A Spokane man says he was pulled over by the Idaho State Police on Interstate 84 last summer and accused of having marijuana solely because he had Washington license plates and had his car windows open.
“At that point, my jaw just dropped,” said Paul Dungan, 58. “I said ‘No.’ I told him, ‘This is the way I cruise in the summer time … so I don’t fall asleep.’ … He said, ‘I want to search your car,’ and I said, ‘No, you have no right to search my car.’”
Dungan said after nearly an hour of “haranguing me … he finally backed off.” Dungan wasn’t cited for anything; he hadn’t been accused of any traffic offenses.
“I was definitely profiled,” he said. “I’m a 58-year-old white guy, and I haven’t ever been profiled, even when I was a young teenager in southern California raising hell-type stuff. What a horrible feeling.”
The Idaho State Police could find no record of Dungan’s stop. “I’m not saying that he’s lying at all – we just can’t find it,” said Teresa Baker, ISP spokeswoman.
She said the agency conducts numerous traffic stops that in the past year have yielded big drug seizures – 720 pounds of marijuana, 59 pounds of methamphetamine and 30 pounds of cocaine, just in 2013. “There are a lot of drugs coming into the state from other states, whether it’s Oregon, Washington, Nevada, up through Utah, Montana,” she said.
“We are constantly patrolling the highways looking for criminal activity,” Baker said. “If someone breaks a traffic law, no matter how minor someone might think the traffic law is, they can be stopped.”
Dungan’s story follows the release this week of ISP’s video of a traffic stop in January of 2013 in which a Colorado man charges he was targeted because of his Colorado license plates. He was detained at the same rest area, and his vehicle was taken to a nearby jail and searched before he was let go after nothing illegal was found. Both Washington and Colorado have legalized marijuana; Idaho hasn’t. In addition, Idaho is nearly surrounded by states that permit the use of medical marijuana, which Idaho strictly forbids.
Darien Roseen of Pagosa Springs, Colo., has filed a federal lawsuit against the ISP over his stop, saying his constitutional rights were violated and he was profiled on the basis of his license plate.
“I’m sure we’re not the only two guys that are in the states now that have legalized marijuana that those guys are harassing down there,” Dungan said. “I find it really annoying. I’ll never drive through that area again. If I’m going down to the Boise area, I’m going down through McCall and Banks and take the scenic route and through.”
At the time of his stop, Dungan, a biomedical engineer, was working for Abbott Laboratories, driving to hospitals throughout the West to repair and calibrate sophisticated lab equipment. He said, “I’ve never, ever, in any of the states I’ve been driving through, Montana, anywhere, had any problems like that happen to me.”
He left Spokane that morning at 6:30 a.m. on a hot summer day, and was en route to a hospital in Emmett when he first saw two ISP patrol cars. “The company that I worked for really watches us, and if we’ve got tickets, we’re in trouble,” he said. “I knew I was doing the speed limit when I popped over the hill.”
Dungan said he traveled in shorts and a tank top, and had his work clothes hanging up on hangers in the car to change into for the visit to the hospital. He pulled into the “Welcome to Idaho” rest area specifically to change his clothes.
“As I pulled into the rest stop, I noticed that the state patrolman was behind me,” Dungan said. “I thought, ‘What the heck?’” He cruised through the rest stop, and the patrol car followed him the whole way; near the end of the parking lot, Dungan pulled in.
“By the time I got out … he had his lights on,” Dungan recalled. “He said, ‘You have Washington plates and your windows are open – I think you’re airing out your car from smoking marijuana.’”
Dungan’s Jeep Patriot was filled with his tools and supplies, along with his bicycle and his work clothes. “Any dummy could see that I’m a business guy traveling on work,” he said.
Dungan said he gave the trooper his business card, removed his sunglasses and put on his regular glasses to talk with him, and told him, “Listen, you can look from there. These are my tools, these are all my parts, my bicycle. I had my change of clothes hanging up ready to change at that rest stop. He finally backed off on it.”
The Spokane man said he stood between his vehicle and the patrol car while he talked with the trooper. “I was there for probably at least a good half hour to 45 minutes,” he said. “He just told me that the state of Washington has legalized marijuana now and he thought that I was transporting marijuana, and he also thought I was smoking marijuana, that’s why I had the windows down.” He said, “We talked, and I was just mainly trying to convince him that you don’t need to and you’re not going to search my car.”
He added, “He wasn’t derogatory or anything like that, but he was kind of on the pushy side, using his authority, I felt.”
After reading about Roseen’s story in The Spokesman-Review, Dungan went back to the hand-written logs he kept for Abbott at the time, and pinpointed the date and time of the incident.
“I understand that not all states are really excited about the legalization of marijuana,” Dungan said. “Personally I think that’s fine, I don’t have a problem with marijuana use. … You can abuse anything, whether it’s marijuana or alcohol. People are going to do that. But I think for those guys to harass people just because of the state license plate is really, I don’t like it at all.”
He said he never experienced anything like that even when he was a surfer kid in southern California. “In those days I did smoke pot – that was a long time ago,” Dungan said. “After I went into the Army and went to college and stuff, things change.”
Asked if he has long hair like Roseen, who had a long, white ponytail at the time of his 2013 traffic stop, Dungan said he’s bald. “When I was a kid I had long hair, but unfortunately, it’s all fallen out.”
Dungan worked for Sacred Heart Medical Center maintaining lab equipment and other sophisticated hospital equipment including ventilators and surgical microscopes for 26 years before going on the road for Abbot. He retired last October.
Now, he’s a part-time school bus driver who also enjoys tinkering in his garage. Dungan said he’s gone through numerous criminal background checks and has never had any criminal record. “You can’t in this type of business,” he said.
Telling his story, he said, is “not a vindictive thing toward the cops. I just thought it was a nasty thing to happen to somebody. It’s interesting that it happened to somebody else. … That guy went through the same thing I did, but worse.”