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Equal Justice, Philadelphia-Style
|Posted on Sat, Oct. 25, 2003|
Former officer acquitted in crash
Prosecutors had said Walter T. Jernigan Jr. was drunk when he drove his police car off a roof. He may seek his old job.
Inquirer Staff Writer
In a case that left the district attorney stunned and angry, a former Philadelphia officer was acquitted yesterday of drunken driving and related offenses for driving his patrol car off the fourth story of a garage in Kensington.
After a nonjury trial, Municipal Court Judge Marsha Neifield found Walter T. Jernigan Jr., 55, not guilty of drunken driving, criminal mischief, and recklessly endangering others in the Sept. 29, 2001, crash that critically injured Jernigan.
District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham said: "I am incensed that in spite of the overwhelming evidence of Police Officer Walter Jernigan's drunkenness while on duty and in uniform, and in a marked patrol car, which he drove off a four-story building, somehow Judge Neifield managed to utter the words not guilty. This decision is beyond the pale."
Police said Jernigan's patrol car plunged off the garage at the Case Paper Co. at Rorer and Tioga Streets.
The prosecution stated in court on Wednesday that blood samples taken from Jernigan showed he was well beyond the legal limit for drunkenness.
Defense lawyer Gerald Stanshine had raised questions about the testing and handling of the blood evidence. He also said records indicated the patrol car "had been in several auto accidents, specifically because it would not stay in gear."
"I think this was the only appropriate verdict based on the evidence," Stanshine said.
Two officers on the roof told investigators they saw Jernigan park the car there. Moments after the two left, witnesses heard a car motor revving and saw Jernigan's car plow through a three-foot metal railing and plunge to the street.
Investigators determined that there was time to apply the car's brake before it hit the railing and that the vehicle had no mechanical defects. Investigators concluded Jernigan deliberately drove off the roof.
After the verdict, Jernigan, who was dismissed from the Police Department after the crash, said he was considering seeking reinstatement.
"Police officers have discretion whenever they stop anyone, but they should particularly extend that courtesy in the case of other police officers and their families," Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association president Jeff Frayler---Newsday.
Here is another "EQUAL JUSTICE" story:
Excuse me ladies, but this is sort of like rape . . . Once you know it's coming, you might as well sit back and enjoy it. --Florida Republican Party Chairman Tom Slade (discussing his party's legislation for higher business taxes)
What happens when a liberal politician abandons his original ideals on civil rights and switches political parties? What happens when a conservative party official wants to run for national party chairman -- will a mere DWI arrest be allowed to stand in his way? Will a government prosecutor apply the DWI laws even-handedly when seeking millions of dollars income from a national judgeship?
Tom Slade and his girlfriend had enjoyed dinner at the home of friends. As chairman of his state's conservative party, Tom was in the process of raising $20 million dollars for conservative candidates. Although state law prohibited campaign contributions from exceeding $500 per person or corporation when given to one candidate, there was no law limiting contributions made to Tom's headquarters for the entire party. Tom then decided which candidates got the money and which were left without. Such "soft money" contributions often totaled over $100,000 each, purchasing at the very least a sympathetic ear from any politician who profited from from such handouts. As one conservative politician noted, "The party is today what we are largely because of his hand at the helm, even though his other hand was sometimes at out throats." Another politician described Tom as "an 800-pound gorilla, no doubt about it." Political opponents compared him to convicted mass murderer and Mafia gangster John Gotti. Tom was raising money for Jeb Bush (son of former president George Bush) who was soon to become governor of the state. He needed to help this famous candidate win, hopefully gaining for Tom the power necessary for a run at the national party's chairman position.
After dinner with his wealthy political "friends," Tom drove himself and his friend home. It was about 9:30 p.m.
On the way home, Tom allegedly passed under a traffic light as it switched from yellow to red, according to a police officer. The cop proceeded to make a "routine" traffic stop.
The traffic cop began his criminal investigation and asked to see identification. Tom replied that he had left his wallet at home, although he did have two credit cards with him, which he substituted as I.D. When the cop asked where the couple had been, Tom replied that they had been at a friend's for dinner. When asked whether he had had any alcohol to drink, Tom replied that yes, he had enjoyed four glasses of wine, over a three-hour period.
The cop immediately placed Tom under arrest for DWI and read him his Miranda rights. These legal rights included the right to be free from self-incrimination by maintaining silence, and the right to a lawyer. When the cop requested that Tom volunteer to incriminate himself by taking a voluntary field sobriety test, Tom requested to speak to a lawyer first for legal advice, as the cop had advised him he could do. The cop, however, refused to allow Tom to contact a lawyer (a standard punishment for anyone who chooses that right). Tom then chose to decline the voluntary field sobriety test, since he had an injured knee, and he felt the test would be unfair since he had difficulty walking and standing. The cop threatened that this refusal to volunteer would be used against him in court, regardless of his knee injury, and that he recommended Tom reconsider. Tom maintained his refusal to volunteer.
The politician asked, "Explain to me what my circumstances are please?" The cop replied that he was being charged with DWI because he had "bloodshot, watery eyes and odor of alcohol" as probable cause. "My hands are tied," the cop alleged to his elderly criminal.
Tom was taken to jail. Police officers requested that he volunteer to take the breath-alcohol test, under threat of losing his driver license for one year. Once again, Tom requested to speak to an attorney before he made such an important legal decision, and once again, he was denied this Miranda right he had just been promised. As additional punishment for refusing to volunteer for the breath test, Tom was locked up in jail for five hours. State law required that citizens be locked up in jail for eight hours when they refuse to volunteer for the breath test. Citizens who score 0.05% BAC and below are allowed to leave immediately (although they are still routinely prosecuted for DWI). His girlfriend had called a criminal defense lawyer who had phoned a judge, allowing an exception to be made of Tom.
Within 24 hours, newsmedia attention was intense regarding this elite citizen's DWI arrest, and how it compared to typical arrests. The politician's public relations professionals instantly worked up a strategy of spin control, ensuring the media displayed their client in a publicity photo rather than a mug shot. The game plan was to tackle the government's allegation of DWI head-on. Although the P.R. team did not yet dispute the initial traffic stop, the arrest for DWI was declared a false arrest.
"We're going to vigorously defend this charge. I feel very comfortable about being able to prevail. There wasn't anything about me that was the least bit impaired," the political fund-raiser declared.
A wealthy real estate developer who was with Tom at dinner defended, "He wasn't teetering or tipsy and he wasn't slurring his words. There wasn't a thing about him that would indicated he had too much to drink."
The Republican mayor, whose police officer had made the DWI arrest, joined in as a character witness: "I've never seen any evidence of any kind of a drinking problem. I think anybody who has a beer or two can look at these situations and say, 'but there for the grace of God go I.' I certainly support Tom as a friend and hope everything works out."
A former county conservative party chairman joined ranks: "It would be a shame if he would be found guilty of DUI, although it's possible any of us could after any major social event. One or two glasses of wine will do it to you."
Tom decided to take an immediate vacation outside of the USA, traveling in his world-class sailboat. (The boat had been named after his family's former slave. "It's just an utter sense of freedom. It's like being Christopher Columbus," Tom explained.)
While the bailed-out politician was gone, the district attorney dropped the DWI charge eight days after the initial arrest. A newspaper editorial described such swift action as "close to a land speed record." While the D.A. defended his police for their DWI arrest policies, he asserted the police videotape proved Tom "just doesn't seem to be impaired. . . . Whatever conversation is on the tape is very lucid and coherent. . . . We wish Tom could have taken the breathalyzer [test] so a definitive decision could be made." The police officer who administered breath-alcohol tests at the jail supplied a statement that the politician was not intoxicated, as the cop was required to do in order to release a prisoner so quickly. An assistant criminal prosecutor alleged: "If it had been John Q. Anybody it would've taken a week or so longer. But it was a solid decision." The D.A. was unable to provide any statistics for how often such DWI arrest charges are dropped without any court proceedings having taken place. Tom's driver license remained suspended for one year, despite the complete lack of DWI proof.
In an attempt to reduce voter fears and media criticism, the criminal prosecutor organized a secret viewing of the criminal evidence for select political action groups. The DWI prosecutor explained, "I felt, for the first time, there was interest in knowing the facts of the case as opposed to commentary on who the arrested party was." A MADD member had muted the organization's usual hard-line opinion before the secret evidence exhibition: "It appears the State Attorney's Office is sending out a mixed message to the public regarding the DUI laws." After the secret evidence viewing, the regional MADD organization promised to release a press statement later, but apparently failed to do so (or perhaps it was not published by the newsmedia). A president of an organization calling itself the Justice Coalition gave his public blessing to those conservative politicians who created and enforced the DWI laws: "Thank God we have a system that operates out of truth and facts. My purpose of helping facilitate this meeting was to get the facts and the truth, not to sit in judgment and not make an opinion based on sound bites." When the videotape was eventually released for viewing by newsmedia, the part of the tape showing Tom exiting his car and walking to the police cruiser was censored. The tape had only showed him under arrest and locked in the cage of the police cruiser.
Three days after dropping Tom's DWI charge, the "soft on crime" district attorney coincidentally dropped a DWI charge against a police sergeant. As in the politician's case, the cop had also chosen to refuse police requests for a field sobriety test and for a %BAC test. "I just didn't think I could sell impairment to a jury," the prosecutor explained. The cop also was spared a charge of resisting arrest while being handcuffed, since no evidence of this crime existed on the police videotape. It was more "whining" and talking than resisting, the prosecutor pointed out. The routine traffic stop had been made after the cop allegedly saw the other cop cross a double yellow line. The cop had been in town as an instructor at the Institute of Police Technology and Management, and had enjoyed a night out with fellow police officers. These cops had promised to testify that the instructor cop had not been drunk.
Defense attorneys noted that it is extremely rare for government prosecutors to dismiss DWI charges without an extensive legal fight. Especially DWI arrests involving average citizens who had made "double refusals" of sobriety tests. One defense attorney observed: "Traditionally, the refusal to do these tests does not ingratiate you to the prosecutor. That has been a burr under the prosecutor's saddle." Another defense lawyer explained, "It's just out of the normal that a case would be reviewed by [the D.A.] at all and then the charges dropped within a week. I've had cases with .00 [%BAC] blows and it's taken me a month to get it thrown out of court." This particular criminal defense attorney had once been a government prosecutor, but had been fired by the same district attorney for her "double refusal" of sobriety tests after a traffic accident.
A police lieutenant in charge of special traffic enforcement commented that the government's double standard could confuse citizens about how they ought to handle their own traffic stops. "That's exactly what we told them [the district attorney's office]--people will think they can just not take the test and just lose their license for a year. The officer made a good probable cause arrest." The traffic cop alleged police videotapes are unreliable: "There's nothing to show. A camera's not going to pick up watery or bloodshot eyes." This experienced traffic cop declared that "double refusals" are almost always winnable for the government, that citizens are almost always convicted and sent back to jail, even when the government relies solely on the subjective opinion of a lone cop. Cops on the government's DUI Task Force also alleged the prosecutor's decision was out-of-the-ordinary, that judges simply regard such refusals as "proof" of drunkenness, rather than an intelligent assertion of a citizen's civil rights.
The president of the city's Fraternal Order of Police noted that by dropping the DWI prosecution of the conservative party chairman, citizens could reasonably be expected to become confused: "It doesn't smell good, it doesn't look good to the public and it's sure going to make our job a lot harder. They've said they want aggressive DUI enforcement. If they don't want that, they need to tell us that, too."
Tom continued his assertions that the arrest had been in error: "If I had this to do over again, I'd say let's just go to trial and let a jury decide whether the charges could be supported. In retrospect now, if I had known what I know now, I would have taken the breath test and this would have all been over. I had an enormous amount of confidence in the testimony of the people I had been with and I had no knowledge of [the government's] breath machine. . . . I now possess a package of 20/20 hindsight. In my 60-plus years, this was the first time that I had been in a situation such as this, and my conduct was governed by inexperience. . . . Sure it bugs you a bit when a sizable section of the population thinks you're less than a decent guy. Maybe they're angry with me because the State Attorney's Office decided not to pursue charges. That wasn't my decision, I didn't encourage it, and I haven't had any contact with the State Attorney's Office. . . . I certainly don't have any apology for drinking a couple, or maybe even two and a half glasses of wine, over a three-hour period and driving. It didn't impair me, and I don't think it impairs anybody." Tom never realized -- or never admitted to the voting public -- there is no passing score for a government blood-alcohol test.
However, after his case was dismissed, the ambitious politician made a special effort to publicly rejoin forces with MADD and the newsmedia against all drunk drivers. Tom did not express any indication that the government's DWI laws were hurting innocent citizens or were in desperate need of overhaul. Nor did he express regret for having helped write those DWI laws back when he had been a state legislator: "I am a firm believer and practitioner of the policy of not driving while impaired," the politician was quoted in a news article on "traffic safety tips." Tom also advised his fellow citizens to be sure and voluntarily consent to both the field sobriety tests and to the blood-alcohol test.
Thanks in part to the extensive public relations campaign waged by the Republican Party to protect its money man, an unusually large amount of information became available for citizens. It was almost as if a complete transcript had been provided from a DWI jury trial. This disclosure brought Prohibition dangerously close to public disclosure. The disinformation apparatus (official government lies) had to be implemented, otherwise the government risked citizens learning the secret rules. In order to continue its conspiracy of cover up of Prohibition, the newsmedia printed an allegation by a government prosecutor that citizens who agree to take sobriety tests can sometimes pass them, and would then be allowed to go home "without incident," implying they would not be prosecuted for DWI. The same newspaper alleged that had Tom taken a blood-alcohol test, his sobriety would have proven one way or another, alleging there is a passing score that bars government prosecution--the so-called legal limit. The paper admitted the newsworthiness of this story was not in the DWI laws and their fairness (or lack thereof), but was about the apparent special treatment being doled out.
An assistant D.A. suggested that DWI laws ought to be made tougher so that citizens would always volunteer to surrender their civil rights and agree to take all the government's sobriety tests. Driver licenses ought to be automatically suspended not for one year for refusing DWI tests, but for "two or three years," and restricted licenses for driving to work ought to be done away with completely. Tom had decided to not contest his driver license revocation at the suspension hearing, and had to wait 90 days before applying for a restricted license. His regular license remained suspended for one year.
Tom's lack of concern for his fellow citizens was despite newsmedia reports comparing his arrest and non-prosecution with that of a young woman's arrest for standing on a sidewalk with a drink in her hand. She had received a body cavity search and had been forced to spend all night in the government's jail.
Citizen apathy -- perhaps fueled by Tom's DWI
"victory" -- reduced voter turnout to 10% in some districts, leading to a "landslide"
victory for Jeb Bush in the governor's race. This was despite the candidate's involvement
in the billion-dollar bank failure of Silverado Savings and Loan, and the candidate's
father being implicated in cocaine trafficing and other treasonous crimes (such as the
October Surprise that sold Iran weapons to hold American embassy hostages and thus cheated
President Jimmy Carter out of reelection), according to the United States Congress, who
had convicted over a dozen of his father's White House subordinates for perjury.
[Jacksonville Sun-Times, 199??]
"Despite all my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage."---Smashing Pumpkins