“Professional Courtesy” and DWI

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

Earlier this week, I posted on a DUI case in Mesa, Arizona where a police officer oddly saw signs of drunkenness in a woman whose blood-alcohol concentration came back .00.

Now out of San Jose, California
comes a story about a well-connected former police officer who, apparently flat-out knockered, rear-ended an Escalade, which then flipped the median and struck an oncoming Jetta.

The ex-cop’s name is Sandra Woodall. We only know that thanks to the San Jose Mercury News. The police department wouldn’t release her name. Woodall now works as an investigator for the Santa Clara district attorney’s office. Her husband is a sergeant with the local police department. And her father-in-law was formerly a lieutenant at the same department. He’s also now an investigator for the district attorney’s office.

Unlike the case in Mesa, where a police officer reported he could smell booze on the breath of a woman who hadn’t been drinking, the cops in San Jose pointedly couldn’t smell liquor on the breath a former cop who was so drunk, she couldn’t remember what year it was.

Newly obtained court documents show there was ample evidence a former San Jose police officer was drunk when she crashed her SUV in March, but police chose not to question her about alcohol use or test her blood.

Soon after Sandra Woodall’s March 25 multi-car accident, she told paramedics that she was just out of rehab, had consumed “a lot” of alcohol and was so disoriented that she thought it was 2006, according to documents. Both of the paramedics who treated Woodall noted the strong smell of alcohol on her breath.

Sgt. Will Manion – a well-regarded senior officer who was the police supervisor on the scene – noted none of these things. Instead, Manion seemed to EMTs to be coaching Woodall on the correct way to answer their questions. He later tried to prevent them from taking her to a hospital, an EMT alleged. Manion insisted that he had no evidence she was drunk, and was trying to determine whether she could be forced to go to the hospital against her will.

But instead of exploring the possibility that Woodall was intoxicated, officers at the scene concluded that the speeding accident could have been caused because Woodall was eating egg rolls from Jack in the Box while she was driving. They decided not even to cite her for speeding – an unusual conclusion in so dramatic an accident.

The police didn’t give Woodall a field sobriety test. They didn’t ask her to take a breath test. And they didn’t take her blood.

Woodall has now finally been charged with felony drunk driving, though no thanks to the investigating officers. It took an outraged phone call to senior police officials from one of the people Woodall hit to get a proper investigation.

I’m sure Woodall will lose her job with the DA’s office. The real question is whether the officers who covered up for her will lose their jobs, too.

Oh, and this certainly isn’t the first time police officers have been caught letting fellow officers off the hook for DWI.

Thanks to Dan G. for the tip.

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38 Responses to ““Professional Courtesy” and DWI”

  1. #1 |  Matt Moore | 

    That story is amazing. Giving a cop a break for a checkpoint DUI I can almost understand (I wish they’d cut me the same slack, basically), but to let a woman that hit two cars go without even a ticket? Insanity.

  2. #2 |  Dave Hummels | 

    This is waaaay past professional courtesy. We’re not talking about cutting another officere some slack for 15 over or not quite stopping at a stop sign. This is obstruction of justice, pure and simple. This is coddling a person that obviously has a major problem and could have easily killed someone. Woodall just pissed away her moral authority and should be fired (or resign first). The police supervisor on scene should be charged with the aforementioned offense and made to turn in his badge. If you wanted to make things harder for your fellow peace officers Ms. Woodall and Sgt Manion (from a community relations standpoint), then you did a fine job. Thanks for feeding the cynicism assholes!

  3. #3 |  The Volokh Conspiracy | 

    Poor Exercise of DWI Discretion:…

    Yesterday, I posted about a woman arrested for DWI when she hadn’t had a drop to drink. Now …

  4. #4 |  andyinsdca | 

    Will someone please remind me why we’re supposed to trust the cops?

  5. #5 |  Dave Hummels | 

    #4 andyinsdca:

    Ideally, I’d like it if we could have a “trust, but verify” relationship w/ law enforcement, at least at the local and state level (federal law enforcement powers should be much more limited than they currently are). If we are to move in this direction, we have to get the police out of the vice enforcement business and departments must be, with a few exceptions, entirely open to the public in matters ranging from discipline to strategic planning to priorities. We must begin to cut away at the layers of special treatment, secrecy and mystique, so that the police officer becomes nearly indistinguishable from the private citizen.

  6. #6 |  Flash Gordon | 

    DUI laws are not about getting drunks off the road. The purpose is simply to get as many convictions as possible. Convictions of “them”, not “us.” Wonder what the MADD mothers will have to say about this? Nothing, I’d bet.

  7. #7 |  old | 

    Well connected cop nearly gets away with a crime, hmmm, I wonder what she had on other members of the law enforcement community, or is it another case of the law applies only to people not connected?

    Ridiculous, either way. People should lose their jobs over behavior such as this.

  8. #8 |  Les | 

    I wonder if Patrick will show up to express his suspicion that the EMT’s drugged her or splashed her with alcohol because…you know… EMT’s!

  9. #9 |  Michael Pack | 

    As I said yesterday,DUI is a opinion crime and in these cops opinion she was not drunk.Charging people for actual harm and reckless driving would solve many problems.In this case,whether drunk or sober,this women caused a lot of damage .If this is not reckless op. I’m not sure what is.Anyone involved in a accident they caused should be charged.To me,B.A.C is irrelevant.I don’t care if you’ve been drinking,were on the phone,or playing with your C.D.,harm is harm.In truth,I can’t think of any other offense where you get a lesser charge or none at all because you were not drinking.In this case the evidence seems overwhelming against this lady,yet,since they say she was not drunk she gets off?

  10. #10 |  JLM | 

    My grandparents lived next to a city judge for years in Corning, NY, and he was the biggest crook in the neighborhood. He would routinely get trashed and be pulled over on the way home for driving like a drunk. The cops would give him a ride home and that was the end of it. Finally he drove off the road and hit a tree in somebody’s front yard and they couldn’t cover it up. When I think about how many poor bastards with one too many beers in their systems that guy probably screwed from the bench over the years, it makes my blood pressure go up.

  11. #11 |  Dave Krueger | 

    I’m sure this is just one of those rare once-in-a-lifetime cases where the police were confused and tired from a long day’s work chasing down child molesters and drug kingpins. After all, the vast majority of cops are decent respectful public servants selflessly dedicated to keeping us safe from those who would harm us.

    ROFLMAO!

    Hopefully there will be a lawsuit and the plaintiff’s attorney will tear those bastards up on the stand. After all, they will almost certainly be lying through their teeth.

  12. #12 |  The Florida Masochist | 

    This case is nothing. In South Florida nine years ago an FBI agent driving under the influence killed two brothers in a wrong way accident. The Florida Highway patrol blamed the brothers, let other FBI agents remove things from the drunk driver’s vehicle and more. Here’s an article on the affair.

    http://www.sptimes.com/News/081901/State/Slow_investigations_t.shtml

    Found not guilty on the most severe charges brought against him(Mostly because the investigation was so botched a defense attorney could raise reasonable doubt), Farrall only served 90 days for killing the the Thompson brothers. The FL Highway patrol people who gave Farrall profession courtesy? none got more than a five day suspension.

    The FL Highway patrol not learning from the Farrall debacle, recently gave similar courtesy to a Miami Beach police officer who caused a crash down here. As I said, To serve and protect….our own.

  13. #13 |  Rick Barton | 

    Why do you think cops post those dumb little stickers with the blue stripes on their cars- So other cops will cut them a break.

    Most cops would over look a brother/sister cop molesting a child- “Hey the kid had it coming, he’d grow up and might smoke pot anyway, so my comrad might as well fuck him/her up the ass, and I’ll back him up”

  14. #14 |  nathan | 

    #12 The Florida Masochist:

    >> The FL Highway patrol not learning from the Farrall debacle, recently gave similar courtesy to a Miami Beach police officer

    I would argue that the other way; it seems they learned well. No matter how much damage an officer causes, there is no significant harm in covering it up. So cover him up, so the next guy can cover you when you outrageously violate the law and hurt innocent people. No harm, no foul, right?

    It’s sad, really.

  15. #15 |  justin | 

    There’s a provincial inquest going on in Manitoba right now where cops did the same thing for a drunk off-duty police officer who hit and killed a woman. Google “taman inquiry” to get lots of news stories.

  16. #16 |  Jozef | 

    Happens all the time. Most recently here in Atlanta:

    “Officer Jeremiah Stephens was off duty when he was arrested just after 4 a.m., on July 5, on Nesbitt Ferry Road in Roswell for weaving on the road.

    His blood-alcohol level was 0.113 — well above the legal limit of 0.08. Due to his level of intoxication he was charged with two counts of driving under the influence and failure to maintain his lane.

    But police said he wasn’t properly booked in at police headquarters. Stephens wasn’t fingerprinted, his photograph wasn’t taken and he was released on his signature without having to post bond, according to police spokesman Lt. James McGee.”

    (Source)

  17. #17 |  Jeff Davis | 

    It happens in Canada too but sometimes the officers are even more successful in covering things up.
    Link for the only local mention by media:
    http://www.sootoday.com/content/police/city/?Process=true&Month=10&Day=19&Year=2007

    Three way collision with injuries. The mentioned 32 year old male is the one who told me what really happened. After the collision he said that Officer Charette (an Ontario Provincial Police Constable) left his vehicle and was crawling and swearing loudly, he reeked of liquor and appeared totally inebriated. After they arrived the City Police officers bundled him off home, carefully not using a breathalyser. Sadly, this occurred on the same street only a block away from where an on duty OPP had died earlier in a collision with a drunk driver. The victim said that the city police officers didn’t take a statement from him and when he pointed out that the driver who caused the accident was drunk he was told to shut the F*** up and threatened with arrest.

    Sadly it appears that while all too eager to crusade against DWI, even using checkpoints against those who have shown no demonstrated dangerous driving, that different standards apply to our highly professional law enforcement officers. What is this “rule of law” of which you speak?

  18. #18 |  neil scheihing | 

    anyone have a link to something like this happening in alaska?

  19. #19 |  Mike H. | 

    I blame you, and you, and you. After all, we are citizens in an (allegedly) free republic. Why do we insist on taking this?

    This is largely our fault for allowing it to happen, apparently, over and over and over.

    If you all want to get pissed, great, that’s what a free country needs. But don’t get pissed at the cops, you lazy fucks, get off your asses and do something about it. We have a system of representative government – stop whining and stand the fuck up for yourselves.

  20. #20 |  Kelly Setzer | 

    This is so routine that there’s even a website: http://copswritingcops.com/

  21. #21 |  Jim Thomason | 

    I was involved in a 3 car crash in Miami with an off-duty West Palm Beach cop. He ran into another car, and I couldn’t quite stop in time and tapped him due to following too closely. Fortunately for me, the police on the scene wrote out the accident report fairly, and I was able to obtain a copy.

    He went into a big act at the scene, falling down, grabbing at his back, yadda, yadda. They had an ambulance carry him away, though amazingly enough they couldn’t find a thing wrong with him in the emergency room and he was released immediately.

    He later sued me (and the person HE ran into), and the police report had mysteriously changed to make him blameless. Now it showed that I hit him and pushed him into the 1st car. He also introduced fake pictures that showed his car completely undamaged, although I remembered it being nearly totaled – with almost all of the damage to the front. This lack of damage contradicted BOTH sets of police reports.

    The judge was a clueless incompetent, but again fortunately, it was a jury trial. They only awarded him minor damages. As my insurance company had early on offered him a settlement for more than his award, they were able to sue HIM for the attorney fees they incurred after that date.

  22. #22 |  Chew E. McTaggert | 

    Further proof that women should not be allowed to drive.

  23. #23 |  ZEITGEIST | 

    […] POLICE, “PROFESSIONAL COURTESY,” and DWI. […]

  24. #24 |  Jay | 

    This is more common than you would think. Used to have cops as in-laws, sheesh what they get away with is amazing. One got caught on a DWI and not only didn’t get busted, they let him drive home.

    Police are an extremely important factor that separates the US from the third world sleaze. When they act in this way they drag down society. Clean, open government is the best government.

  25. #25 |  Larry | 

    Here’s another one:

    http://www.komonews.com/news/archive/4085746.html

    State supreme court justice blows an 0.21. Gets off the hit-and-run charge by successfully arguing she was too drunk to realize she smacked the car in front of her! Then gets off with treatment, and no time served, and then goes back to the supreme court!

  26. #26 |  HtownGuy | 

    We have a system of representative government – stop whining and stand the fuck up for yourselves.

    That’s not entirely true. We have a constitutionally-limited democracy so that 1) the masses can’t trample the few and that 2) government agents cannot violate us in ways that are now routine.

  27. #27 |  Bashir Gemayel | 

    The real question is whether the officers who covered up for her will lose their jobs, too.

    I’d have to say no.

    And yes, I live in the area.

  28. #28 |  Me | 

    As usual, Louisiana leads all others in another WTF! category.

    New Orleans cop leads bridge officers on a high-speed chase, SLAPS one of them in the FACE, and yet was not arrested specifically cuz he was a cop.
    http://www.nola.com/news/index.ssf/2008/07/nopd_officer_suspended_for_all.html

    The Mayor of Mandeville drives through a toll-tag barrier, continues driving down the bridge with his headlights off, refuses to pull over at first when the cops chase him down, ADMITS THAT HE HAD BEEN DRINKING, is NOT given a breathalyzer test, and gets off with a mere fine (no arrest).
    http://www.wwltv.com/local/northshore/stories/wwl062408tpcauseway.36ba4395.html

  29. #29 |  Juan Garcia | 

    It’s not “professional courtesy”, it’s corruption and the kind of behavior you would expect to see in a third-world shit hole. Any Nazi pigs found to have engaged in “corruption” or “professional courtesy” should be immediately fired and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

  30. #30 |  Wilbur | 

    “But police said he wasn’t properly booked in at police headquarters. Stephens wasn’t fingerprinted, his photograph wasn’t taken and he was released on his signature without having to post bond, according to police spokesman Lt. James McGee.”

    Er, Jozef…. I think that department would have his fingerprints & photo already! It would have been on file since his earliest days in training. What happened with the bond is anyone’s guess.

  31. #31 |  Kev | 

    DUI laws are not about getting drunks off the road. The purpose is simply to get as many convictions as possible. Convictions of “them”, not “us.” Wonder what the MADD mothers will have to say about this? Nothing, I’d bet.

    It’s too bad that the drunk ex-cop in this story didn’t run into a car with a MADD mother in it; that’d probably be the only way this kind of thing will ever change.

  32. #32 |  supercat | 

    What is this “rule of law” of which you speak?

    It has been replaced by totalitarian anarchy.

  33. #33 |  Professional courtesy « Internet Scofflaw | 

    […] Radley Balko wonders: Out of San Jose, California comes a story about a well-connected former police officer […]

  34. #34 |  anonymous | 

    “What is this ‘rule of law’ of which you speak?”

    The “rule of law” has been replaced by the “rules of law enforcement.”

  35. #35 |  Patrick | 

    Les,

    If this case happened the way it was reported, the driver should go to jail and the cop SHOULD lose his job. My problem isn’t with policing the bad police, it’s with believing everything that’s written in the papers or on blogs as the whole truth. You don’t think those lawyers could have set that whole thing up? I do. Did they? I don’t know, but it is possible.

  36. #36 |  Ed | 

    I’m shocked to see that people whose paychecks come from funds that are acquired through threat of murder are corrupt.

  37. #37 |  Dan | 

    Patrick, which police force do you work for? I wanna make sure I stay out of your town.

  38. #38 |  Angry guy | 

    Where are the pictures of these people I want to know what these crooks look like!

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