As I have said before, there is a common affliction that top DUI police officers have — I call it “DUI on the brain.” What I mean by that is that these officers are on such high alert to make DUI arrests that they make all sorts of negative inferences whenever they stop a vehicle. So if a person has bloodshot eyes, or speaks slow or walks wobbly, the officer will be convinced that this means that the person is drunk — even when told that the person has a medical condition.
Jessie Thornton sleeps during the day and runs errands and works out during the night.
“My wife, she’s an ER nurse and works three 12-hour shifts, so I adjusted my schedule to be like her schedule,” said Thornton.
The 64-year-old retired firefighter moved to a retirement community in Surprise, Ariz., from Ohio.
Thornton says his late hours have put him in the police spotlight.
“I’ve been stopped 10 times in Surprise and given four tickets, it’s amazing,” said Thornton.
His latest incident with Surprise police officers prompted Thornton to hire a lawyer with plans to sue the department.
Around 11 p.m. Thornton was pulled over for crossing the white line in his lane, according to Surprise Police Department paperwork.
“(The officer) walked up and he said ‘I can tell you’re driving DUI by looking in your eyes,'” said Thornton.
The 64-year-old says his eyes could have been red because he had just left LA Fitness where he was in the pool swimming.
“I take my glasses off and he says, ‘You’ve got bloodshot eyes.’ I said, ‘I’ve been swimming at LA Fitness,’ and he says, ‘I think you’re DUI,‘” said Thornton. “(The officer) goes, ‘Well we’re going to do a sobriety test.’ I said, ‘OK, but I got bad knees and a bad hip with surgery in two days.'”
Medical documents show Thornton was scheduled to have hip replacement surgery two days after the incident.
According to the police report, the officer notes that Thornton does have a hip and knee problem.
Thornton said two other officers arrived and he conducted the sobriety test.
“At one point, one of the officers shined the light in my eye and said, ‘Oh, sorry,’ and asked the other officer if he was doing it right,” said Thornton.
Thornton said he was then placed in handcuffs and told to sit on the curb.
“I couldn’t even sit on the ground like that and they knew it and I was like laying on the ground, then they put me in the back of an SUV and when I asked the officer to move her seat up ’cause my hip hurt she told me to stop whining,” said Thornton.
According to documents provided to KSHB Scripps affiliate ABC15 from the City of Surprise, Thornton was taken to police headquarters where he took a breathalyzer test.
The test, according to the police documents, came back with a blood alcohol level of 0.000.
“Yes, I do the breathalyzer and it comes back zero, zero, zero,” said Thornton.
While in custody, a “DRE” or drug recognition expert was called to test Thornton.
“After he did all the tests, he says, ‘I would never have arrested you, you show no signs of impairment,'” said Thornton.
The Surprise resident is right. The police documents show the drug recognition officer wrote, “I conducted an evaluation of (Thornton), in my opinion (Thornton) was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol.”
According the documents from the Surprise Police Department, the blood analysis showed no drugs were detected in Thornton’s blood.
Thornton’s car had been impounded and the MVD notified of the DUI charge.
“I then get this message that my license is being suspended and I have to take some sort of drinking class or something,” said Thornton.
According to the police documents, Thornton was later released to his wife.
“She was at work and had to come get me, it was a mess, I couldn’t believe it,” said Thornton. “On top of that my car was impounded on a Friday night and they said I couldn’t get it until Monday.”
Thornton now claims this wasn’t DUI.
“It was driving while black,” said Thornton.
Thornton’s attorney Marc Victor agreed, calling the incident a “DWB” or “driving while black.” Victor’s office has filed a notice of claim against the City of Surprise seeking $500,000.
“It’s not totally about the money, although I’m already out more than $5,000, that’s $5,000 that I don’t have,” said Thornton.
“This is not the way American citizens ought to be treated by officers or treated by anybody for that matter,” said Victor.
To be clear, Scripps’ affiliate station in Phoenix, Ariz., provided the Surprise Police Department an opportunity to talk about Thornton’s incident, however, due to standard policy, the department was unable to comment due to pending legal action.
The DUI charge was recently dropped, but Victor’s office claims it’s not enough.
“Here he is being harassed for no other reason than the color of his skin,” said Attorney Charity Clark. “It’s frustrating that somebody had to go through this type of experience, they poke and prod him and arrest him for nothing.”
Thornton said his daughter, who is in law enforcement, has filed an official complaint with the city of Surprise.
“Listen, I was a firefighter and firefighters work hand in hand with police officers, I have nothing against police officers, this just wasn’t right,” his daughter said.
As for Thornton’s hip, medical documents show he did have hip replacement surgery days after the arrest.
“I just don’t want any of this to happen to somebody else,” said Thornton.