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Published April 12 2012

2 officers deny West Fargo man’s rights violations claims

FARGO – An attorney for the city and two police officers here deny allegations by a West Fargo man who alleged the officers violated his constitutional rights during a traffic accident in a whiteout blizzard two years ago.

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

Rheault claimed he was wrongfully arrested for driving under the influence after he rear-ended a parked police cruiser during the storm.

Rheault accused the officers of “malicious arrest,” “deprivation of rights,” negligence and of violating his Fourth Amendment rights against illegal search and seizure.

But in a response filed Wednesday in federal court, the city’s attorney, Joseph Wetch Jr., denies Rheault’s claims.

Wetch asks for the complaint to be dismissed with prejudice, a request that, if granted by a federal judge, would mean Rheault couldn’t file the same lawsuit again.

Wetch said Rheault’s claim is barred by the statute of limitations and that his complaints stem from “his own comparative fault and/or intentional conduct.”

“(Rheault’s) injuries and claimed damages, if any, were the result of (his) own actions or inactions, or were the result of actions or inactions of others over whom the (city and police officers) have no responsibility or control,” Wetch wrote.

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.

In filing the federal lawsuit in March, Rheault said he was “severely injured” on his neck, back and head after the crash, but was denied immediate medical attention on multiple occasions by Helmick and Cruze, who responded to the scene.

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 Rheault not guilty of the reckless driving charge.

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

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