A Cohoes man with a history of drunken driving arrests was released from the Schenectady County jail on Thursday after a judicial hearing officer excluded evidence in his pending case, finding the traffic stop was without cause.
Valdenei Kapp, 34, had been in custody since his June 1 arrest on felony charges of driving while intoxicated and aggravated unlicensed operation. He had been accused of driving drunk on State Street after failing to pull over to make way for a city police officer heading to an accident scene at Consaul Road.
But Kapp’s attorney, Paul Callahan, focused on the traffic stop, arguing in a hearing that the officer did not have probable cause to stop him, despite the officer’s in-car video showing him weaving in the travel lane and at one point slightly crossing the solid yellow lines.
The reason city police Sgt. Jonathan Moore stopped Kapp was that he didn’t pull over for his police lights. Moore observed that he did not see Kapp weaving and crossing the center line at the time, only seeing them on video later.
In his ruling, Judicial Hearing Officer Michael C. Eidens focused on what the officer observed that night, that Kapp failed to yield way to the police lights. The officer’s siren was turned off, except when he went through traffic lights on his way to the accident.
“The statute indicates that a motorist is required to pull over when approached by an emergency vehicle with its emergency lights and siren on,” Eidens wrote. “Since the proof clearly established that only the emergency lights were on, there was no probable cause to believe defendant violated the statute which was the basis for the stop.”
Prosecutor Stephanie Hughes argued that the video showed Kapp’s vehicle weaving and slightly crossing the center line. Eidens, though, pointed to testimony that Moore did not make those observations that night, only that Kapp failed to pull over for an emergency vehicle.
The DWI case against Kapp remains pending, but Callahan said he intends to make a motion to dismiss it.
Prosecutors, meanwhile, now must decide whether to appeal Eidens’ ruling to a higher court. Hughes said Thursday that decision has yet to be made. They have 30 days to decide what to do.
Thursday’s ruling mirrors one handed down in a state motor vehicle hearing earlier this month regarding Kapp’s alleged refusal to submit to a blood alcohol test, Callahan said. That case was tossed on similar grounds.
Callahan said the case boiled down to whether the officer, knowing what he knew and seeing what he saw at the time, had reason to stop Kapp. The same rules apply to each traffic stop police make, he said. “The law is written for everybody,” he added.
In all, Kapp spent nearly seven months behind bars before being released Thursday.
Records show it was not the first time he has been jailed on drunken-driving accusations. He was convicted of driving drunk in 2006 and again in 2007, drawing a 1-to-3-year sentence in the 2007 case.