Report: Trooper has record of unprofessionalism
WOODBURY, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota state trooper who leads a suspended drug training program has a record of unprofessionalism, according to a report Wednesday.
Sgt. Rick Munoz hasn't been implicated in some recent allegations of impropriety within the program. But documents obtained by Minnesota Public Radio (http://bit.ly/PqpX6d ) show he's been reprimanded for belittling citizens, jailing a motorist for no reason, and humiliating people he was supposed to help.
One account came from April Carrillo, whom Munoz stopped for speeding on Highway 52 in rural Dakota County last year. She was driving her boyfriend's family from Rochester to their home in Moorhead. Her boyfriend's sister had just been released from Mayo Clinic after two hip-replacement surgeries.
Carrillo said Munoz asserted the temporary registration in the rear window of her new car was fake, even though it wasn't, ordered everyone out of the car and it towed. An internal affairs investigation confirmed Carrillo's account, MPR reported.
MPR reported documents it obtained from the Department of Public Safety under the state's Data Practices Act showed six sustained charges against Munoz since 2009.
Munoz declined to comment on the complaints against him. The Department of Public Safety denied MPR's request to talk to Munoz's supervisors, but acknowledged three new pending internal complaints against Munoz.
Munoz leads the Drug Recognition Evaluator program, which trains officers to spot people who are under the influence of illicit drugs. During Munoz' first year in charge of the program, a video released this spring by OccupyMN activists claimed officers in one class were giving drugs to their test subjects. It's unclear if Munoz was involved in the alleged activity. The State Patrol temporarily suspended one trooper in the training, but Munoz continues to coordinate the program.
Carrillo readily admitted she was speeding, but said Munoz repeatedly insisted her car's temporary registration was fake.
"He didn't seem like he cared what we were going through, or what my sister-in-law was going through. Pretty much, he wanted the car towed, and that's it," Carillo said. "No matter how much I was crying, or how much we were begging him to listen to us, he just didn't care."
The family did not have a wheelchair. Carrillo's boyfriend had to carry his sister. They were stranded for several hours at a gas station restaurant in a town where they knew no one. The restaurant owner eventually drove the family to a hotel so they could wait for a ride coming down from Moorhead. And Carrillo said Munoz shamed her for crying.
"He goes, 'Why are you crying? You seem like you have something to hide. You must be crying for a reason,'" Carrillo said.
In the internal investigation, State Patrol Lt. Col. Matthew Langer wrote that Munoz more than inconvenienced the family. He said the trooper humiliated a passenger with a serious health condition. He concluded Munoz did not exercise the level of respect or decision-making expected of a trooper and created a negative image of the Patrol.
Jeremy Bell of Woodbury crossed paths with Munoz in 2009, after he ran out of gas along Interstate 494 in Dakota County. The medical device salesman said he had already pulled onto the shoulder and contacted the Highway Helpers to bring him some gas when Munoz rolled up. He said the trooper stared at him when he explained what happened.
"And just asked me if I knew how to put gas in my car," Bell said. "I'm in a suit and tie, traveling home from work. I have no criminal record. There's no reason to think I'm here to cause any problems or that I don't know how to put gas in my car."
Bell said Munoz wanted to push the stalled vehicle with his squad car to a place where the shoulder was wider. But Bell had reservations about damaging his brand new company car. The internal affairs investigation confirmed that after about 20 seconds, Munoz told Bell to get out of the car because he was going to jail.
"I said, 'Arrest me for what? That's ridiculous.' And then he said, 'If you don't get out of the car, I'm going to come into the car and get you, and bring you out of the car.' That's when I knew there was something seriously wrong happening here," Bell said.
Bell was cited for obstructing the legal process and was locked up for about 12 hours. The charge was eventually dismissed, and the Department of Public Safety said Bell won a $7,500 settlement. Munoz was reprimanded for violating Bell's constitutional rights, jailing him without writing an arrest report, and failing to exercise reasonable courtesy.
Bell said he considers Munoz a danger who can't seem to distinguish between criminals and people in need of help.
"If he couldn't handle a very simple motorist who ran out of gas and sitting on the side of the road, I'd be shocked that he could be in charge of any process or project," Bell said.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.