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Published March 08 2012

Man sues Fargo officers for arrest

FARGO – A West Fargo man claims two Fargo police officers violated his constitutional rights when he says they wrongfully arrested him for driving under the influence after he rear-ended a parked police cruiser during a whiteout blizzard two years ago.

Jacob Daniel Rheault, now 28, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court this week against the Fargo Police Department and, specifically, officers Sara Cruze and Chris Helmick.

Rheault accuses the officers of “malicious arrest,” “deprivation of rights,” negligence and violating the Fourth Amendment that protects individuals against illegal search and seizure.

In the early afternoon of Jan. 25, 2010, Rheault was driving home from a friend’s house where he’d spent the night after admittedly drinking until about 2:30 in the morning.

Rheault said he was traveling about 25 mph in hazardous blizzard conditions when he crashed into a stopped police cruiser on the 5100 block of 40th Avenue South.

Fargo Officer Grant Benjamin had parked his vehicle in the middle of the road in order to protect some people who were trying to get their stranded vehicle unstuck from drifting snow.

Rheault claimed he didn’t see the cruiser until it was too late.

Officers told The Forum after the crash that Benjamin sustained a bump on his head and soreness but no serious injuries. He was taken by ambulance to Sanford Medical Center and held overnight for observation.

In filing the federal lawsuit this month, Rheault said he was “severely injured” on his neck, back and head after the crash, but was denied immediate medical attention on multiple occasions.

According to Rheault’s complaint:

Rheault said Cruze instead took him to her police vehicle, made him sit in the confined back seat and questioned him about the accident.

After smelling alcohol on him, Cruze tried to give Rheault two Breathalyzer tests, but the equipment failed.

Cruze then took Rheault to a nearby grocery store parking lot and administered a field sobriety test, which Rheault said Cruze knew he would fail because of his head injury.

Cruze “falsely charged” Rheault with a DUI even though he “was not drunk on the day of the accident,” Rheault claims.

A third breath test – administered a short while later at the Cass County Jail – showed Rheault had a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.02 percent, The Forum reported.

Rheault said Cruze and Helmick, the supervisor on duty, “showed no sympathy or concern” for his health because they neglected to ask him about his injuries and did not tell medical personnel at Innovis Hospital that he’d been in an accident when they took him there for a blood-alcohol test.

A few weeks after the accident, city prosecutors dropped the DUI charge and instead sought a conviction for reckless driving.

In September 2010, a Cass County jury found him not guilty of reckless driving charge.

Rheault alleges that the officers on scene cared more about responding to Benjamin’s injuries and covering up the “dangerous driving situation” Benjamin created, rather than providing medical attention to Rheault.

Rheault said the Fargo Police Department is liable and negligent for failing to properly train Cruze and Helmick “on the policies of providing medical treatment to an injured person.”

In his nine-count complaint, Rheault seeks an unspecified amount of compensatory and punitive damages against the Fargo Police Department and its two officers.

As of Thursday, Fargo officials had not yet been served with a summons for the lawsuit, city attorney Erik Johnson said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541


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