Obstruction case dismissed against city council candidate

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The case against a Blaine City Council candidate accused of obstructing law enforcement officers has been dismissed.

Steven Tojek, a border patrol agent who is currently running for the Blaine City Council ward 2 seat, was charged with obstructing Blaine police officers during a late-night traffic stop in 2017, after the officers decided to impound his vehicle. Tojek was a passenger in his own vehicle, which was being driven 111 mph by an intoxicated driver before it was pulled over.

The case against Tojek was dismissed on October 31 in Whatcom County District Court following a pre-trial hearing of a defense motion to dismiss the case on the basis of insufficiency of evidence. After hearing arguments from Tojek’s attorney, William Johnston, and a prosecutor, Judge David Grant dismissed Tojek’s obstruction charge.

“I didn’t see any physical actions that Mr. Tojek engaged in which would increase the level of danger,” the judge said in a courtroom video of the hearing provided to The Northern Light by Johnston’s office. “His actions seemingly didn’t slow down the officers’ investigation of [the driver]. It didn’t hinder it in any way that I could see.”

The judge determined that “the actions of the defendant really posed … a minor inconvenience in the context of the overall DUI investigation” of the driver. The judge continued, “Nothing that [Tojek] did slowed down that investigation whatsoever.”

Whereas the Blaine officers’ decision to transfer the DUI investigation of the driver to Washington State Patrol delayed the investigation by about 17 minutes, “Tojek’s confrontation took all of two minutes, far less time,” said the judge.

The judge also said that Tojek’s argument with the Blaine officers about the impoundment of his vehicle was constitutionally protected speech. “The cases cited by the defense here really highlight the fact that Mr. Tojek did nothing physical to hinder or delay the officer in the performance of this investigation,” said the judge. “The only thing Tojek did, although he was abrupt with him, gruff, was to assert his constitutionally protected right.”

The judge continued: “I could understand why he would be upset with the thought of them towing his car when it was safely off the roadway. It wasn’t impeding traffic in any manner, that’s clear. It presented no hazard to anyone on the road. There was no basis that I could see given by the officers to support any suspicion that Tojek was impaired so he couldn’t drive away. Eventually Tojek said, ‘You don’t have to worry about me driving, I’ve got someone else to come. Give them the keys.’”

Johnston said that the judge’s decision to dismiss the obstruction charge was clear and convincing. “We battled this thing for God knows how long,” he said. “I have a lot of people whose cases get dismissed for insufficient evidence, but I’ve never seen anything like that.”

Tojek said he felt vindicated by the judge’s decision. “It’s almost like the judge was saying the same thing that was going through my head for the past 21 months,” said Tojek. “It was like listening to myself talk when he was up there.”

Tojek said that the judge’s decision, coming just days before the November 5 general election, “is kind of just the beginning of what’s necessary.” He said that while many voters already cast their ballots prior to his acquittal, he is still hopeful of a possible victory against opponent Garth Baldwin.

“I don’t like to see Blaine look bad, but I was attacked by the police department,” Tojek said. “There’s got to be corrections made. Hopefully if I get elected, I can at least sit down and create a plan and hopefully we can all come up with a solution together.”

Tojek said that if he is elected to city council, he will push for more training of Blaine police officers. “If the police can do that to me, they can do that to anybody,” he said. “So this is a problem that needs to be fixed. And I hope that I get a chance to make a difference.”

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