, North
Dakota, and what appeared to be a portable meth lab
was discovered in his vehicle. Two fire
extinguishers were found that tested positive for anhydrous ammonia, a
precursor material for meth production.
Lecy admitted that he had been manufacturing meth for awhile, that he
had just been at Tommy Sundquist’s residence in Crookston, and that he had just
stolen some anhydrous ammonia from a nurse tank and funneled it into a fire
2. On January
20, Brouse interviewed an individual who claimed that she had purchased meth
from Tommy Sundquist and his father, Gary Sundquist, on a number of occasions
in the past; the individual agreed to the interview as part of her plea
2. On February
7, Brouse conducted a probation search of Gary Sundquist’s
residence in Crookston. Although Gary Sundquist
was not present at the time, other members of his family were, including his
wife, daughter, and son. Four vehicles
were parked outside the residence, and items commonly used in meth
manufacturing were observed inside the vehicles, including glass containers, a
jug of muriatic acid, and meth paraphernalia.
The gray Camaro, however, was not one of the four vehicles.
February 8, Gary
Sundquist was arrested and placed
in custody. Police seized Sundquist’s
cell phone and received a call from a person identifying himself as “Bo.” The
number for the incoming call was listed for Bodine Lecy.
February 15, Lecy was seen driving the gray Camaro. Lecy was observed on a Wal-Mart surveillance
tape purchasing Sudafed on January 26; this purchase corresponded to a Wal-Mart
receipt discovered at Gary Sundquist’s residence on February 7. Brouse, who found it odd that Lecy was
driving the Camaro, checked the status of Tommy Sundquist’s
driver’s license and discovered that it had been revoked.
February 18, Brouse saw the gray Camaro parked outside the residence of Enrique Flores
in Mentor, Minnesota.
Flores was a
known meth manufacturer and was on probation for a drug offense at the
time. Brouse observed a fire
extinguisher box and an aluminum foil box inside the vehicle. Flores
informed Brouse that Tommy
Sundquist and Lecy had parked the
vehicle at his residence for a few days and had borrowed his car.
February 22, Gary Sundquist,
who was still in custody, admitted that he was an addict who traded pills to Tommy Sundquist
and Lecy for meth, and that the two men were manufacturing meth.
February 22, an individual identified as Nathan
claimed that he was at Gary
Sundquist’s garage in January
stated that he overheard Gary Sundquist, Tommy
Sundquist, and Lecy discussing
stealing anhydrous ammonia and storing it in a fire extinguisher. Hendricks further claimed that Lecy had
stated he had used the stored anhydrous ammonia for manufacturing meth.
Based on this information, Brouse testified that he
believed that the Camaro “could possibly have a mobile methamphetamine lab
inside of it.” He contacted police in East Grand Forks and requested that the Camaro be
stopped, regardless of who was driving it.
The Camaro was spotted and stopped approximately one week
later. The three occupants, one of whom
was respondent, showed signs of illegal drug use, and had in their possession
whiskey, drug paraphernalia, and numerous precursor items for meth
production. The three occupants were
arrested and taken to the police station, where a small bag of marijuana and a
small brown vial containing approximately one gram of meth were found hidden in
Respondent was thereafter charged with third-degree
controlled substance crime and moved to suppress the evidence on the following
bases: (1) police lacked reasonable
suspicion to stop the Camaro; (2) the scope and duration of the stop went
beyond the initial reason for the stop; and (3) respondent was arrested without
probable cause to believe that he had committed an offense which justified a
custodial arrest. At the conclusion of
the omnibus hearing, respondent withdrew the latter two challenges. Thus, the sole issue submitted to the
district court was whether suppression was warranted because police lacked
reasonable suspicion to stop the Camaro.
D E C I S I O N
reviewing pretrial orders on motions to suppress evidence, we may independently
review the facts and determine, as a matter of law, whether the district court
erred in suppressing—or not suppressing—the evidence. State
v. Askerooth, 681 N.W.2d 353, 359 (Minn.
2004); State v. Harris,
590 N.W.2d 90, 98 (Minn.
1999). A district court’s determinations
of probable cause and reasonable suspicion are subject to de novo review. State
v. Munson, 594 N.W.2d 128, 135 (Minn.
Both the United States
and Minnesota Constitutions prohibit “unreasonable searches and seizures.” U.S. Const. amend. IV; Minn. Const. art. I, §
10. Generally, a search or seizure
conducted without a warrant is per se unreasonable. State
v. Burbach, 706 N.W.2d 484, 488 (Minn.
2005). This rule, however, is “subject .
. . to a few specifically established and well delineated exceptions.” Id. (quotation
omitted). One of those exceptions
applies when police reasonably believe that a crime has been or is about to be
committed; in that case, police may conduct a limited stop of a person or
vehicle to investigate further. Terry v. Ohio,
392 U.S. 1, 30, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 1884-85 (1968).
conduct a limited stop for investigatory purposes, a so-called Terry stop, the police must have
reasonable articulable suspicion of criminal activity.” Munson,
594 N.W.2d at 136. “To establish
reasonable articulable suspicion, the police need only show that the stop was
not the product of mere whim, caprice, or idle curiosity.” Id. (quotation
omitted). Police assess the need for a stop
“on the basis of all of the circumstances and draw inferences and make
deductions . . . that might well elude an untrained person.” In re
Welfare of G.M., 560 N.W.2d 687, 691 (Minn.
1997) (quotation omitted); see State v.
Gilchrist, 299 N.W.2d 913, 916 (Minn.
1980) (upholding stop to ask questions and receive identification based on
“totality of circumstances,” which included information contained in police
bulletin). The information needed to
support an investigative stop need not be based on the officer’s personal
observations, and police may rely on information provided through police
communications and the collective knowledge of the police force. See State v. Conaway, 319 N.W.2d 35, 40 (Minn. 1982).
information provided by Brouse established several links between the Camaro,
Lecy, and Tommy
Sundquist that provided police
with reasonable suspicion to support an investigatory stop of the vehicle on
February 28. In particular, based on
facts gathered from several different sources and from his own observations,
Brouse believed that Lecy and Tommy Sundquist were manufacturing meth, that
they were using vehicles as mobile meth labs, and that the Camaro was one of those
vehicles. Lecy was seen driving the
Camaro on February 15, and the Camaro was seen parked outside a known meth
manufacturer’s residence on February 18 with items used in the manufacture of
meth seen inside. While Brouse’s information
might not have established probable cause for the warrantless arrest of either
individual or for the warrantless search of the vehicle, we conclude that the
information gathered by Brouse was sufficient to provide police with a basis to
conduct a limited stop of the Camaro to investigate further. Once stopped, police made additional observations
and gathered more information that permitted them to expand the scope of the
stop and led to respondent’s lawful arrest.
We therefore conclude that the district court erred in granting
respondent’s suppression motion.
Reversed and remanded.