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Iowa man sues over “false arrest” for OWI, child endangerment

On Behalf of | Jan 28, 2024 | DUI/OWI

You would think a person who passed multiple field sobriety and chemical tests after being stopped for suspicion of driving under the influence wouldn’t face arrest. However, that’s not what happened to one Iowa man, according to his lawsuit against the City of Winterset and one of its police officers. 

The man was stopped while driving through that city even though, according to the suit, he wasn’t committing any violations. He says that after complying with several field sobriety tests, he took two breath tests, which both showed his blood alcohol content (BAC) well under the legal limit. He also submitted to a urine test, which showed the presence of no controlled substances and only a depression drug he told officers he was taking.

Child endangerment investigation opened before test results were in

Nonetheless, he was charged with operating a vehicle while under the influence (OWI) as well as child endangerment because there was a child in the vehicle (with the child’s mother). According to the suit, the arresting officer notified the Iowa Department of Human Services, which opened a child endangerment investigation, before the results of the urine test were even in.

The officer claims the man showed “clues of intoxication,” including smelling like alcohol, when he was pulled over. It should be noted that while officers need only “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity, including driving impaired, to stop someone, they must have “probable cause” that they’ve committed a crime (which is a higher standard) to arrest them. Typically, in impaired driving cases, that involves test results that confirm they were over the legal limit for alcohol or otherwise impaired.

While county prosecutors dismissed the charges and expunged the records related to them, the man is suing for false arrest, common law negligence and unreasonable seizure. While it remains to be seen whether he wins the case, this shows that police don’t always get it right. You can and should protect and assert your rights if you’ve been arrested. Getting legal guidance as soon as possible is a good first step.