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home : news : north central illinois   April 30, 2016

6/19/2013 5:52:00 AM
Judge rules against SAFE team in pot bust


Tom Collins
NewsTribune Senior Reporter



OTTAWA — A La Salle County judge has thrown out a 2012 traffic stop in which police seized 167 pounds of marijuana from a California woman.
That’s good news for Cara Ringland, the motorist who claimed that agent Jeff Gaither of the State’s Attorney Felony Enforcement (SAFE) Team didn’t have the authority to pull her over and search her U-Haul. Ringland’s felony charge still is pending but now is on life-support.
And it’s bad news for prosecutors: Other traffic stops Gaither conducted for the SAFE Team could be thrown out, too.
Tuesday, Chief Judge H. Chris Ryan Jr. delivered a mixed ruling on Ringland’s motion to suppress evidence. Ringland was pulled over for (in part) having mud flaps that didn’t properly cover her tires and that, the judge ruled, was sufficient reason for Gaither to pull her over on Jan. 31, 2012, on Interstate 80 in Peru.
Then Ryan took up the question of whether Gaither was authorized to be on the road in the first place. The SAFE Team is comprised of retired cops or officers borrowed from other agencies; and Gaither is a retired master sergeant with state police. No one questions Gaither’s credentials or experience from his state police days.
But did Gaither enjoy police powers with the SAFE Team? Ryan, following a scrupulous reading of the applicable law, ruled he did not.
The SAFE Team exists under a statute that allows prosecutors in Illinois to hire special investigators. Under the law, those investigators don’t have police powers unless A) a waiver is obtained from state police and B) the officer has been fingerprinted and the prints have been received and processed before hitting the road.
Ringland and her lawyer, Chicago attorney Stephen Komie, said Gaither needed to be cleared for SAFE Team duty before hitting the road — no matter how many years he’d logged before retiring from state police.
The judge agreed. Until Gaither’s waiver and prints had been processed and returned, Ryan said, he didn’t have the police powers needed to lawfully pull over Ringland.
How many other suspects were detained and arrested while Gaither’s credentials were pending? We’ll soon find out: Defense lawyers will pounce on any pending cases and ask to have those arrests negated, too.
Ringland isn’t off the hook yet. La Salle County state’s attorney Brian Towne said he anticipated a motion to reconsider — that is, asking Ryan to change his mind — and maybe what’s called an interlocutory appeal. Through an interlocutory appeal, the appellate court would consider only the issue of Gaither’s authority.
Either way, Tuesday’s ruling is a victory for Ringland, 33, of Nevada City, Calif. She had been facing 6-30 years in prison for unlawful possession of cannabis with intent to deliver. Now, barring a major reversal by Ryan or the appellate court, the case against her is gutted and she’s likely to go free.
Komie said he was pleased with Tuesday’s ruling.
“I am very delighted with Judge Ryan’s very well thought-out and well-reasoned decision with regards to the powers of the state’s attorney to place unauthorized people on the roadway to enforce the traffic laws without complying with state statutes,” Komie said.

Tom Collins can be reached at (815) 220-6930 or courtreporter@newstrib.com.












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