Jury awards $250K to ATF agent over trooper's arrest

A federal jury last week sided with a federal agent who sued a Missouri state trooper, alleging the trooper arrested him out of maliciousness, the Southeast Missourian reported. The jury awarded $250,000 to the agent.

In the suit, Ryan Becker, a special agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, sued trooper D.W. Crank, with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, claiming Crank violated his civil rights by arresting him without probable cause.

According to the complaint, filed June 2012, bad blood started in the fall of 2011, when the Missouri State Highway Patrol began investigating the Caruthersville Police Department, more specifically its police chief, Christopher Riggs, who was charged with stealing $25,000 and 24 counts of forgery.

The trooper investigating the case, W.T. “Bud” Cooper, tried to arrange a face-to-face meeting with Becker to discuss the investigation. In response to his questions, Becker said he had nothing to do with Riggs or the money.

At the time, Cooper was unaware of the red tape involved in conducting a formal interview of a federal employee. In order to do so, an investigator must contact supervisors and other federal departments.

In the four months between the impromptu meeting and the formal one, the local sheriff, under advisement from the local prosecutor, told his deputies not to work with Becker. The issue, however, was not over the missing funds, but rather a generator — worth about $300 — missing from the City of Caruthersville.

On March 6, 2012, Becker met with an assistant prosecuting attorney and later on Crank met with her as well. What was discussed was not included in the original complaint.

Around 9:20 that evening, Becker was driving home from work and on the highway found himself following a tractor trailer with another pulling forward to merge into a lane. One of the trucks stopped short during the dance of traffic, causing Becker to brake suddenly. Shortly after, Becker saw the blue lights of a patrol car behind him, so he pulled over.

In court documents, Becker alleges Crank singled out his vehicle and pulled him over, since he does not call it in to dispatch.

After the two greet each other, Crank claims Becker reeks of alcohol and has Becker perform the finger test — where Becker must keep his head still and follow a wagging finger with his eyes.

Within five seconds of testing, Crank claims Becker is drunk. But, according to the complaint, it takes 88 seconds to perform the test in an ideal setting, but realistically closer to 2 minutes.

Becker asks for a breathalyzer test, but doesn’t receive one until after he’s arrested. He then blows a zero on the test.

The lawsuit alleged that Crank arrested Becker without probable cause, violating his Fourth Amendment rights, that Crank misused handcuffs by tightening them too tight, which caused pain to Becker’s wrist and shoulders, and lastly Crank caused Becker emotional pain in addition to damage to his reputation.

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