DUI test decision could be left to justices

Interference convictions likely to be appealed.

Time behind bars is pending for two people who were arrested on charges of driving under the influence in December.

They aren’t going to jail for driving drunk — but for refusing to comply with a judge’s search warrant for their blood on the mornings of their arrests.

Christian Joel Garza and Nina Lynn Ruberti were arrested separately, but their cases have unfolded in a similar fashion.

They both refused breath tests and blood tests after being arrested on suspicion of DUI in Teton County.

The cases are somewhat unusual and could force the Wyoming Supreme Court to decide what’s applicable to state law.

Jurors recently found both defendants guilty of interference for refusing blood draws after a judge signed warrants.


Christian Garza

Garza was pulled over at Highway 22 and Walton Ranch Road on Dec. 3 for driving 62 mph in a 45 zone, according to a probable-cause affidavit.

“Deputy Bradley Goering noted that Garza’s facial muscles were relaxed and his eyes were glossy,” documents state. “Deputy Goering could smell the odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from inside the vehicle.”

Garza admitted to drinking several beers, police said, and submitted to a few field tests but refused breath, blood and urine tests.

In Wyoming, if a DUI defendant refuses a blood test police can apply for a search warrant under the Wyoming Implied Consent Advisement. The law was enacted in 2011.

Goering applied for a warrant for Garza’s blood after booking him into Teton County Jail around 2:30 that morning.

Teton County Circuit Court Judge James Radda approved the warrant, and Garza was taken to St. John’s Medical Center for the blood draw.

“As the laboratory technician was preparing to draw Garza’s blood, Garza stated he would not allow his blood to be drawn,” police stated.

Goering told Garza refusing the search warrant would result in an interference with a peace officer charge.

“Garza stated he understood but still refused to allow the blood draw,” police said.

The state of Wyoming dismissed the DUI charge, but a Teton County jury found Garza guilty of interference after an April 11 trial.

He was sentenced to 75 days in jail.

Garza believes the interference charge and search warrant blood draw are violations of “civil and human rights.”

“The punishment is abuse of power,” Garza told the News&Guide in an interview Tuesday. “It’s an overreach of government power.”

The Teton County Prosecutor’s Office sees it as a way to learn a lesson.

“He had a prior DUI conviction,” Teton County Deputy Prosecutor Clark Allan said. “People need to understand that refusing to cooperate with the search warrant is a bad idea, and if you get convicted of that you’re going to jail.”

Garza’s attorney, Alex Freeburg, is in the process of filing an appeal, which means there’s a stay on Garza’s jail time.

Nina Ruberti was pulled over Dec. 20 for driving 42 mph in a 30 mph zone, according to the Teton County Sheriff’s Office.

Deputy Gary Fairhurst pulled Ruberti over near the Virginian Saloon just after midnight, according to a probable-cause affidavit.

“Dep. Fairhurt noticed that Ruberti’s speech was very slow and slurred and her eyes were very glassy,” documents state.

Ruberti admitted she had one glass of wine at a Christmas party earlier in the evening and after smelling “peppermint and alcohol” Fairhurst asked her to step out of the car.


Nina Ruberti

“Deputy Fairhurst noticed Ruberti lost her balance as she stepped out of the vehicle,” police said.

Ruberti wouldn’t perform a field sobriety test.

“I’ve been told not to say or do anything,” Ruberti told Fairhurst.

She also refused a breath test, so Fairhurst arrested her for suspected impairment based on his other observations.

When Ruberti refused chemical tests, Fairhurst got a signed warrant, but she refused that and was charged with interference.

Last week a Teton County jury found Ruberti guilty of interference.

She received a 10-day jail sentence.

“An appeal is under consideration now,” her attorney, Ed Bushnell, said. “I think the sentences that we’ve seen for the interference charges are excessive.”

Bushnell said he understands why the court imposes jail time.

“They are trying to use it as a deterrent for that type of behavior,” he said. “But to the layperson it just seems like an excessive punishment. It assumes a sophistication of the law for an everyday citizen.”

Bushnell said Garza and Ruberti’s recent cases have caused confusion.

Appealing the cases would allow Wyoming Supreme Court justices to decide.

“It is uncharted territory, and we do need a decision from the high court,” Bushnell said. “I don’t know why there haven’t been any challenges in the last four years. Now all of a sudden it’s a hot topic.”

Bushnell said the law shouldn’t assume that citizens understand their rights immediately after being arrested.

“This is so ingrained in our culture. You hear about the right to remain silent,” Bushnell said. “And there are certain tests you can refuse. You have the right to refuse the portable breath test and the blood test initially. But to the layperson, all of a sudden a piece of paper is held up and the officer calls it a warrant, what does that mean to a person when an arrest is so surreal to the average person anyway?”

Allan agrees the law needs clarification but disagrees about the punishment.

“Refusing to cooperate with the officer is not dangerous. They don’t get killed doing that,” Allan said. “Driving drunk is when people get killed. It’s about getting people to not drive drunk.”

The most recent challenge was in 2014 when Gregory Matthews appealed a similar charge to the Wyoming Supreme Court, leaving the questions of the appeal largely unanswered.

The only hint was left in a footnote of the opinion.

“Based on the record before us it does not appear that the officer’s request for Mr. Matthews to comply with the warrant and Mr. Matthews’ negative response is sufficient to constitute interference; however this determination will have to await a full development of the record at trial,” justices wrote.

The Teton County Prosecutor’s Office later dismissed Matthews’ interference charge, leaving confusion about whether charging defendants with interference when they refuse a blood draw is constitutional.

Since the case didn’t go to trial, a final decision was never made on the legal issue.

Police said they won’t hold someone down and force a blood draw in a misdemeanor traffic offense unless someone is seriously hurt or killed in a crash.


Cop admits killing motorcyclist while DUI

An Elizabeth cop who caused the death of a motorcyclist while driving drunk in October looks to be out of a job and headed to jail for a year.

The recommended sentence and plea deal Romulo Meneses-Alvarez agreed to Monday in Union County Superior Court likely means he’s escaped what could have been a prison term of at least several years.

Meneses-Alvarez, 30, of Elizabeth, admitted he caused the death of Jairo Lozano, 29, of Elizabeth, on Oct. 31, 2017, according to the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office.

The off-duty officer was under the influence of alcohol when his Jeep Wrangler turned left in front of Lozano’s motorcycle on Elmora Avenue in Elizabeth, causing the collision.

Meneses-Alvarez pleaded guilty Monday to strict liability vehicular homicide in the third degree, tampering with physical evidence in the fourth degree, and driving while intoxicated as part of the plea agreement.

When he is sentenced July 13, Middlesex County Assistant Prosecutor Keith Abrams will recommend Meneses-Alvarez serve 364 days in county jail as a condition of probation, according the Middlesex prosecutor’s office. (Middlesex prosecuted the case due to an undisclosed conflict of interest with the Union County Prosecutor’s Office.)

Meneses-Alvarez also agreed to give up his job with Elizabeth Police Department, from which he’s been suspended without pay. The prosecutor’s office also said he will lose his license for one year for the drunk driving conviction. A spokeswoman for the prosecutor said the judge will decide the length of the probation term.

Many details of the Halloween crash and the investigation remain unclear, but police documents and indictments allege that Meneses-Alvarez left the scene after the crash and hindered the investigation by preventing police from checking out his Jeep Wrangler.

A diagram from the police report about the crash. (Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office) 

After the Jeep and the 2005 GSX Suzuki motorcycle collided, Lozano was taken to Trinitas Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

A police narrative in court documents said Meneses-Alvarez gave his information to police at the scene but then left.

Joshua McMahon, an attorney for Lozano’s family, said a witness and body camera footage revealed that another Elizabeth police officer told Meneses-Alvarez to leave. NJ Advance Media was unable to confirm this because a records request for the video footage was denied.

A grand jury returned seven indictments against Meneses-Alvarez in April, making reference to him leaving the scene and not returning. He was indicted for hindering for allegedly lying to an officer when he said he was returning to the crime scene, one indictment said. Another indictment claimed there was evidence he tried to tamper with evidence by altering, destroying, concealing or removing his Jeep during the investigation.

The criminal complaint said that police got a warrant to take a blood sample from Meneses-Alvarez and he was taken to the hospital several hours later. The complaint did not say where officers located him.

All but three of the charges were dismissed as part of the plea agreement, including a first-degree vehicular homicide within 1,000 feet of a school, which could have meant a double-digit prison sentence if he was convicted.

McMahon said that Meneses-Alvarez admitted in court Monday that he was drinking at Central Park, a bar in Roselle, before the crash.

Central Park was one of two bars where former Linden cop Pedro Abad was drinking in 2015 before he drove the wrong way on a highway leading to a head-on crash that killed two fellow officers. He was sentenced to 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison a year ago.

“The family was heartened to hear the Defendant take responsibility, and appreciates the efforts of the Middlesex County Assistant Prosecutors to facilitate this negotiated resolution,” McMahon said. “That said, given what has happened here as well as the Abad incident, we intend, through the civil arena, to fully explore the role that Central Park bartenders played in this Defendant committing another off-duty, drinking-related homicide.”


Woman charged for allegedly running over man on baseball field

A woman in Maine has been charged with manslaughter after she hit a man while driving out of control onto a baseball field during a little league game Friday evening.

Carol Sharrow, of Sanford, Maine, allegedly blew through a gate and drove onto the field at Goodall Park, sending players and bystanders scattering for safety, police said. The woman turned around right in the middle of the field and drove back through the gate when she struck 68-year-old Douglas Parkhurst, according to police.

Parkhurst was rushed to the hospital, but died en route.

Police in Sanford, Maine, had chained the gate shut where a driver busted through and hit a man, killing him, at baseball game on Friday, June 1, 2018.

Surreal video showed the woman careening across the baseball diamond while parents and fans shouted for her to get off the field. A second cellphone video showed people rushing to Parkhurt’s aid in the parking lot after he was hit.

Witnesses told Portland ABC affiliate WMTW that Parkhurst was attempting to push children out of the way and close the main gate to prevent the woman from fleeing when he was struck.

“I pitched to one batter and then I heard, like, rubber burning and everyone looked up and then I heard screaming,” said Zachary McMurtry, who was playing in the game. McMurtry’s friend, Makena Murphy, captured the woman driving erratically across the diamond.

Police said Sharrow, 51, has two previous convictions for driving under the influence. She was convicted of aggravated driving under the influence in New Hampshire in 2002 and was charged with operating under the influence by York County Sheriff’s Office, in Maine, at an uncertain date, WMTW reported.

Maine State Police and the Sanford Police Department are continuing to investigate the incident. Sharrow is being held at York County Jail.

Sanford is just 18 miles inland from Kennebunkport and about 35 miles south of Portland.


Ex-parole board member denies he used position to get out of DUI

COLUMBUS – A fired parole board member – accused of using his official position in a failed effort to get out of a drunken driving charge – denied to 10 Investigates that he abused his authority and is expected to go to on trial later this month.

But others disagree with Michael H. Jackson.

They include a state trooper, a judge and the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction – the agency who fired him.

And they point to dash camera video as proof.

Jackson, who served on the parole board from 2013 to 2018, was fired from his job in February of this year, according to a copy of his termination letter obtained by 10 Investigates.

The letter states: “You are being removed for violating the standards of employee conduct: Rule 16-Misusing official position for personal gain.” The letter goes on to state, “you attempted to use your official position with the parole board and ODRC to influence the arresting officer…”

Jackson, who is charged with OVI and other traffic violations, was arrested on November 12, 2017. He is scheduled to go to trial on June 18.

Dash camera video recorded by Ohio State Highway Patrol – and obtained by 10 Investigates – shows Jackson referenced his job with the state at least three times while Trooper Steven Mahl was conducting a traffic stop in east Franklin County.

Jackson initially refused to take a field sobriety test but after learning he was going to be placed under arrest, he agreed.

Mahl said: “I’ve asked you, you said you didn’t want to do any test.”

Jackson: “Well because I’m…because I work for the governor’s office they are always telling me don’t do that kind of stuff, try to just get out of it and see if you can go home. I’m right here at the house.”

A spokesman for Governor John Kasich denied knowing Jackson in an emailed response to 10 Investigates. The statement went on to say Jackson’s “comments are false and ridiculous. Moreover, the only guidance we have on drinking and driving is to follow the law and not to do it.”

Earlier in the traffic stop, dash camera video shows Jackson showed Mahl his badge. Mahl can be heard asking: “Where’s that badge come back to Mike?”

Jackson says: “Adult Parole Authority.”

Mahl: “The Parole Authority?”

Mahl then asks Jackson how much he’d had to drink that night. That portion of the audio from that dash camera provided to 10 Investigates was redacted. But during an April court hearing, Mahl testified that Jackson admitted to consuming between two to three drinks before getting behind the wheel of his Ford F-150.

Earlier in the traffic stop, the dash camera video shows Mahl asks Jackson to step out of his truck. At that point, Jackson says: “Really?” And again references that “I’m with state parole.”

Jackson hung up on a 10 Investigates reporter Friday, but during a brief interview before his most recent court appearance in late April, Jackson denied abusing his position, despite dash camera video that shows he referenced his position with the trooper.

When asked by a 10 Investigates reporter if he was attempting to get out of the OVI arrest, Jackson said: “No, that’s not the case… now whether I was afraid or tongue-tied possibly, but that’s not the case.”

When asked directly by a reporter: “Are you saying you didn’t say that?”

Jackson said: “I’m saying that’s not what was intended. If that is what came out I am not certain.”

But Judge James O’Grady said during that April 25 hearing that he thought Jackson’s intentions were clear.

“To put forth, you know, I’m in law enforcement, I have a badge, I work for the governor, that is…it’s clear why that was done. I have no doubt in my mind. That was absolutely done to ‘we’re on the same side – gimme a break and let me go.’”

Calls and emails placed with Jackson’s attorney Thursday and Friday were not returned. A clerk tells 10 Investigates Jackson’s trial is still set for June 18.

Jackson becomes the third parole member to leave the parole board since February.

Two others – Richard Cholar Jr. and Andre Imbrogno – have also left the parole board in recent months. Cholar could not be reached.

Imbrogno, who remains with ODRC’s legal services division, declined to answer a reporter’s questions. He referred questions to an ODRC spokeswoman.

An ODRC spokeswoman did reply back to 10 Investigates saying that one board member had been re-assigned and the other’s term was not renewed. No further explanation was given.


OWI suspect puts on striptease while under arrest

WEST BEND — An OWI suspect in West Bend puts on a striptease for officers while he’s under arrest. The bizarre behavior was all caught on camera.

Officials say Craig Abel was placed in a holding cell at the West Bend Police Department after being arrested for allegedly crashing his vehicle into a house. That’s when he started to expose himself and make obscene gestures.

As soon as the handcuffs came off, so did Abel’s clothes.

The 46-year-old can be seen slapping his bare stomach and mooning the camera.

“It was just, I don’t know,” said Jeannine Waterson

The footage left Jeannine Waterson speechless knowing the reason behind Abel’s actions.

“I was just trying to get everything done, laundry put away, dishes in the dishwasher,” Waterson said. “And then all of a sudden I heard tires squealing and then a big crash and then the whole house shook.”

Just after 2 a.m. Saturday morning, May 26 police say Abel crashed his vehicle into a home on Julen Circle, then drove off. When Waterson got outside, she discovered it was her neighbor’s side of the duplex that had been hit.

“If it had hit two feet over, it would have hit their bedroom,” said Waterson.

Charlene and John Pedersen were out of town for the holiday weekend. They came home to a gaping hole in their garage and a lot of questions.

“It was a shock. I just felt like I got hit in the face,” said Charlene. “How could this have happened to us?”

Police say this is Abel’s sixth OWI offense. The victims hope the seemingly silly video of his behavior after the crime shines a light on the serious consequences of driving under the influence.

“They need to make the law tougher for drunk drivers. This is just getting ridiculous because so many people are getting hurt, killed,” said Waterson.

In addition to an OWI, hit-and-run, and probation violation charge, Abel was also charged with disorderly conduct for exposing himself in the holding cell — as well as obstructing an officer for allegedly giving police a false name upon his arrest.

OWI suspect puts on striptease while under arrest in West Bend