Pinal sheriff's now keeping breathalyzer tests - East Valley Tribune: News

Pinal sheriff's now keeping breathalyzer tests

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Posted: Saturday, August 30, 2008 5:50 pm | Updated: 9:00 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Pinal County sheriff's officials say they are now keeping quality assurance tests on a breathalyzer machine that helps prosecute drunken driving cases in northeastern Pinal County.

Records issues spur dismissal of Pinal DUI cases

Sheriff officials announced an internal audit into a problem with missing breathalyzer records on July 29.

A Tribune story published that day reported that county prosecutors were forced to drop at least four recent drunken driving cases in the Apache Junction Justice Court because the records for the Intoxilyzer 8000, the breathalyzer used at the sheriff's Santan station, were not available.

Sheriff's spokesman Mike Minter said the quality tests now are the responsibility of Cpl. Paul Compton.

Deputy Cardest James was pulled from the duty after it was discovered that the Intoxilyzer records were missing from April 2007 to June 2008, a period of 14 months.

"The internal investigation is still on-going. Should finish it in the next few weeks," wrote Lt. Scott Elliott in an e-mail Friday. Elliott serves in the patrol support division.

It's unclear if many of the dismissed cases would have proceeded as far as they did in the court system if the prosecutor knew there were no records for the breathalyzer. But public records provided to the Tribune offer insight into the investigation, which began June 4.

Pinal County prosecutor Michael Larsen wrote June 5 to Richard Platt, chief criminal deputy for the Pinal County Attorney's Office, that he was frustrated in tracking down the records. Larsen disputed James' assertion that he didn't know Larsen needed records for 2008.

"I have e-mailed him once every two weeks for the past three months requesting the 2008 materials and he still hasn't given me anything," Larsen wrote. "His comment that he did not know that I still needed the 2008 documentation is inaccurate. There is no way he did not know I still needed all the 2008 documentation."

A day earlier, Larsen wrote to Platt in an e-mail that James had changed his story since Larsen originally asked for the documents in January, according to county e-mails.

"At first he said he would get me the documents, then he responded by saying that he is trying to get the documents. Now he just does not respond to my e-mails," Larsen wrote.

Larsen went on to say that he had five DUI cases pending in which defense attorneys in those cases were asking for the breathalyzer documents.

DUI attorneys in the Valley have said that checking quality assurance documents for breathalyzer equipment is a basic part of any DUI defense.

It is unclear how many DUI cases were dismissed as a result of records that were missing for more than a year.

The most serious case was against Barbara Hornbeck, a Queen Creek resident who was facing three counts of DUI, including a charge of an extreme DUI.

At least two lawyers for the county attorney's office were involved as the case was prepared for trial. E-mails show that Larsen decided to dismiss the case days before it went to court because of the missing records. It is unclear how much money was spent in preparing the case.

By June 13, Elliott wrote to Platt that the sheriff's office had begun to address the problem.

"I now have oversight over our (testing) program," Elliott wrote. "I had the San Tan/Johnson Ranch instrument and Gold Canyon memories downloaded to see what (quality assurance tests) had been completed. As I found not many have been completed in recent past. This of course is being addressed by our administration to those individuals involved."

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