Jessie Thornton , a 64-year-old retired firefighter living in Surprise, Ariz., was charged with driving under the influence (DUI) back in December even though breathalyzer and toxicology tests showed he was completely sober. Now, he and his lawyer have told ABC 15 it was a case of “DWB.”

“It’s driving while black,” Thornton told the station. His attorney, Marc J. Victor, seconded the assertion.

On Monday, Thornton filed a notice of claim to sue the Surprise Police Department for $500,000 for emotional distress and violating his civil rights. In the notice, he asserts that racial profiling fueled his arrest in a four-year pattern of harassment by local police.

He had been stopped 10 previous times and ticketed on four occasions for violations he did not commit, the document says. But the December incident spurred him to action.

Thornton was pulled over for crossing a white lane marker. Officer J.J. Otterman, noting his bloodshot eyes, insisted he was drunk, the papers say. Thornton said he explained to the officer that his eyes were irritated because he had just been swimming at a local health club. He also warned the police before his field sobriety test that he did not move well because of hip and knee problems.

His blood alcohol content registered 0.000, and a department drug recognition expert concluded that Thornton showed no signs of impairment, according to the filing. Toxicology tests then came back negative (except for blood pressure medication that would not inhibit motor movements).

Thornton had his car impounded and his license suspended, and he was notified by the motor vehicles department that he had to take a class for drunken driving. The legal wrangling took months before the charges were finally dropped. His reputation has been permanently damaged because the arrest and charges are on his record, Thornton contends in the notice.

Man makes up armed robbery story to avoid DUI charge

A 21-year-old Athens man was arrested Monday for making up a story he was robbed at gunpoint to avoid a possible DUI arrest.

Athens-Clarke police said David Austin Berry admitted he was so drunk early the morning of April 27 he was unsure about what happened prior to him waking up in his truck and finding that his wallet and handgun were missing.

He also admitted he called police to report that someone had robbed him at gunpoint because he thought he might be arrested for DUI, according to police.

Berry initially told police that after spending time with friends downtown the night of April 26, they drove to the Krystal fast-food restaurant on Lexington Road where the friends got out to speak with some girls.

“The next thing he knew, he had a pistol in his face,” Berry told police, according to an incident report.

Berry, who appeared confused, told officers a man climbed into his truck, and must have loaded the gun that was wedged between the front seat and center console with ammo that was in the glove box. The man then pointed the loaded gun at him and stole both his wallet and the gun, Berry initially told police.

But officers had misgivings about the story, and Berry later confessed to having made up the armed-robbery story, police said.

“What actually happened was he went to Krystal’s and passed out in his truck after he ordered food at the drive-thru,” Athens-Clarke police Lt. David Leedahl said Tuesday. “When the clerk woke him up, he pulled into the parking lot and went back to sleep. When he finally came to, he went into the restaurant and asked for his order. The clerk said, ‘You ordered that four hours ago.’”

Berry was unable to find his wallet and .357-magnum revolver, so he called police to make the fabricated armed-robbery report, according to Leedahl.

He even provided a detailed description of the phantom criminal.

“He said he made the story up because he didn’t want to be charged with another DUI,” Leedahl said.

During the follow-up interview, Berry quickly came clean after being told he could be charged with the felony offense of making false statements, according to Leedahl.

Police obtained a warrant charging Berry with falsely reporting a crime, a misdemeanor, and he was picked up by deputies Monday afternoon. He was released from the Clarke County Jail later that day after posting a $1,000 bond.


Colorado Introducing New DUI Bill

DENVER – Colorado is one of only five states that does not punish a drunken driver with a felony.

Simple DUI is a misdemeanor, as long as it does not involve an accident or injury.

House Minority Leader, State Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado, has introduced a bill to add a more severe punishment for DUI, but it comes with specific criteria.

“It would be your third DUI within a seven-year time period or your fourth DUI in your entire lifetime,” said Waller. “By the time you get to the third DUI or the fourth DUI, that person has a serious problem. They don’t care about public safety at that point and it certainly needs to be a felony then.”

The felony would mean up to one year in prison.

“I think it’s a start in the right direction. I don’t think it’s stiff enough, but it’s better than what we have now which is nothing,” said Longmont resident Terry Koester. “I think, definitely, the second one should hold some kind of severe punishment,”

Koester and her daughter Heather Surovik were hit by a drunk driver in the middle of the afternoon in Longmont last summer. Surovik lost her unborn child in the crash.

“The emotional healing is the hardest,” said Koester.

Koester continues to experience short-term memory problems from the accident. She has a five-inch plate in her wrist from breaking two bones from her elbow down to her wrist. She also had a fractured ankle.

The man suspected of hitting them, 52-year-old Gary Sheats, has had previous DUI arrests. Prosecutors said Sheats’ blood-alcohol level after the crash in Longmont was more than three times the legal limit for driving.

“Finding out how many DUI’s he had prior to our accident and I was just like, that just blew me away,” said Koester.

7NEWS checked Sheats’ criminal history. He has five previous DUI arrests in four Colorado counties in 1980, 1988, 1992, 2002 and 2008.

“If we would have stopped him at two, maybe it would have changed the course of his life. Maybe he would have thought more before drinking and driving again, if the punishment would have been more severe,” said Koester. “When you’re giving somebody six chances, five chances; that’s too much.”

7NEWS wanted to know why the legislation had the caveat of three DUI within seven years.

“You get two DUIs in your twenties and then 25 years later you get your third DUI; maybe that’s not appropriate to have a felony either,” said Waller.

Felony DUI has failed at the state legislature in previous years because of the cost associated with putting more drivers in prison.

“What is the social cost to society versus the actual cost to the taxpayers,” said Waller. “We have a significant reduction in our prison population right now so we don’t have to build new beds, we don’t have to have new infrastructure to be able to make this happen.”

“You can’t put a price on a life,” said Koester. “I think if it’s one full year in prison, I feel really comfortable with that,” said Koester.


White Young Adults More Likely To Get D.U.I

While most studies of driving-under-the-influence (DUI) have concerned adults, this one focused on adolescents and looked at a fairly long list of risk factors, explained its lead author Chris Delcher, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Florida’s College of Medicine. The risk of DUI and dying in an alcohol-related crash rises sharply during adolescence and keeps rising into the mid-20s, when the rate of past-year DUI is higher than any other age group, the researchers report “The goal of this research,” said Delcher “is to find factors that can help identify kids who are likely to drive under the influence so we can use that information to improve national DUI prevention efforts.” The researchers used data from 10,271 teenagers who participated in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Those teens joined the study in 1994-95, at the age of 15 or16 years old, and subsequently reported their DUI behaviors around age 21. “We found that DUI risk was highest for Whites, followed by Hispanics, Asians and then Blacks,” stated Delcher. He stated that this was consistent with many other national studies among adults. The team also found that adolescents who reported engaging in other high-risk behaviors, such as binge drinking, smoking marijuana and driving other peoples’ cars without permission, were at higher risk for DUI. Another key finding, Delcher explained, was that a young person’s perception that they had easy access to alcohol at home was a common risk factor for Whites, Hispanics and Asians but not for Black youth. Raul Caetano, M.D., Ph.D., Dean of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center’s School of Health Professions, suggests that many Black Americans belong to Protestant denominations that reject the use of alcohol so such beverages may be less commonly accessible in Black homes. The research team observed that males, teens from higher-income families and teens who owned cars of all races/ethnicities were at higher DUI risk than females, less affluent youth and those not owning cars. The authors hope that a clearer understanding of risk factors for youthful DUI will contribute to the development of more effective screening and interventions to reduce DUI in the high risk years of youth.


4,371 Arrested on suspicion

Nearly 4,400 people statewide were arrested on suspicion of DUI between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve by officers participating in regional saturation enforcements, according to the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.

Officers arrested 4,371 people between Nov. 24 and Jan. 1, including 1,098 people on suspicion of extreme DUI, 450 on suspicion of aggravated DUI, and 934 DUI drug arrests, according to GOHS. Of the 81,934 total people stopped, there were 1,964 designated drivers, and 34,974 non-DUI citations were handed out.

The average blood-alcohol content of those arrested was 0.15 percent. The legal limit is 0.08 percent.

The totals continued an upward trend over the last three years in several areas, including extreme DUI, seat-belt citations and child-restraint violations. During the same period last year, police arrested 4,058 people, and in 2010 arrested 3,880. The number of designated drivers also has increased, from 1,391 in 2010 and 1,927 in 2011.

A cumulative total of 2,247 officers participated in the multiple DUI task force deployments between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve.

From Jan. 1, 2012 through Jan. 1, 2013, officers working on the task forces arrested 27,710 people on suspicion of DUI, including 8,080 on suspicion of extreme DUI, 3,275 on suspicion of aggravated DUI and 3,919 drug DUI arrests. Officers also handed out 338,101 non-DUI citations among the 787,946 people stopped. There were 6,242 designated drivers.

Highway Safety Office Director Alberto Gutier said the goal of the DUI task forces is “to reduce crashes, fatalities and injuries on our streets and highways by enforcing DUI and traffic laws in our state


Off-Duty Police Officers Arrested

Two off-duty Seattle police officers, including one described as extremely combative and foul-mouthed, were arrested for investigation of driving under the influence after they allegedly switched seats in a car believed to be involved in a hit-and-run collision early Monday in the Sodo District.

The case was referred to the City Attorney’s Office for possible criminal charges of hit-and-run and driving under the influence against both officers, who were not identified in redacted police reports.

One of the officers, a female, registered blood-alcohol levels of 0.234 percent and 0.247 percent, above the state’s legal limit of 0.08 percent, according to a Seattle police report.

In the course of the testing, she cursed at the arresting officer, acted in an aggressive manner and gave him the middle finger in a North Precinct room equipped with a video camera, the report said.

Twice, the woman, who cried at times, tried to rush the arresting officer, only to be held back by a sergeant, the report said. She told the officer and sergeant she was driving her boyfriend around.

The other officer taken into custody registered blood-alcohol levels of 0.161 and 0.149 percent, according to a second police report.

The incident began when Seattle officers responded shortly after midnight Monday to a report of a collision near the intersection of First Avenue South and South Lander Street.

A witness had called police and reported that a woman was driving a Nissan Altima with what a police spokesman later described as having significant front-end damage.

The woman allegedly stopped the car in the middle of the street and switched places with a man in the passenger seat, according to a police statement.

Officers searching the area found the car several blocks south at First Avenue South and South Brandon Street. The car was two to three feet from the curb, with the engine running and “in the roadway,” the statement said.

Officers recognized the two people in the car as off-duty Seattle officers who appeared to have been drinking, according to the statement.

The woman’s speech was slurred and she appeared unsteady with bloodshot, watery eyes, according to the police report describing her actions.

The man, found in the driver’s seat with the engine on, had a strong odor of intoxicants. He said he had had a couple of beers and didn’t know how the crash happened, the second police report stated.

A captain was called to the scene, along with officers assigned to a “Target Zero” holiday emphasis patrol.

The female officer was arrested on suspicion of driving while under the influence; the other officer was arrested on suspicion of being in physical control of a vehicle while under the influence.

Traffic detectives were investigating whether the car struck a light pole or some other object, said Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, the department’s chief spokesman.

Both officers were released after their arrest under ordinary procedures and assigned to home, the department’s statement said. The Altima, which is not a city vehicle, was impounded as part of the investigation.

The case also was referred to the department’s Office of Professional Accountability for an internal investigation.

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