Denver (AP) — Denver police apologized to a Colorado lawmaker Tuesday, saying they were "impugning her character" by mischaracterizing a traffic stop that made it appear she used her position to get out of a drunken driving arrest.
Police Lt. Matt Murray said a police supervisor asked Republican Rep. Laura Bradford of Grand Junction whether she was a lawmaker, and that Bradford did not bring the topic up first, as city officials said earlier. Murray said the supervisor told Bradford she could face a DUI charge.
"At that point she said, 'I want to be treated like everyone else,'" Murray said.
Murray said the police supervisor told the officer who pulled Bradford over not to give the full account of the stop, but the officer came forward after the extensive media attention that followed. Murray said police will investigate the supervisor's actions.
Bradford's case gained steam because questions were raised about whether she invoked "legislative privilege" under a provision in the state constitution aimed at preventing lawmakers from being detained during session. The provision, which most states have, has roots in the days when English monarchs feuded with lawmakers.
"So we're apologizing because we have misconstrued what she said and what she did and basically we're impugning her character unnecessarily and wrongfully," Murray said.
Although the police's revelations vindicate Bradford's assertion that she never invoked legislative privilege, she still faces the scrutiny of her colleagues. House leadership convened an ethics committee to investigate Bradford's actions on Jan. 25, when police pulled her over and said they smelled alcohol on her breath.
"It's definitely been a roller coaster the last few days," Bradford told The Associated Press Tuesday. "I did nothing wrong. I repeatedly told the officers, 'Treat me like anyone else.'"
She said she appreciated that police released additional information and apologized.
"It doesn't totally exonerate me, I know that," Bradford said.
Bradford apologized to her colleagues in the House Monday, saying she is not "above the law," and never used her position to influence police.
"In response to the officer's inquiries, I stated that I was leaving a legislative function and needed to be at the Capitol the next day," she said during a short speech on the House floor. It was about 10 p.m. when Bradford was stopped and the Legislature had long adjourned for the day.
Bradford told the AP she said to officers that she was returning from dinner with friends, lawmakers and other state officials but never used the words "legislative function." She said it was police who used the terms while questioning her.
Asked why she mentioned "legislative function" in her apology speech, she answered, "Because I was advised to," but wouldn't elaborate.
Murray said that after the officer initiated the stop, Bradford continued driving for a couple of blocks and almost hit a car before parking. The supervisor was called to the scene after the officer saw Bradford's license plates identifying her as a lawmaker. Neither the supervisor nor the officer has been identified.
Bradford can also still face a criminal charge because she had a gun in her car — information that she volunteered to officers before her car was towed — and it's illegal to have a firearm while intoxicated, Murray said. He said prosecutors will determine whether to charge Bradford with the violation, a misdemeanor.
Bradford was cited with making an illegal lane change and improper turn, and she took a cab the night she was stopped.
Her case has prompted criticism from academics and some lawmakers who say Denver police let her off too easy and has brought attention to the legislative privilege clause in the state constitution.
Police defended the way they handled the stop, even as they apologized Tuesday. They insisted constitutional guidelines prevented them from detaining Bradford.
The provision on legislative privilege allows exemptions for treason and felonies. Murray said police would like lawmakers to clarify the provision.
"If a police officer somewhere in the state of Colorado stops a legislator at 3 o'clock in the morning in the middle of nowhere, there's not a hotline they can call to see if the Legislature is in session," he said.
Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty said lawmakers are exploring options on how to clarify the law.
"It was never intended to be applied to a situation like this," he said.
Regardless of the police apology, McNulty said the allegations against Bradford are serious. Lawmakers on the ethics panel can decide on a punishment ranging from censure to expulsion depending on their findings.
Bradford said she was disappointed the ethics panel was formed, and that her traffic citation is an issue between her and the courts. She said other lawmakers who have been suspected of a DUI in the past have not faced an ethics committee.
"I see no need in the ethics committee," she said. "I'm highly disappointed with the speaker of the House for choosing to move forward with this."
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