The state attorney’s office has dropped a driving under the influence charge against Manatee County Commissioner George Kruse.
On June 20, state attorney Darlene Ragoonanan sent a memorandum to the Manatee County Sheriff's Office stating that the Attorney General’s Office chose not to pursue the appeal.
“Given that a significant portion of the evidence the State relied upon to establish the defendant’s impairment has been determined to be inadmissible, this evidence would therefore, not be able to be heard by a jury,” the memorandum reads. “The absence of this evidence, coupled with the lack of a DUI investigation at the scene, significantly limited the available evidence for the jury’s consideration on the issue of impairment.”
Ragoonanan said Wednesday that she could not comment further than the memorandum on the case.
“They took a long time and did a lot of investigation into it and determined that without a couple sound bites from a video, there was insufficient evidence to move forward,” Kruse said. “There were a lot of things that didn’t come out or couldn’t come out because it didn’t get to a point of going to trial.”
Kruse was originally issued a citation for reckless driving after crashing his pickup truck into a tree at the entrance of his neighborhood on Greyhawk Boulevard on April 20, 2022. In June 2022, the state attorney's office charged Kruse with driving under the influence.
The evidence Ragoonanan referred to in the memorandum included statements made by Kruse at the time of the crash that were recorded by the deputy’s body cam. At that time, the deputy was working a traffic crash investigation.
“It should be noted that the accident report privilege renders statements by a motorist to an investigating officer inadmissible in a criminal trial while the officer is determining the cause of the crash.” Ragoonanan wrote in the memorandum.
The deputy did not convert the traffic crash investigation into a criminal investigation or read Kruse his Miranda Rights on the scene because he couldn’t place Kruse behind the wheel. Upon arrival, Kruse was in the backseat of his wife’s SUV. However, the next day, audio was recovered from Kruse’s vehicle alert system. The system began recording on impact.
While the state argued Kruse gave conflicting statements — telling the deputy that he was avoiding another vehicle and telling his insurance carrier that he was avoiding a small animal — the court agreed with Kruse’s attorney and ruled the body cam footage was inadmissible in January.
“Regretfully, because this legal issue is not clearly delineated in Florida statutes and is only addressed by Florida caselaw, the court declined to pierce the defendant’s privilege,” Ragoonanan says in the memorandum.
“There are other facts to this case above and beyond a YouTube video, in which a portion of the video wasn’t even included when the video was sent out,” Kruse said. “It’s behind me, and the case is over. Now, hopefully, the work I’ve done during this case, and the work I’ll continue doing now that the case is dropped, will prove to everyone in Manatee County that I’m an asset on this board.”