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Interesting case - wrong decision

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Interesting case - wrong decision

Gus Philpott
Woodstock Advocate
March 9, 2013


Thanks to Ken Rossignol and the DWI Hit Parade, I read this morning about a March 6th decision in Billings, Montana, wherein the city will pay $222,000 because police did not arrest a drunk driver on a citizen's complaint.

"In the past, (Billings Police Chief Rich) St. John said, the department has not put much emphasis on citizen-reported drunken-driving complaints because of the difficulty in such cases to make a valid arrest that leads to a conviction." This sentence in the article rang true with me.

However, after reading the article, it seems to me that the police were not negligent and the Department and the City should have fought the claim. (Of course, they might have spent $500,000 to fight it.) The negligent person was the person who gave the keys back to the driver and let her drive while drunk, after the police left. From the article, there appears to be no evidence that the person behind the wheel, when the police were first there,could be charged. The police didn't see her drive, the keys weren't in the vehicle, the article doesn't say that the witness who called the police had seen her driving on public roads.

But Chief St. John's remarks ring true for some law-enforcement agencies in McHenry County. In the past I have contacted the McHenry County Sheriff's Department and the Woodstock Police Department about serious traffic violations I have observed.

Sometimes the system works well, and both the MCSD and the Woodstock PD have been very helpful. Arrests have resulted, and convictions have followed. It required my willingness to go to court. I was willing.

But at other times certain deputies and officers have refused to accept complaints, even though I provided credible information and stated that I would sign a complaint, could identify the driver and would go to court. At that point, the officer's only role is to accept my complaint and issue the ticket.

Chief Lowen was instrumental in one case and promptly directed his officers to accept my complaint. Unfortunately, one of them sabotaged the prosecution of the case, and the defendant lied in court and got away with it.

I had submitted my own two-page, typewritten statement with my handwritten statement. The officer's report referred to my attached (typewritten) statement. But it never got to the Records Department or into the hands of the prosecuting City Attorney. Let's just say that I have always wondered how the supervisor signed off on the officer's report, which said my (typewritten) statement was attached, but my statement got "lost" on the way to the Records Department.

The City's prosecuting attorney showed very little interest in the case and refused to talk to me before court that morning. I was livid later on, when I realized he hadn't seen my typewritten statement. He had cared too little to engage actively in the prosecution.

Woodstock PD was very helpful in other cases, though, especially when they assisted by making the initial traffic stop and holding a driver until a deputy could arrive. I remember one night when Woodstock PD made the stop, and then the female deputy refused to cite the driver. After she let the other driver leave without a ticket (she said he said he hadn't done anything wrong) and she too had left, the Woodstock cop said, "She should have just written the ticket. She has no idea how much grief you are going to cause her."

Sheriff Nygren stuck up for his deputy, said she had discretion to let the other driver go without a ticket. Maybe he'd like to call Billings Chief St. John. Except Nygren is a lame-duck sheriff now and is hardly ever around, even though he continues to suck up his $145,000/year salary.



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