Minn. Police Defend Jailing Insurance Scofflaw Killed by Inmate

August 14, 2006

The police chief in Elk River said an insurance violation was a good enough reason for his officers to lock up a man who was later beaten to death in the Sherburne County jail.

A story in the Associated Press last week detailed how Carl Moyle, 28, was jailed Tuesday after allegedly admitting to police during a traffic stop that he had no insurance. Police said that he had been convicted before for violating laws requiring drivers to have auto insurance. Police have said another inmate beat Moyle to death with a metal rail in his cell later that day.

“We did not arrest Moyle for failing to provide a proof-of-insurance card,” Elk River police chief Jeff Beahen told the Star Tribune. “He was arrested for not having insurance at all.”

It’s a gross misdemeanor to lack insurance or proof of it after two other convictions, police said.

Beahen said criminal rules in Sherburne County require officers to either fingerprint and photograph such drivers or take them to jail. His department has no fingerprint equipment and takes such drivers to the nearby county jail, he said.

Beahen said his officers ticket and release hundreds of drivers each year for driving without insurance, but jail only a handful with prior convictions for that offense.

He said that drivers with convictions in the past decade for failing to have insurance can be a risk to other motorists because they often have drunken-driving or other poor-driving convictions.

Some other cities handle cases like Moyle’s differently.

Plymouth police Chief Mike Goldstein said his officers follow a Hennepin County policy of not jailing a driver stopped for having no proof of insurance even after two convictions for that offense. Instead, drivers are fingerprinted, photographed and given a court date, Goldstein said.

After the traffic stop, Moyle allegedly at first told police he had insurance on his pickup truck and named his insurer. But minutes later, police told him they had called his insurer and learned his policy had lapsed in March and, Beahen said, Moyle then admitted he had no coverage.

Beahen said squad car video shows Moyle telling police he had just gotten a new job and couldn’t afford the insurance yet.

The inmate whom police believe killed Moyle has not yet been charged. Sherburne County Sheriff Bruce Anderson said investigators are waiting for blood test results from a state lab before sending their report to the county attorney for charges.

Moyle’s most serious legal trouble was in 2002, when he pleaded guilty in Douglas County to failure to provide auto insurance. He told a judge that he’d just bought the car and that he insured it the day after police stopped him. The case came less than three years after he was twice convicted of failing to provide proof of insurance.

Moyle’s attorney at the time said he was paying $350 a month in child support and taking home about $520 a month from his $7.50 per hour full-time job.

According to the court file, District Judge David Battey weighed Moyle’s financial situation against the idea that a lower fine might send a message that it is cheaper to get caught and pay the fine than to insure a car.

Battey sentenced Moyle to six months in jail and fined him $1,500, but stayed all but 10 days and $500. Battey allowed Moyle to work off all but $50 of the fine in community service.

“Obviously this jail sanction, I’m hoping, might be enough to let him understand that he can’t continue to drive vehicles without insurance,” Battey said at the time.

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