The attorney for a Libby woman accused of abducting her grandchild sought to suppress evidence gathered by investigators following her detention, pointing to multiple missteps made by law enforcement personnel.
Rebecca Olney, 54, pleaded not guilty to a single count of felony custodial interference in Lincoln County District Court earlier this year. Prosecutors brought her up on the charge after she allegedly took her grandson on a road trip without permission in April.
Authorities caught up to Olney and the child in Missoula on April 18 after state officials issued a missing endangered person alert. A police officer caught up with the pair after a bystander allegedly saw the child, a 12-year-old, trying to disconnect the battery of Olney’s vehicle.
In an affidavit, Undersheriff Brad Dodson wrote that authorities turned the child over to his parents. Olney admitted during a subsequent interview that she knew her grandson’s mother did not want the boy to leave Libby, Dodson wrote.
But in a motion filed in district court, attorney Jessica Polan argued that police officers made a warrantless arrest, conducted an illegal prolonged encounter, committed a Miranda violation and obtained an illegal search warrant.
The motion offers more details about Olney’s detention following her discovery. According to the document, police in Missoula contacted the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office after taking Olney into custody, but never told Olney she was under arrest for a criminal offense. Dodson allegedly had told the officers that he was working with the county attorney’s office to bring charges against Olney.
While waiting on directions from Lincoln County, authorities in Missoula placed Olney in a locked room and had her car towed back to Libby. The officers involved “knew that an arrest warrant did not exist out of Lincoln County,” Polan wrote.
Eventually Dodson got back in touch, according to the motion. He allegedly said he had sent deputies to pick Olney up and asked the officers to keep her detained until their arrival. They arranged for Olney to be held in the Missoula County Detention Facility in the meantime.
Her belongings were seized and “at no point was Olney ever told she was free to leave,” Polan wrote.
Even the Missoula police officers were unsure of the justification for holding Olney, according to documents cited by Polan, especially after correctional officers — instead of deputies — arrived to take her back to Lincoln County.
Police Sgt. M. Kamerer wrote in a supplemental report that he “did not feel it was appropriate to release the suspect in this investigation to correctional officers as she was not currently in custody and had been detained under the notion that the investigation was ongoing and that deputies were responding…”
Meanwhile, Olney suffered a possible seizure. An officer accompanied her to the hospital, the document said.
“The entire time that Dodson, Kamerer and [another Missoula police officer] were trying to figure out whether Olney was under arrest or not, Olney was detained in the Missoula Police Department interrogation room, at the Missoula County Detention Center, and while at the hospital guarded by an officer,” Polan wrote. “Olney may have been told ‘she was not under arrest’ but she was not free to leave.”
According to the motion, law enforcement officials eventually decided that the correctional officers could transport Olney, but only with her consent.
Polan noted that authorities already towed her vehicle and seized her belongings.
“Without her car, purse, can, wheelchair or any of her personal belongings, Olney agreed to ride with Lincoln County Detention Center officers back to Libby,” Polan wrote.
Upon arrival, officers brought Olney to an interrogation room, where she was advised of her Miranda rights and interviewed. After several hours of questioning, Dodson told Olney she was under arrest and charged with custodial interference, according to Polan’s account.
Relying on statements made during the interrogation, authorities procured search warrants for her car, motel room and a moving truck, Polan wrote.
But Polan argued that her arrest was never valid. Police lacked probably cause for an arrest and did not secure a warrant until more than 12 hours passed, when Olney was back in Libby and had undergone repeated questionings.
“There was no probable cause to hold Olney for hours in jail, detention and guarded by an officer at the hospital. Neither was there a warrant,” Polan wrote. “Olney was arrested illegally.”
Polan argued that Missoula police officers should have released Olney after they determined her grandson was safe and that authorities in Lincoln County lacked an arrest warrant. Further, those same officers never advised Olney of her Miranda rights.
By failing to tell Olney she was not under arrest, law enforcement personnel used coercive techniques on the 54-year-old woman, Polan argued. She also criticized them for essentially forcing her to return to Libby in custody.
“Officers knew that there was no alternative for [her] but to drive with the detention officers to return home,” Polan wrote.
“Therefore, [she] was never ‘voluntarily held’ for hours in police custody, did not ‘voluntarily’ return to Libby with officers and did not voluntarily waive her Miranda rights,” Polan concluded.
As such, the information that Dodson used to obtain a search warrant “is fruit of the poisonous tree … and should be suppressed,” Polson wrote.