United States District Court, D. Montana, Butte Division
L. Christensen, Chief Judge
the Court are the Motions to Suppress filed by Defendants
Luis Alberto Garcia (Doc. 32) and Eric Jasper LeBeau (Doc.
29). The Court held an evidentiary hearing on the issues
presented in the motions on November 20, 2019. Having
considered the parties' arguments and the evidence
offered in support of their briefs and at the hearing,
including a dashboard camera videorecording of the traffic
stop, the Court grants the motions.
morning of May 31, 2019, Garcia and LeBeau caught a ride from
a gas station attendant who had just finished a night shift
at the Town Pump in Four Corners, Montana. The men rode in
the open bed of the attendant's pickup as she drove into
Belgrade, where Garcia and LeBeau anticipated finding a room
at a local hotel.
Highway Patrol Trooper Tyler Brant was traveling in the same
direction as the pickup, heading north on Jackrabbit Lane, a
four-lane highway, when he saw Garcia and Lebeau in the back
of the truck. He flipped on his lights and siren to pull the
driver over. It is unclear why he initiated the stop. At the
time he told Garcia, LeBeau, and the driver that he pulled
them over because no one was sitting in the passenger seat
and all seatbelts must be in use before a passenger can ride
in the bed of a pickup. In his police report, he wrote that the
driver's choice "put her passengers at substantial
risk of serious bodily injury or death," and that she
therefore committed the crime of negligent endangerment in
violation of Montana Code Annotated § 45-2-208. (Doc.
30-5 at 4.) In his police report, he added that the rate of
speed of the truck-55 m.p.h.-was dangerously fast for the men
in the bed of the truck (Doc. 30-5 at 4), but he also wrote
in a search warrant application prepared the day of the
traffic stop that the vehicle "pose[d] a safety
hazard" because it was "traveling slower than the
average flow of traffic [at 70 m.p.h.]" (Doc. 30-6 at 3.)
At the hearing, Brant admitted that he was not thinking of
negligent endangerment at the time of the traffic stop and
stated an additional possibility, that he was motivated by
his concern that the two men posed a threat to the driver.
smiled and waved at Trooper Brant (or perhaps the dashboard
camera) as the officer exited his patrol car. Garcia, whose
facial features are obscured by elaborate black tattoos,
pulled his hood up over his hat and appeared rather less
interested in having a conversation with the officer. Both
men, though, appeared calm and polite. Brant spoke with the
driver briefly and took her driver's license.
Brant then asked Garcia and Lebeau for their licenses, and
Garcia said that they didn't have them. Lebeau added,
"We don't have our IDs. Stolen." Trooper Brant
asked, "Stolen? Both of them?" and Lebeau
responded, "No, just my wallet." Trooper Brant
asked the men for their full names and dates of birth, and
they gave complete and honest responses.
Brant told the men that he stopped them because "[j]ust
one of you guys needs to be sitting in the passenger seat
with her. Cause all the seatbelts need to be taken up.
That's all it is, so we'll be out of here real quick
though." This exchange occurred less than three minutes
into the stop, but the men were not, in fact, free to leave
for over an hour and a half.
Brant returned to his patrol car to contact dispatch and
request backup. He did not ask for any information regarding
the driver of the vehicle but focused immediately on the men
in the back, asking for information about Garcia first and
then LeBeau. Garcia and LeBeau were within view of the
dashboard camera, and they look relaxed as they chat with
each other in the bed of the truck. LeBeau lit his first
cigarette about seven minutes into the stop.
eight minutes in, the dispatch officer informed Trooper Brant
that Garcia is listed as a "known criminal gang
member" and is currently under supervision. Because the
dispatch officer could not immediately locate LeBeau in the
system, Brant asked LeBeau for follow-up information, which
LeBeau gave honestly. Trooper Brant then began questioning
the men about why they were in Montana and how they got
there. They agreed that they were both from North Dakota
(which appears to be accurate) and that they were "just
visiting." When Brant returned to the patrol car to
attempt to find more information, LeBeau lit a second
officers, Trooper Taylor Gagnon and Deputy Collin Kiewatt,
arrived on the scene shortly thereafter. Trooper Brant told
them that he intended to separate the men so that they could
be questioned individually. Garcia, who was talking on his
cell phone at this point, lit a cigarette, his first. The
officers agreed that they "[would] bring them both out,
search for weapons," leaving two backpacks in the back
of the pickup.
Brant and Deputy Kiewatt walked back to the bed of the
pickup. Lebeau asked, "We good now?" to which Brant
replied, "No, yeah, we're good. All I wanna do-do
you guys have any weapons on you or anything like that?"
They said no, and Trooper Brant said, "Sounds good. You
guys mind just hopping out just so I can check and verify
that." When Lebeau asked, "Are we being detained or
something, or . ..," Brant responded, "We just want
to do our checks. That's all." The men exited the
pickup, LeBeau holding a large fountain soda and Garcia with
a cigarette and cell phone in hand.
Brant and Deputy Kiewatt patted the men down. Brant located a
bag in the pocket of Garcia's hoodie, which Garcia
identified as his diabetic kit, and Brant placed it on the
hood of his patrol car. The officers did not find weapons or
evidence of crime during the pat-down searches.
fifteen minutes into the stop, the driver got out of her
vehicle, presumably to see if she could leave. Trooper Brant
asked her to return to the pickup, and he walked back to the
driver-side window to speak to her for the first time since
initiating the traffic stop. The driver's voice cannot be
heard clearly in the recording, except to say that the men
seemed "really polite." At the evidentiary hearing,
Brant testified that the driver told him that the men had
been at the Town Pump all night. He also stated that she
volunteered to have one of them ride with her in the cab of
the truck to come into compliance with Brant's
construction of the seatbelt law.
Brant told the driver that he would be applying for a search
warrant to search the backpacks in the back of the truck. He
reassured that he would "do [his] very best to try and
get [her] out of there." He then returned to his patrol
car to call in a canine unit. He asked Garcia more questions
about why he and LeBeau were in Montana and how they got
there. Garcia said they came to the Bozeman area to visit a
friend and that both he and LeBeau are from North Dakota.
Brant went on to ask Garcia extensive, detailed questions
about their travel history and intentions in Montana. He
immediately moved to LeBeau, who could not hear the exchange
between Brant and Garcia, to ask the same questions. LeBeau
asked if Brant had a warrant, and Brant said no. Trooper
Brant questioned LeBeau at length about how he and Garcia got
to Bozeman. LeBeau asked, "Are we being detained?"
to which Brant responded, "Yes. Yeah."
wondered why they were being detained, and Trooper Brant
answered, "I'm suspecting you guys of possibly drug
trafficking." LeBeau asked what kind of drugs Brant
suspected of them of trafficking and Brant said that he was
unsure. Brant then returned to the line of questions
regarding the pair's recent travel history and future
plans. LeBeau gave answers that presented some
inconsistencies with Garcia's account; while Garcia said
that the men came from North Dakota, LeBeau informed Brant
that they were from North Dakota but were coming to Montana
from a job in Utah. LeBeau then told Brant that he meant
"no disrespect" but did not believe he wanted to
answer any more questions.
this time, although he remained fairly calm and polite,
LeBeau started to signal distrust toward Trooper Brant. He
asked, "Do you do this to everybody?" Brant
answered, "No, I don't do this to everybody. So
here's the deal, all I stopped you for is you guys were
sitting in the back of the truck." LeBeau apparently
disagreed, suggesting that Brant's true motivation was
"Because he's got a bunch of tattoos on his
face." Brant objected, saying, "No, not because
he's got a bunch of tattoos on his face. Because we need
to have all the seatbelts occupied." LeBeau didn't
buy it. He asked, "Well then how you're going to
come to drug trafficking?" Brant said that it was
because of inconsistencies in the travel histories given by
each of the men.
Brant immediately turned his attention to the bags in the
back of the truck: "Anything in those bags I should be
concerned about?" LeBeau said no, and the exchange
Brant: "Drug paraphernalia?"
Brant: "Any marijuana?"
LeBeau: "I don't smoke marijuana"