Saturday, December 09, 2006
Who says police officers never lie?
Ernest Smith was convicted in September on drug charges, but the district attorney’s office learned something was wrong, and it had to do with one Austin cop.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Travis County Judges are asking for help with the backlog of cases
Each month Travis County court-at-law judges handle thousands of criminal cases. Judges say their average monthly caseload has increased 60 percent since 2002
“So the decision has been made to ask for one new court,” Court-at-Law #3 Judge David Crain said.
“The most labor intensive case is a DWI,” Crain said. (I guess my office probably has something to do with that.)
In the last decade, the number of DWI cases has risen 135 percent. Judges say the number of cases and the type of cases are taking its toll.
“There will be a time when our ability to function the criminal justice system and have orderliness and protect the community will be compromised,” Crain said.
Adding a sixth court-at-law would reduce the caseload for each judge to around 2,000 a month. Crain said that’s a more realistic number.
Creating a new court requires approval of the Texas Legislature, but it’s up to the county to fund it.
Last year, Hays County added another district court. They say it’s allowed them to signficantly reduce the number of backlogged cases.
“That’s important for the taxpayers because it means it takes less time for cases to get to trial. It means that fewer people who are waiting in jail,” 428th District Court Judge Bill Henry said.
In Travis County, the judges hope lawmakers approve a new court-at-law this legislative session so a new judge can take the stand by January 2008.
A new court would cost the county around $800,000 and would mainly cover salaries for additional staff.
If the commissioners court asks the Legislature to create a new court, funding would come from the 2007 - 2008 budget.
Sunday, October 01, 2006
Top five bars drunk drivers say they were last served
Saturday, August 19, 2006
National effort targets drunken drivers
Thursday, July 27, 2006
Does Smoking Make You Drink More?
Monday, July 24, 2006
Travis County Sheriff’s Office ramps up their DWI arrests
Friday, June 30, 2006
Driving While on Cell Phone Worse Than Driving While Drunk
New cell phone has built-in breathalyzer
Monday, June 26, 2006
FAA Issues Final Ruling On Alcohol, Drug Use
The same rules would apply to air traffic controllers, as well. The rule also standardizes the deadline for reporting positive tests or refusals.
The changes go into effect July 21, 2006.
The new rules were met with opposition from the Air Line Pilots Association. ALPA says one positive test does not an alcohol or drug addict make.
The FAA states that before regaining medical certification for flight, a pilot whose been revoked for drug or alcohol abuse must enter rehabilitation and must demonstrate the ability to meet the standards set out in FAR Part 67. Furthermore, a blood-alcohol level of more than .04-percent must be reported to the FAA within two days.
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
Another Bad Apple at the Austin Police Department is Fired
Munoz was called to the trailer park, whose address was removed from the report, because a 15-year-old boy was refusing to obey his mother.
Sunday, June 04, 2006
Will all autos some day have breathalyzers?
Such talk makes John Doyle, executive director of the American Beverage Institute, cringe.
Volvo technical safety adviser Thomas Brobergsays he isn't sure mandating interlock technology is the way to go: "It might not be good to force these kinds of systems onto customers. There are quite a few things that can be quite annoying to the customer."
Join the Austin Police Department and you too could make $100K
Austin police Cpl. John Coffey racked up the overtime in 2005, working an average of 55 hours a week. Coffey earned $145,451. The city has 107 fewer officers than allowed.
Today, total overtime, including that of patrol officers, accounts for 6 percent of the department's $172 million budget — a higher percentage than that of San Antonio, Dallas and El Paso.
Futrell said those cities do not have minimum staffing levels.
The department first began feeling stretched — and began using overtime to fill vacant slots — shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when the city began shifting 17 officers from regular patrol to guard potential terrorism targets.
Among the officers who worked the most overtime in 2005, Cpl. John Coffey made the most money, according to payroll records.
Cpl. John Coffey - Total Pay: $145,45
Det. Terence Meadows - Total Pay: $128,078
Cpl. Jeff Koble - Total Pay: $126,287
Cpl. Gary Newberg - Total Pay: $123,772
Officer James Schramm - Total Pay: $120,900
Officer Robert Schmitt - Total Pay: $119,833
Cpl. Jorge Carvalho - Total Pay: $118,924
Officer Jonathan Martin - Total Pay: $117,345
Officer Alejandro Sanchez - Total Pay: $115,426
Cpl. George Jackoskie - Total Pay: $112,585
The $3.9 million Austin police spent last year to put more officers on the streets is the biggest piece of the department's overtime budget, but it's not the only piece. Last year, the department spent $10.3 million overall for overtime, up from $4.9 million in 2001.
Click here for the full story as reported in the Austin American Statesman
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Austin Police Commander arrested for DWI
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
Diet mixers make people drunk faster
Taking a drink with sugar-free versions of mixers, such as tonic water, cola, bitter lemon and lemonade, produces higher blood-alcohol levels.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Overtime on DWI cases inflates one Officer's salary to $172,000
"They switch defendants or piggyback on each other's cases," said lawyer J. Gary Trichter.
In the courtroom
Austin's Nightclub Dallas WINS!
Fate of Dallas' liquor license now in hands of TABC.
The commission declined to comment on Cloninger's 43-page decision. The three-member commission will make the final decision on whether to cancel Dallas' license.
"I regret that we had to go this far, but we're comfortable that we've been vindicated and we're going to rebuild our clientele and our business," said Betty Jensen, president of Cowpoke Inc., which runs the club on Burnet Road.
Monday, April 17, 2006
The TABC’s undercover sting operation regarding public intoxication tickets is now suspended
Dallas nightclub sues state agency
Friday, March 31, 2006
Legislative Committee is going to review TABC's tactics
Thursday, March 30, 2006
Lakeway Police Officer Arrested for DWI
According to an arrest affidavit, Bryan McCannon, 30, was intoxicated at nearly two times the legal limit.
He was off-duty when he arrested Saturday night.
The sheriff's office says McCannon was involved in a head-on collision with minor injuries along F.M. 2769 in Travis County.
When deputies arrived, they determined he was intoxicated and arrested him.
Sunday, March 26, 2006
The University of Texas has a new police chief
Former Austin Police Department Assistant Police Chief Robert Dahlstrom is the new UT police chief.
Dahlstrom faces many new challenges. During the interview process many in the UT community expressed concerns over off-campus safety in highly populated student areas.
Student government suggested joint jurisdiction between APD and UTPD.
“I think the joint jurisdiction would be a very difficult thing to do. You have two different radio communications, you have two different 911 calls that come in.
You have different policies,” Dahlstrom said.
The biggest problem on campus other than minor theft is alcohol, Dahlstrom said. And, he adds, alcohol can lead to more violent crime.
The most recent UTPD crime statistics show 314 arrests and 330 referrals for liquor law violations in 2004.
“And tell them exactly the downfalls of drinking where you lose control of your judgment and make bad judgments that can affect you for the rest of your life,” Dahlstrom said.
“It’s always had a very good reputation being a good department and I hope to continue that reputation and keep it good,” Dahlstrom said.
Friday, March 24, 2006
Ken is interviewed on KXAN
The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission says they can spot people who’ve had too much to drink, just by looking at them.
It’s an issue creating a lot of controversy. It’s also creating a lot of arrests.
The TABC sting operation has increased arrests by 95 percent.
Agents are going into bars and restaurants looking for folks who are a danger to themselves or others.
When they spot someone drawing attention to themselves, that person is likely headed to jail.
“Don’t do anything more than anyone around you in a bar is doing,” TABC spokeswoman Carolyn Beck said.
The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission are sending agents into bars to ticket people who have had too much to drink.
How can they tell? Simply, they look at you.
“You may be arrested and taken to jail and get a citation as well, It’s the officer’s discretion,” Beck said.
TABC busts are up 95 percent over the last year. Legal experts say there’s a reason for that.
“TABC is trying to justify their existence. They think that it is a politically popular thing to get out there and arrest folks,” defense attorney Ken Gibson said.
Gibson says the method TABC agents use to determine if you’re drunk is nothing short of harassment. If you do anything out of the ordinary, they’ll haul you outside for a field sobriety test.
“It’s the old, ‘I’ll know it when I see it.’ standard, and that’s not enough. There’s got to be more to it than that,” Gibson said.
The TABC insists agents can spot people who are a danger to themselves or others just by looking at them. They stand out. They’re a spectacle and easy to spot.
“Someone catches the attention of an agent in a bar, it means they’ve done something beyond what every other person in that bar who is also drinking has done. They’ve done something to bring attention to themselves,” Beck said.
That’s a claim Gibson doesn’t buy and says the conviction rate of these tickets and TABC’s ultimate success will be extremely low.
“They’re going to have a difficult time proving this person was a danger to himself or others when he’s sitting in a bar, not bothering anybody,” Gibson said.
Defense attorneys News 36 spoke with say they expect the conviction rates of these tickets to be less than 10 percent.
The TABC says their ultimate goal is to reduce over serving by bartenders and to prevent drunk driving.
That’s an issue everyone seems to agree on. It is the method the agents are using that’s drawing the most criticism.
Sunday, March 19, 2006
22 Austin Police Officers were suspended in the last 5 months of 2005
Among the circumstances surrounding the suspensions of the last five months of 2005 are:
•Sgt. Daniel Armstrong was suspended in November for 42 days for driving while intoxicated when off-duty. An officer found Armstrong in the Cedar Park Post Office parking lot asleep behind the wheel of his Ford F-150 pickup, the report states. Armstrong was given a $257 public intoxication ticket.
Armstrong said in an interview that he embarrassed himself and the department.
"I deserved every one of those 42 days," the 12-year-Austin police department veteran said. But he added, "When police are disciplined, I ask that the public does not crucify them but think instead about what we deal with on a daily basis."
•Detective Ralph Tijerina was suspended for 25 days in December for driving in an impaired state in Hitchcock, near Houston.
•Officer Julie Schroeder was indefinitely suspended in November for
violating the police department's use of force policy when she fatally shot
Daniel Rocha on June 9. Schroeder shot Rocha during a scuffle after she lost her Taser.
Schroeder, who was later fired, didn't use the minimum level of force necessary to arrest Rocha, she violated the Taser policy by carrying her Taser inappropriately and she violated the department's video recording policy, the report said.
•Sgt. Don Doyle was suspended for 28 days in November for failing to use his mobile video/audio recording equipment to tape Rocha's traffic stop.
•Officer Joseph Swann was indefinitely suspended in August for grabbing a man's crutches and pushing him to the ground during a March 20 traffic stop.
•Sgt. Kevin Leverenz was suspended for 15 days for not turning on his in-car video camera after he had issued a man two citations.
Leverenz assaulted the man, whom he says made an obscene gesture at him, but he failed to document the incident and lied about his encounter with the man, according to the report.
•Detective Robert Hightower was suspended for 90 days in December for making inappropriate comments to and engaging in inappropriate behavior with his co-workers.
•Cpl. Andrew Haynes was suspended for three days in October for making inappropriate comments to a man during a traffic stop in the 1800 block of East 12th Street on April 19.
•Officer Ewa Wegner was suspended for 10 days, and her former partner, Officer Charlie Maestas Jr., was suspended for five when the department discovered they had run up $7,579.16 in cell phone charges between 2004 and 2005.
Both Wegner and Maestas admitted that they used the phones for personal calls and that they did not reimburse the city for expenses incurred, the report states.
•Officer Gregory Thornton was suspended for 10 days for parking his car outside of a motel where his girlfriend's car was parked and waited for her while he was off-duty.
Thornton followed the man who had been with her, the report said, and obtained his license plate number. When Thornton was on-duty July 28, he checked the man's warrants, driver's license number and address.
•Officer Robert Cortez was indefinitely suspended in November for neglect of duty and insubordination. A month after he was put on a personal improvement plan, he called or text-messaged his girlfriend 25 times during his patrol shift, actions taped by the video and audio systems in his car.
Cortez was also disciplined for failing to respond to calls and taking too long to write reports.
•In July, Officer Jared Tucker was driving west on RM 12 in Hays County when he tried to pass three vehicles traveling in the same direction when it wasn't safe to do so.
Tucker caused a wreck but didn't check on the crash victim and mitigated his responsibility when Department of Public Safety officials questioned him about his role in the incident, the report states. He was suspended for 90 days.
Click here for the full story as reported in the Austin American Statesman
Ambien and Alcohol
With a tendency to stare zombie-like and run into stationary objects, a new species of impaired motorist is hitting the roads: the Ambien driver.
Ambien, the nation's best-selling prescription sleeping pill, is showing up with regularity as a factor in traffic arrests, sometimes involving drivers who later say they were sleep-driving and have no memory of taking the wheel after taking the drug.
In some state toxicology laboratories Ambien makes the top 10 list of drugs found in impaired drivers. Wisconsin officials identified Ambien in the bloodstreams of 187 arrested drivers from 1999 to 2004.
And as a more people are taking the drug — 26.5 million prescriptions in this country last year — there are signs that Ambien-related driving arrests are on the rise. In Washington State, for example, officials counted 78 impaired-driving arrests in which Ambien was a factor last year, up from 56 in 2004.
Ambien's maker, Sanofi-Aventis, says the drug's record after 13 years of use in this country shows it is safe when taken as directed. But a spokeswoman, Melissa Feltmann, wrote in an e-mail message, "We are aware of reports of people driving while sleepwalking, and those reports have been provided to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as part of our ongoing postmarketing evaluation about the safety of our products."
A spokeswoman for the F.D.A. said the drug's current label warnings, which say it should not be used with alcohol and in some cases could cause sleepwalking or hallucinations, were adequate. "People should be aware of that," said the spokeswoman, Susan Cruzan.
While alcohol and other drugs are sometimes also involved in the Ambien traffic cases, the drivers tend to stand out from other under-the-influence motorists. The behavior can include driving in the wrong direction or slamming into light poles or parked vehicles, as well as seeming oblivious to the arresting officers, according to a presentation last month at a meeting of forensic scientists.
"These cases are just extremely bizarre, with extreme impairment," said Laura J. Liddicoat, the forensic toxicology supervisor at a state-run lab in Wisconsin who made the presentation.
Her presentation, which reported on six of the cases, was made at a meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, where her counterparts from other parts of the country swapped similar tales.
Several of Ms. Liddicoat's cases involved drivers whose blood revealed evidence of Ambien overdoses. In one of them the driver, who was also taking the antidepressant citalopram, crashed into a parked car, was involved in another near collision, then drove over a curb. When confronted by police, he did not recall any of the recent events, according to the presentation.
Ms. Liddicoat did not describe any of those cases as sleep-driving — in fact, she said she had not heard of that defense — and it is possible that some drivers' claims of driving while asleep may be mere Ambien alibis.
But some medical researchers say reports of sleep-driving are plausible.
Doctors affiliated with the University of Minnesota Medical Center who have studied Ambien recently reported the cases of two users who told doctors they sleep-drove to the supermarket while under the drug's influence. Neither of the patients remembered the episode the next day, according to Dr. Carlos Schenck, an expert in sleep disorders who is the lead researcher in the study.
"Luckily, neither of them got hurt," said Dr. Schenck, who added that sleep-driving — which really occurs in a twilight state between sleep and wakefulness — was more common than people generally suspect. He said he believed that Ambien was an excellent sleep agent, but that patients need to be better warned about its potential side effects.
The traffic cases around the country include that of Dwayne Cribb, a longtime probation and parole officer in Rock Hill, S.C. Mr. Cribb says he remembers nothing after taking Ambien before bed last Halloween — until he awoke in jail to learn he had left his bed and gone for a drive, smashed into a parked van and driven away before crashing into a tree.
Mr. Cribb is still facing charges of leaving the scene of an accident.
A registered nurse who lives outside Denver took Ambien before going to sleep one night in January 2003. Sometime later — she says she remembers none of the episode — she got into her car wearing only a thin nightshirt in 20-degree weather, had a fender bender, urinated in the middle of an intersection, then became violent with police officers, according to her lawyer.
The woman, whose lawyer says she previously had a pristine traffic record, eventually pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of careless driving after the prosecutors partly accepted her version of events, said the lawyer, Lloyd L. Boyer.
Many states do not currently test for Ambien when making impaired- driving arrests. But a survey still under way by a committee from the forensic sciences group and the Society of Forensic Toxicologists found that among laboratories that conduct tests of drivers' blood samples for two dozen states, 10 labs list Ambien among the top 10 drugs found in impaired drivers, according to Dr. Sarah Kerrigan, a forensic toxicologist in Houston involved in that survey.
Ms. Liddicoat, in Wisconsin, is among experts who suggest that Ambien may need a stronger warning label. Others arguing that case include doctors, Ambien users and defense lawyers.
"Doctors are handing out these drugs like Pez," said William C. Head, an Atlanta lawyer who is one of the nation's leading defense lawyers specializing in impaired-driving cases.
The F.D.A., which would have to order any labeling changes, says it is not aware of any pattern of problems with the drug. Still Ms. Cruzan, in response to a reporter's question, said the agency would look into unusual sleepwalking episodes.
Including the notifications from Sanofi, which as a matter of policy the F.D.A. declined to discuss, the agency did receive 48 "adverse event" reports in 2004 involving Ambien use without other drugs. They involved three cases of sleepwalking, six reports of hallucinations and one traffic accident.
Ambien's competitors — Lunesta by Sepracor and Sonata by King Pharmaceuticals — are not as widely used in this country, and do not seem to be cropping up with any frequency on police blotters. Ambien sales last year reached $2.2 billion, according to IMS Health. Among the three drugs, Ambien accounted for 84 percent of prescriptions dispensed.
A federal prosecutor was persuaded that Ambien played a part in a well-publicized case last summer involving not a car but an airliner. A US Airways flight from Charlotte, N.C., to London last July was diverted to Boston, after a passenger who had taken Ambien became "like the Incredible Hulk all of a sudden," according to his lawyer.
The man, Sean Joyce, a British painting contractor, became agitated, tore off his shirt and threatened to kill himself and fellow passengers, according to court documents. If convicted, Mr. Joyce could have faced a maximum sentence of 20 years in jail for interfering with a flight crew, according to his lawyer, Michael C. Andrews.
But under a plea agreement Mr. Joyce was sentenced to five days already served, after the prosecutor accepted his story that his eruption, which he said he could not recall at all, occurred as a result of taking one Ambien pill and drinking two individual-serving bottles of wine.
Many of the impaired-driving cases involve people who drank alcohol before taking Ambien. Mr. Cribb, for instance, said he had two beers with dinner before he took the drug and went to bed.
Sanofi-Aventis says that while sleepwalking may occur while taking Ambien, the drug may not be the cause. It also notes that the warnings with Ambien, including those in its television ads, specifically instruct patients not to use it with alcohol and to take it right before bed.
Alcohol has sometimes been shown to cause sleepwalking, and it can also magnify Ambien's effects, according to Dr. Mark Mahowald, director of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center at Hennepin County Medical Center, who is also involved in Dr. Schenck's study.
In the past, the center has received grant funding from Sepracor, Lunesta's maker, but Dr. Mahowald said that none of the researchers currently received any funding from sleeping pill companies.
Ambien's alcohol warning is apparently ignored by many people. But Mr. Head, the defense lawyer, says he has concluded that no one should take Ambien the same evening they have been drinking alcohol. "Not even a toast," he said.
Mr. Head is now defending a man in Decatur, Ga., who, after having three drinks one night, said he took two Ambien and was in bed watching David Letterman's monologue on television. Without realizing it, the man says, he got back out of bed and behind the wheel and was arrested on multiple charges that included driving on the wrong side of the road.
Too many other people taking Ambien also evidently disregard the other label guidelines.
Ann Marie Gordon, manager of Washington State's toxicology lab, said that many of those arrested reported that they took Ambien while driving so it would "kick in" by the time they got home. "Hello — it kicked in before you got home?" Ms. Gordon said. "That's not a good thing. I'm amazed at the number of people who do that."
But misuse of the drug may not explain all the cases. The nurse near Denver took a single Ambien and went to bed, according to her lawyer, Mr. Boyer of Englewood, Colo. Mr. Boyer said that only when the woman returned home after her arrest did she discover a partly consumed bottle of wine on her counter — unopened when she went to bed, she said — leading her to suspect she had begun drinking after taking Ambien.
Research by Dr. Schenck and others elsewhere have found evidence that Ambien users engaged, unawares, in various middle-of-the-night behaviors. In a study published in 2001, researchers at the Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders Center reported on five cases of unusual nighttime eating, sometimes while sleepwalking, in patients taking Ambien. The chief of physical medicine and rehabilitation for the VA North Texas Health System in Dallas, Dr. Weibin Yang, said he became aware of Ambien's potential side effects while at another hospital treating a 55-year-old patient after hip surgery.
The man, who had no history of sleepwalking, walked into a hospital corridor one night, where he urinated on the floor. On another night, he got out of bed and told nurses he was going to church. Dr. Yang said the patient was also taking other medications, but the sleepwalking stopped when Ambien was discontinued. The patient, he said, had no recollection of either event.
Dr. Yang said such experiences persuaded him that people could drive, without realizing it, after taking Ambien.
Meanwhile in South Carolina, Mr. Cribb, who has already pleaded guilty to driving under the influence, still faces a charge of leaving the scene of an accident. He says he has sworn off Ambien. "There has to be a stronger warning," he said, "about what this drug does to you."