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Opinion >  Column

Shawn Vestal: You can smell bad police work a mile away

Do you know what marijuana smells like?

How about bull manure?

If so, please call the Idaho State Patrol immediately. They can’t tell what they’re smelling anymore.

Two recent incidents suggest pretty strongly that ISP officers are pulling over drivers from Washington and Colorado, perhaps on the assumption that we’re all stoned.

In one case, a trooper insisted – to a Colorado man who consistently denied it – that he smelled pot in his truck, and he had the vehicle seized and searched, fruitlessly. In another instance, a Washington driver claims that a trooper made similar accusations based on the fact that the man was driving with his windows down. The trooper asked to search the car, but the man would not consent, and the officer – who must have had nothing to go on – relented.

In both cases, the men were released. But that doesn’t do much to clear away the smell.

In the first case, there is an ISP video of the encounter. It’s another reminder of the value of recording police interactions with citizens. The incident occurred in January at a rest stop on Interstate 84, near the border with Oregon. Trooper Justin Klitch – protecting and serving and rocking out to the clearly audible sounds of the butt-rock standard “No One Like You,” by the Scorpions – pulls over the driver of a Honda Ridgeline. The truck veers into the rest stop without signaling and swerves at the moment of choosing which of the two paths, car or big truck, he should take.

What is remarkable about the video is how spectacularly confident Klitch is in his judgment about the driver – and how spectacularly wrong he is in the end. Klitch is instantly, utterly certain that he has nabbed a dread Colorado pothead. He proceeds to treat the driver, a 69-year-old former Weyerhaeuser executive, like the long-lost Dave from the Cheech and Chong routine.

Dave wasn’t there this time, either.

When the driver tells Klitch he stopped because he had to go to the bathroom, Klitch knows better: “You didn’t have to go to the bathroom before you saw me.”

The man disagrees, and the trooper says, “I’m telling you, you pulled in here to avoid me. That’s exactly what you did.”

Klitch asks him why his eyes are glassy. Tells him his behavior is “consistent with people that have something in their vehicle they shouldn’t have in their vehicle.” Says a drug-sniffing dog is on the way.

“OK,” says the driver, Darien Roseen. “Well, they won’t find anything.”

The man says he has never used marijuana. Klitch asks if he can search the vehicle, and Roseen says if he has a choice he’d rather he not. That is, of course, the constitutional right of a citizen, even a citizen of Colorado or Washington. Klitch says, “Why are you so worried about me if you’re not violating any laws of this state or this country?”

Roseen says he just wants to get on the road and go home.

“I’m telling you, with what I’m seeing today that is not going to happen,” Klitch said. “ ’Cause I believe you have something in this vehicle that you shouldn’t have.”

He knows it. He’s certain.

“I am going to find whatever it is, I assure you of that,” Klitch warns Roseen.

Again, Roseen asserts: “There’s nothing in there, man.”

Klitch begins taking out some of the things from his truck and showing them, voluntarily, to Klitch. The trooper quickly smells – or thinks he smells, or says he smells – his probable cause.

“Once I smell that odor, OK, it gives me probable cause, OK?” he said. “Before I had reasonable suspicion, now I have probable cause to search this entire vehicle – everywhere in this vehicle, OK?”

He asks him again: What am I going to find in this vehicle?

Roseen says: “Nothing.”

And Roseen was right.

Obviously, law enforcement officers can’t believe everything people tell them. They’re used to being lied to. Still, the depth and solidity of Klitch’s confidence, his brash pressuring tactics and his eventual arrival at probable cause display the hallmarks of someone who did not even seriously inquire as to facts. He already knew, the moment he got out of his car, that he had his man.

Klitch had the truck seized and taken to the jail in nearby Payette, where he detained Roseen for hours while it was searched.

Right before that, he told Roseen, somewhat hilariously, “You realize I’m not trying to be a hard-ass here, right?”

“I’m not sure what’s going on,” Roseen said. “This seems very strange.”

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@ Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.

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