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Northland state trooper pleads guilty to careless driving, avoids DWI

A Minnesota State Patrol trooper who was arrested for allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol on his way to a training session in Duluth pleaded guilty Thursday to careless driving and escaped a DWI conviction, but his law enforcement career remains uncertain.

Trooper Nick Morse, 30, of Two Harbors was charged in September with careless driving and operating a motor vehicle with a blood-alcohol concentration of .08 or more.

He pleaded guilty to the careless driving charge and the DWI charge was dismissed by the Duluth city attorney’s office. Both crimes are misdemeanors.

Senior Judge Richard Jessen sentenced Morse to 90 days in the St. Louis County Jail, but stayed the sentence for 14 months of probation.

As conditions of his probation, Morse must undergo a chemical dependency assessment and follow the recommendations of the evaluation, take part in a Mothers Against Drunk Driving victim-impact panel and have no same or similar conduct.

Morse was represented at the plea hearing in State District Court by attorney Frederic Bruno.

“It was a reasonable compromise,” Bruno said of the plea agreement. “There were issues on both sides of the case. I think this was the appropriate thing to do to have this concluded as he moves onto the next step of his career. … There is a good likelihood he will return to law enforcement in one form or another.”

Duluth City Attorney Gunnar Johnson said Morse was treated by “standard protocol” as anyone else in a similar situation would be treated.

“He had a low test level and no prior history of this,” Johnson said. “We want to make sure that just because he’s a law enforcement officer he’s treated no more or no less harshly than any other person.”

Morse’s home phone number was not in service Thursday and he couldn’t be reached for comment.

Bruno said his client’s job status with the State Patrol is currently under litigation.

A phone message left for a Duluth District State Patrol supervisor asking for Morse’s current job status with the patrol wasn’t returned Thursday. Morse was placed on leave after charges were filed pending the outcome of criminal and internal investigations.

The State Patrol said that Morris was arrested when a supervisor noticed the odor of alcohol coming from the trooper when he reported to a training session at 8:10 a.m. on Sept. 26.

According to court-filed reports of the incident:

When Morse reported to the training session he told a supervisor that he had locked his keys in his squad car. A supervisor noticed that Morse’s eyes were bloodshot and very watery and that he emitted an odor of alcohol when he entered the training room.

A supervisor retrieved a spare set of keys and went to Morse’s squad car and found it parked “in a very odd way.” The inside of the car had the odor of an alcoholic beverage and the ignition was in the “on” position, but the vehicle wasn’t running.

Morse was then given a series of field-sobriety tests. After completion of the tests, the trooper was informed that he was under arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol.

He was arrested by a State Patrol lieutenant and transported to the St. Louis County Jail. He was allowed to make an eight-minute phone call to an attorney and then submitted to a breath test, which revealed an alcohol concentration of .08.

In a separate incident on Dec. 7, 2011, Morse was stopped by a Duluth police officer at 2:45 p.m. The officer reported that radar indicated a black Honda Pilot driven by Morse was traveling at 83 mph in a 65 mph zone on Minnesota Highway 61 between Lakewood Road and the French River. The officer wrote in his report that Morse stated he was on his way to work.

In that incident, Morse was convicted of a petty misdemeanor for speeding 79 mph in a 65 mph zone. He paid $135 in fines and surcharges.

Article written by Mark Stodghill of the Duluth News Tribune

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