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Charges possible in Cottage Grove councilman Lehrke's traffic arrest

Cottage Grove City Council member Derrick Lehrke could face criminal charges after he was stopped by police for allegedly speeding over 100 mph on Highway 61 and for suspected impaired driving.

Lehrke, 35, was arrested July 30 on suspicion of third-degree drunken driving but released after a test showed his blood-alcohol concentration was within the legal driving limit, according to police data requested by the Bulletin.

There was no citation issued at the time of the incident, Cottage Grove Police Chief Craig Woolery said, but a prosecutor is reviewing the case. A decision on charges is expected soon.

Lehrke, who is seeking re-election this fall, said in an interview Friday that it’s a “very frustrating situation” and wondered whether other citizens would be treated the same way by the police officer who stopped him. He also denied driving over 100 mph.

“I absolutely wasn’t,” Lehrke said.

Police cited the ongoing investigation in limiting the release of full reports documenting the traffic stop. However, according to public incident data and a State Patrol arrest report released recently:

Cottage Grove police officer Dave Liermann stopped Lehrke’s Chevy Impala about 2 a.m. July 30 as he was driving southbound on Highway 61 at Kimberly Court. After making the stop, south of Keats Avenue, Liermann requested the State Patrol take over to avoid a conflict of interest due to Lehrke’s elected position with the city.

“We made the determination (of suspected impaired driving) and then turned him over to State Patrol,” Cottage Grove police patrol Capt. Greg Rinzel said in an interview.State trooper Chad Koehler arrived on scene. Liermann told Koehler he made the stop because of the vehicle’s speed and then while interacting with Lehrke determined he had been drinking. Lehrke admitted he had been drinking, a State Patrol report said, and he refused to perform field sobriety tests at the scene.

Lehrke said in an interview that he had been at work at Opinion Brewing Co., the Newport bar he owns with his wife, Autumn, and was driving home when he was stopped. Lehrke said it was his constitutional right not to perform the field sobriety tests, and that he believes “it never helps you” to submit to the roadside tests.

“Clearly this time I had been drinking, but not to an (illegal) point,” he said.

The State Patrol report stated that Lehrke was arrested for suspected third-degree drunken driving and transported to the Washington County jail in Stillwater for processing. Lehrke said Liermann handcuffed him at the scene and Koehler removed the handcuffs before transporting him.

Lehrke provided a breath sample at the jail. His blood-alcohol concentration was .06; the legal driving limit is .08. He was released to his parents, according to the State Patrol.

Autumn Lehrke, a Washington County commissioner, was the only passenger in the vehicle. Lehrke said his wife probably would have been asked to conduct similar field sobriety tests before being allowed to take the car home, so one of his parents just drove it instead.

Rinzel, the police captain, would not identify who the car was released to, only that it was a sober driver.

Lehrke said he has not seen the full police reports but said “there’s more” to the incident than has been made public. He said the vast majority of the Cottage Grove Police Department is something to be proud of, but said he’s not happy with how Liermann handled the stop. He said it’s “not the first issue” he’s had with Liermann.

“I don’t think he would have treated an average, random person the same way either,” Lehrke said.

The state trooper handled the call professionally, Lehrke said.

Woolery, the police chief, expressed confidence in his officer’s actions during the stop.

“I think it was handled appropriately,” Woolery said.

Police sent their reports to Cottage Grove City Attorney Joseph Taylor for consideration of charges. Taylor transferred the case to St. Paul Park City Attorney Jim Shiely in order to avoid a conflict of interest.

Shiely said he plans to make a decision on criminal charges by Wednesday, Sept. 3.

Third-degree drunken driving is a gross misdemeanor, and it is alleged when a person has a second impaired driving violation within 10 years, or the first violation with a test refusal or other aggravating factor.

Lehrke has a prior careless driving conviction. He was arrested for alleged drunken driving in September 2006. He pleaded guilty to careless driving; a drunken driving charge was dismissed, according to court records. Lehrke said that prior case was not discussed at all during the July traffic stop.

Lehrke was elected to the City Council in 2010. Later in the day after his traffic stop, he filed for re-election and will be on the Nov. 4 ballot. Lehrke said he had made the decision to run again before the traffic stop. He was at City Hall for a council budget workshop when he filed.

Asked if the incident should be a factor for city voters in November, Lehrke said: “Voters should absolutely care (about) the way the Cottage Grove Police Department interacts with citizens … and they should take any outrage that they have now and wait a couple of weeks for a few more facts.”

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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