(Denver Post file)

Colorado man files lawsuit over “license-plate profiling” in Idaho traffic stop

A Colorado resident has filed a lawsuit claiming he was the victim of what his attorney calls “license-plate profiling” during a road trip through Idaho last year.

Darien Roseen filed the federal lawsuit Wednesday in the District of Idaho, more than a year after he said he was unlawfully detained and searched for marijuana on the basis of his Colorado license plates.

Mark Coonts, one of three attorneys on the case, said the 69-year-old was cleared after local law enforcement officers in Payette County, Idaho, detained Roseen and for hours searched his Honda Ridgeline truck for the source of an alleged pot smell.

“Assuming guilt based on a license plate — that’s just a violation of our civil rights,” Coonts said.

The suit was first reported by Fox 31.

Roseen, retired vice president of Weyerhaeuser Real Estate — an arm of the forest-products company worth $16.5 billion, according to Forbes — was searched Jan. 25, 2013, on the way from his daughter’s baby shower in Washington state to his second home in Pagosa Springs.

At the time, medical marijuana was legal in the District of Columbia and 18 states including Colorado. The state of Washington and Colorado had recently passed state laws that would allow sales of recreational marijuana, but it would be a year before recreational pot would be available.

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Just inside the Idaho border with Oregon at 11:40 a.m. that day, Roseen pulled off Interstate 84 to use the toilet at the rest stop, according to the complaint and demand for jury trial. Just before he exited the interstate, the complaint said, Roseen passed an Idaho State Police trooper parked in the median.

Trooper Justin Klitch, who is listed as the first defendant in the lawsuit, followed Roseen to the rest stop, where he activated the overhead lights on his patrol car and then walked up to the parked Ridgeline.

The complaint claimed Klitch followed Roseen only because of his Colorado license plates, which led the trooper to conclude he must be transporting illegal substances.

Klitch did not initially give Roseen a reason for contacting him, but eventually said that Roseen failed to signal before he exited and that he bumped into two curbs at the rest stop. Roseen insisted that he did signal before the exit. He said he could not distinguish curbs hidden under snow and was distracted when Klitch “suddenly appeared behind him,” the complaint said.

The trooper rejected Roseen’s reason for getting off the highway — that he had to use the bathroom — and insisted that Roseen was attempting to avoid the state police. Klitch then asked Roseen why his eyes appeared glassy and accused Roseen of transporting something “that he should not have in his vehicle,” the complaint said.

Roseen told the trooper that he possessed valid prescription medications. In the complaint, Klitch then asked, “When is the last time you used any marijuana?”

“He was offended by his treatment — assuming that not only was he a user but that he was carrying marijuana into Idaho just based on the fact that he has Colorado license plates,” Coonts said.

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Roseen repeatedly told him he does not use marijuana and never has, Coonts said.

Three times, Roseen refused to allow Klitch to search his Honda, but opened up a few areas “if it was going to get him back on the road faster,” the complaint said.

Roseen said he never smelled the odor of marijuana that Klitch claimed he detected coming from his trunk. Klitch used that odor as probable cause to search, transport and hold Roseen and his truck at the local sheriff’s office.

“He didn’t go right out and say ‘Where’s the weed, old man?’ ” Coonts said. “But the whole interaction was just ‘Give me the weed, I know it’s here.’ “

Klitch drove Roseen to the Payette County Sheriff’s Office in the back seat of the patrol car. Without Roseen’s consent, Fruitland City Police Department Officer Eric Christensen transported Roseen’s truck.

At the sheriff’s office, Roseen was allowed to use the bathroom under supervision. Klitch told Roseen he was free to leave, but he could not have his truck because officers had not finished searching it.

The trooper issued him a citation for careless driving, which Coonts said has since been resolved.

Klitch, Christensen and at least six other officers searched the vehicle. The search turned up no illegal substances, Coonts and the complaint said. Roseen’s lawsuit seeks general and punitive damages.

A few people with similar stories have contacted the Boise law firm heading the suit, Jones & Swartz, since hearing about Roseen’s petition, Coonts said.

“It may be a pervasive problem, and as more people come forward that’ll play out, but at this point I don’t know the extent,” Coonts said.

Idaho State Police would not comment on the matter Saturday, but a representative said the department plans to issue a statement on the litigation later this week.

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This story was first published on DenverPost.com