Body camera audio from Kruse crash can’t be used in DUI trial, judge rules

Manatee County Sheriff's Office body camera - George Kruse crash
Published: Jan. 18, 2023 at 2:16 PM EST
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BRADENTON, Fla. (WWSB) - A key piece of evidence in Manatee County Commissioner George Kruse’s upcoming DUI trial has been ruled inadmissible, a judge said Wednesday.

In a Zoom hearing Wednesday afternoon, Judge Erika Quartermaine ruled the audio of body camera footage, taken by a Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputy who responded to the crash, cannot be used in a trial.

Kruse’s attorney, Jeffery Haynes, filed a motion Nov. 16 to suppress the video, arguing sheriff’s Lt. Nicholas Pruitt violated Kruse’s Fifth Amendment rights by not informing him he suspected Kruse of committing a crime. “Lieutenant Pruitt never notified the defendant he was conducting a criminal investigation and never at any time read him his Miranda warnings,” it said.

Quartermaine agreed with that assessment. “Law enforcement did not comply with statute,” she said in Wednesday’s decision.

The judge did say, however that her ruling only applies to the audio in the body camera recording. The video itself may be used.

Assistant State Attorney Darlene Ragoonanan said the state may appeal the decision.

Kruse’s trial is scheduled to begin in February.

Kruse was involved in a single-vehicle crash April 20, 2022, on Greyhawk Boulevard in Bradenton, when Kruse’s pickup truck hit a tree. A Manatee County sheriff’s deputy on scene described Kruse immediately after the crash as “in an overall confused state.”

The sheriff’s office incident report noted Kruse’s vehicle collision alert system automatically called 911 after the impact and began recording conversations in the moments after the crash. “I reviewed the 911 chronology log and found that a male was in the vehicle immediately after the crash and sounded intoxicated. He was slurring his words and not responding at times,” the report said.

Kruse’s wife, Jessica Kruse, arrived at the scene before deputies. In the 911 call recording, she is heard trying to get Kruse out of the vehicle. She refuses to give her location to 911 dispatchers and says, “We’re good” and that they don’t need deputies to respond.

Once Pruitt arrived, he noted Kruse’s condition. “I met with Mr. Kruse and I immediately observed him to have watery eyes, slurred speech, and was in an overall confused state,” the unredacted incident report said.

Kruse told the deputy that another vehicle reportedly sped around Kruse’s pickup truck. “In an attempt to keep from hitting the other vehicle he slammed on his breaks. Due to the roadways being of gravel and loose dirt, he lost control of his vehicle. The vehicle left the road and stuck a tree head on. The front seat airbags deployed rendering the vehicle inoperable requiring it to be towed,” the report said.

Body cameras were recording when another deputy arrived to write the crash report. The first deputy on scene said he believed Kruse was intoxicated. “The dude friggin’ crashed into a tree. No, he’s drunk. We just can’t do a DUI because nobody can put him behind the wheel. When I got here, he was in his wife’s car.”

“Oh, my God,” the other deputy replied.

The police report noted Kruse’s vehicle collision alert system automatically called 911 after the impact and began recording conversations in the moments after the crash. Kruse’s wife, Jessica Kruse, arrived at the scene before deputies. In the 911 call recording, she is heard trying to get Kruse out of the vehicle. She refuses to give her location to 911 dispatchers and says, “We’re good,” and that they don’t need deputies to respond.

A representative from Progressive Insurance also made an appearance in the Zoom and said that Kruse initially told them that the wreck was caused by a small animal. Kruse was later seen on the body camera footage saying that a car swerved around him and that caused him to run off the roadways.

Because there were no witnesses at the scene and Kruse was in his wife’s vehicle by the time law enforcement arrived, the case was passed to the state attorney’s office where a DUI charge was filed.

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