Sheriff Wall’s license suspended
December 20, 2007
Steamboat Springs — Routt County Sheriff Gary Wall has lost his driver’s license for one year, the Colorado Department of Revenue confirmed Thursday.
Wall had a telephone hearing with the Department of Revenue on Wednesday to consider his appeal of a revocation handed down by the Colorado State Patrol after Wall refused to take a Breathalyzer test Oct. 27 when Trooper Brett Hilling cited him for driving under the influence near U.S. Highway 40 and Walton Creek Road.
Department of Revenue hearing officer Art Julian heard the case, which will have no official bearing on a criminal trial, but may be referenced by prosecutors.
“(Wall) states that he refused because he believed the troopers did not have probable cause to require the test,” Julian wrote in his decision and order. “I have found that the troopers did have probable cause to require testing. The revocation : is sustained.”
Julian wrote that he reached his conclusion by a preponderance of the evidence, which included Hilling’s report and other written testimony including witness statements.
“The officer had probable cause to require testing due to (Wall) having the odor of an alcoholic beverage on his breath, red and glassy eyes, (and) being unsteady on his feet when exiting the vehicle,” Julian wrote under his findings of fact.
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Also under his findings of fact, Julian wrote that Wall told Hilling, “We are not going there,” when he was asked to submit to a chemical breath test.
Trooper Melissa Fowler initially pulled Wall over in his county vehicle for an alleged failure to dim his headlights as he approached the intersection of U.S. Highway 40 and Walton Creek Road while returning from a Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association celebration at Sidney Peak Ranch. Wall claimed that Fowler had insufficient grounds to pull him over, arguing in part that “it would have been impossible for the trooper to distinguish ‘high beams’ from those of the powerful overhead street lights” at “one of the best lit intersections in Steamboat Springs.” Julian dismissed that argument.
“The plain experience of any driver is that, even in well lit intersections, it is easy to distinguish the high beams of an approaching vehicle,” he wrote.
Several witnesses submitted statements on behalf of Wall, according to Julian’s report, including Jenny Wilson, Wall’s girlfriend and passenger at the time of the traffic stop, and Steamboat Springs City Clerk Julie Jordan.
The statements claim that Wall had, at most, one glass of wine and that he exhibited no symptoms of intoxication, according to the report.
Julian, however, found the State Patrol’s reports more credible.
“The hearing officer first notes that all of the statements are remarkably similar in language and content, nearly verbatim in some cases,” Julian wrote. “The similarity of the language diminishes the credibility of the content.”
Julian’s report notes another of Wall’s arguments that the traffic stop “was the result of a conspiracy of the area law enforcement community to charge him with DUI, and that there was a ‘bounty on his head.'” Julian, however, described Hilling’s conduct as “exemplary” and wrote that Wall’s own testimony discredits the conspiracy claims. Julian noted that Hilling “made every attempt to mitigate any potential humiliation of” Wall, through such steps as asking Sheriff’s Office deputies on scene to disperse before he removed Wall from his vehicle.
“This meticulousness, courtesy and respect are in total contradiction to the conduct expected of someone who is perpetrating a false arrest born of malicious intent to discredit (Wall),” Julian wrote.
Wall is set to appear Jan. 16 in Routt County Court on his DUI and prohibited use of a weapon charges. John Kammerzell, director of the state’s Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, said the revocation won’t affect Wall’s ability to continue serving as the county’s top law enforcement officer.
“It has no effect on his peace officer certification,” Kammerzell said Thursday. “POST has no standing in this situation.”
Kammerzell said Wall renewed his POST certification in November. He also said DUI is not one of the misdemeanors that can compromise one’s peace officer certification.
Kammerzell said he is aware of other officers who have also lost their driving privileges. In most cases, Kammerzell said those officers are assigned to strictly administrative duties.
Although Wall was issued an affidavit and notice of driver’s license revocation the night of the traffic stop, he disputed the revocation and was granted a 60-day temporary license and Wednesday’s telephone hearing.
In addition to DUI and failing to dim his headlights, Wall has been charged with prohibited use of a weapon because it is illegal to possess a weapon when under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Wall was not taken to jail as a result of the charges, and an unidentified Sheriff’s Office employee drove him and Wilson home after the traffic stop. There was a request to subpoena Sheriff’s Office Dep. Lance Eldridge for Wednesday’s Department of Revenue hearing, but Julian denied the request.
The weapons charge and the DUI charge are Class 1 misdemeanors that carry a minimum sentence of six months imprisonment or a $500 fine, or both. The maximum sentences are 18 months imprisonment or a $5,000 fine, or both. Also, if convicted of DUI in a criminal trial, Wall would face an additional one-year suspension of his license.
Wall did not return messages left on his work and cell phones Thursday. His lawyer, Steamboat attorney Ron Smith, would not confirm or deny that Wall’s license had been revoked.
“I’m not going to discuss Gary’s case,” Smith said.
Wall’s criminal case was continued in Routt County Court last month. Judge James Garrecht told Wall, Smith and special prosecutor Karen Romeo that he will recuse himself from the case when it moves forward because of the court’s close working relationship with the Routt County Sheriff’s Office.
The 14th Judicial District also recused itself from the case to avoid the same perceived conflict of interest, which is why Romeo, assistant district attorney for the Fifth Judicial District, was appointed special prosecutor.
Romeo has said that a plea bargain with Wall is still possible. She said her investigation of the case is wrapping up soon and that she will begin negotiating with Smith after the New Year.