Lake County Sheriff pleads guilty to making false statement in a DUI hearing

From the Chicago Tribune (Jim Newton reporting):

A former Lake County sheriff’s deputy pleaded guilty to criminal contempt of court charges Wednesday for lying under oath during a misdemeanor DUI hearing last year in Lake County Circuit Court.

As a result of the plea, the state dropped felony perjury charges against 28-year-old Justin Hill, of Kenosha, and he was sentenced to a 90-day jail term that was stayed as long as he completes other conditions of his sentence.

Hill also was sentenced to a period of conditional discharge during which he must perform 100 hours of community service, pay a $500 fine and donate $500 to Lake County CrimeStoppers.

The sentence was handed down by Kane County Judge David Kliment after Lake County judges recused themselves from the case because the charges stemmed from proceedings in Lake County Circuit Court.

According to prosecutors, Hill was charged for lying under oath while he was being cross-examined by the defendant in the misdemeanor DUI case, in which the defendant was acting as his own attorney.

Defense attorney Thomas Briscoe said after the plea deal that Hill admitted he lied about whether he had contacted or attempted to contact the defendant in the case prior to the DUI hearing.

Briscoe said that Hill maintains he lied to protect an informant or informants related to another case he was doing on his own without the knowledge of the Lake County sheriff’s office.

Sheriff’s office spokesman Sgt. Christopher Covelli said Wednesday that Hill’s position as a deputy was terminated June 2

…Sheriff’s office officials said inconsistencies were allegedly discovered in Hill’s testimony during a Nov. 2 civil court DUI hearing on the potential statutory summary suspension of a DUI defendant’s driving license….

Read the entire story here:  http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/lake-county-news-sun/crime/ct-lns-lake-deputy-perjury-plea-st-0914-20170913-story.html

Des Plaines Police Commander pleads guilty to falsifying DUI stats to get grant money

From the Chicago Tribune:

A former Des Plaines police commander accused of padding DUI arrest records to obtain federal grant money for the police department plead guilty to a lesser charge in federal court today.

Timothy Veit, 57, faces a maximum sentence of up to one year in prison after entering a guilty plea to a misdemeanor of violating Title 18 of the U.S. Code involving embezzlement and theft of public money.

The Mount Prospect resident initially was charged with one felony count of making false statements, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine…

From 2009 to 2012, Veit falsely inflated DUI arrest numbers by 122, and provided false blood-alcohol content levels for those arrests, according to the written plea agreement.

“(Veit) did so with the understanding that the true number of DUI arrests would not meet the performance objectives of the STEP enforcement campaigns and, if the number of arrests were not inflated, Des Plaines would not have qualified for STEP grants,” authorities said in the plea agreement.

His actions caused the northwest suburban police department to receive nearly $184,000 in Sustained Traffic Enforcement Program grants funded by the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and administered by the state Department of Transportation, federal authorities said.

I’ve written about this before.  I am not convinced that this will be the end of the investigation.

An example of how easy it is to be wrongly accused of DUI

roadblockcheckAs 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.

And here is the latest example, from Arizona:

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.

Yet another DUI cop exposed for making false arrests

One way in which DUI cases are different from other crimes is that many of them are based upon an arresting officer’s “opinion” that the motorist has been driving while impaired. This opinion is usually based on things such as poor driving, an odor of alcohol or cannabis, bloodshot or dilated pupils, wobbly balance and performance on field sobriety tests.

From the prosecution perspective, this is important because we don’t want people to get away with drunk driving by simply refusing tests.

From the defense perspective, this is dangerous because it gives arresting officers great power to destroy people’s lives, based solely on their claims of “clues of impairment.”

When I was still in law school, I had an internship in a prosecutor’s office, and I remember one Friday afternoon when some prosecutors had a discussion about whether police officers lied about their arrests. Some wondered why so many case reports were virtually identical. Others doubted that an officer would risk his or her career to get someone that they didn’t even know.

Then I became a DUI defense attorney. Coming to court I would see “stack officers” — they had stacks of arrest reports. Some of them would write over 200 DUI cases a year — meaning that they made at least one DUI arrest for each night that they were on duty. Subsequently, several of them were exposed for exaggerating or falsifying DUI cases. I had long suspected these officers, but the State’s Attorneys would scoff, wondering why an officer would jeopardize his badge to get a drunk driver.

Earlier this week I wrote about the ongoing scandal with the Des Plaines Police Department, which brings into question their DUI practices.

Now comes a story about a Utah Trooper who has been exposed for trumping up DUI charges. Somehow she has written 1,500 DUI cases since 2006, including 400 in one year — in Utah, where it is very difficult to purchase alcohol!

Here is an excerpt from the article by Brady McCombs of the AP:

During her 10 years as a Utah state trooper, Lisa Steed built a reputation as an officer with a knack for nabbing drunken motorists in a state with a long tradition of tee totaling and some of the nation’s strictest liquor laws.

Steed used the uncanny talent — as one supervisor once described it — to garner hundreds of arrests, setting records, earning praise as a rising star and becoming the first woman to become trooper of the year.

Today, however, Steed is out of work, fired from the Utah Highway Patrol, and she — and her former superiors — are facing a lawsuit in which some of those she arrested allege she filed bogus DUI reports…

Steed stopped [one person] because he was wearing a Halloween costume and booked him even though three breathalyzers tests showed no alcohol in his system. Choate said he spent $3,800 and had to take four days off of work to get his DUI charged dismissed…

The 49-page lawsuit includes two defendants, but Studebaker said dozens of others are lined up and willing to tell their stories. He said they are requesting the lawsuit be broadened into a class action lawsuit.

Every one of her DUI stops back to at least 2006 should be under suspicion, he said, adding that could be as many as 1,500 people.

The lawsuit, filed in December, also accuses the Utah Highway Patrol of ignoring Steed’s patterns of higher-than-normal DUI bookings and waited too long to take her off patrol. The agency declined to comment.

Steed joined the agency in 2002, and during her first five years, she earned a reputation as a hard-worker whose efficiency led to high arrest totals. By the time she ascended to trooper of the year in 2007, she was held up as one of the agency’s top stars.

In 2009, Steed became a member of the DUI squad. Her 400 DUI arrests that year were thought to be a state record, and more than double the number made by any other highway trooper.

Steed’s career, however, turned. In 2012, while on the stand in a DUI court case, Steed acknowledged purposely leaving her microphone in her patrol car so that superiors wouldn’t know she was violating agency policy.

By April 2012, her credibility had come into question so much that a prosecutor said he would no longer prosecute DUIs if Steed’s testimony was the only evidence.

Just think about that — 400 DUIs in a year in Utah. If she worked about 225 days in a year, that means that she had to have made about two DUI arrests a night.

When someone is given a badge, they are given awesome powers and responsibility. They can destroy lives with one mistaken assumption.

When an officer goes to war against drunk drivers, he or she runs the risk of becoming so obsessed with making DUI arrests that he or she loses perspective. It is like the old adage about “when you are a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” When you are a DUI cop superstar, every bloodshot eye, every trembling step, every scent of cologne starts to become a sign of alcohol impairment. And that is why we need good DUI defense lawyers and judges and juries with backbones to stand up to these officers to protect our civil liberties.