Driver in fatal crash takes St. Paul police to court for return of car, belongings

December 4, 2018

The St. Paul attorney who was cleared of criminal charges for driving into and killing a pedestrian last year is taking the city to court, demanding that it return his BMW and other belongings that continue to be held as evidence.

Peter Berge filed a petition in Ramsey County District Court Monday alleging that the St. Paul Police Department refuses to release the items even though criminal charges were never filed against him for the Feb. 22, 2017 death of Scott Spoo.

Berge was later found to have been suffering from an aggressive form of brain cancer at the time, which factored into the Hennepin County Attorney Office’s decision in February not to file felony charges against him. The St. Paul City Attorney’s Office decided in April not to file lower-level charges.

Berge’s attorney, Steven Sitek, also alleges that the city ignored his first attempt to retrieve the items, contradicted an evidence retention policy and violated Berge’s constitutional right to due process.

The St. Paul police “suspicions all turned out to be wrong, as the detailed investigation based on search warrants revealed that no alcohol or drugs were in Berge’s system and he was not on his phone at the time of the collision,” Sitek wrote in Berge’s petition.

Sitek wrote that two days after killing Spoo, 35, Berge sought medical treatment and was eventually diagnosed with multifocal glioblastoma and had five separate tumors. Berge was experiencing “strokelike” symptoms and “significant” vision problems at the time of the collision, Sitek said.

Berge is seeking the return of his 2013 silver BMW, keys, iPhone, passport, wallet and “other miscellaneous items” seized from his vehicle and from him when he was arrested the day he killed Spoo.

Sitek alleged that after Hennepin County and the city of St. Paul declined to file charges against Berge, an attorney for Berge contacted St. Paul police on May 4 to inquire about obtaining Berge’s items. The police deferred to the city attorney’s office, which never responded to an inquiry.

The St. Paul City Attorney’s Office did not immediately return a message Tuesday seeking comment.

Sitek also alleged that Assistant City Attorney Daphne Van Buren told one of Berge’s attorneys on Nov. 26 that the police were holding onto his belongings “in good faith as potential evidence … and consistent with the applicable evidence retention schedule.”

According to Berge’s petition, the “Ramsey County Uniform Evidence Retention Policy” that Van Buren sent a few days later to support her argument also stated that “if the investigation is complete and no one is charged (t)he [sic] property may be returned to the owner upon request.”

Berge is asking a judge to order the police department, through the city attorney’s office, to return his belongings, and for the city to pay the costs he incurred in bringing the matter forward.

In 2017, a St. Paul man sued the police department in federal court for allegedly wrongfully seizing his gun and refusing for two years to return it despite the fact that no charges had ever been filed against him.

Berge struck Spoo, who was out running, about 4:40 p.m. after drifting into the wrong lane several times on Mississippi River Boulevard at Dayton Avenue.

Spoo’s family sued Berge in October, alleging that his medical condition had no bearing on his actions that day, and that he was looking down at his cellphone at the time.

Spoo, of St. Paul, was the 2000 valedictorian at New Richmond (Wis.) High School and attended West Point Military Academy before transferring to and graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. He received his master’s from the University of Minnesota and was an engineer at 3M in the Twin Cities for 11 years.

Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708 Twitter: @ChaoStrib

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