Sheriff’s Message, Week of March 4th
Each month command staff members attend regularly scheduled community meetings to provide reports; however, we are more interested with citizen input. These comments help provide a general community pulse that assists with limited resource allocation decisions. After this week’s Stagecoach Citizen Advisory Board meeting, a young man wanted to inform me that marijuana impaired driving arrests were wrong because there are no available tests.
Unfortunately, many citizens wrongly believe marijuana use prior to driving will not impair one’s ability to safely drive cars on our busy streets and highways. Even a non-using husband and wife had questions about marijuana driver impairment testing after this meeting, and now they have an understanding. In today’s world, we all too often seek simplistic solutions. There is no single impaired driving test; whether the impairment is caused by alcohol, methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, marijuana, or any other substance ingested into the body and alters brain functions.
The first question asked is the reason for the traffic stop. Was the driver unable to maintain a travel lane, involved in an accident, or had a tail light out? The next question asked is why we had the driver conduct impairment testing outside the vehicle. We look at impairment indicators such as slurred speech, red-watery and/or glazed eyes, difficulty with coordinated tasks such as handing us their credit card instead of a driver’s license. Solely smelling alcohol or marijuana is not sufficient reason to extend the traffic stop. We look at the totality of observable facts before proceeding with scientifically validated impairment testing.
Once out of the vehicle, Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFTS) are administered in order to determine if a driver is impaired. Developed in the 1970s and promulgated by the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration, our deputies are trained to administer these tests, which are admissible in court as evidence. When the driver is physically handicapped and cannot perform SFTS, the impairment decision is based on the first two questions listed above. Breath and/or blood chemical testing done in a substation or jail setting doesn’t change the fact the driver showed signs of impairment at the time of the stop. Once we get body cameras, judges will see the testing process exactly how we saw it, see the same impairment signs and find that the driver was impaired beyond all reasonable doubt.
This past week we assisted two different agencies with two separate pursuits. It was unfortunate driver death resulted in both cases. In Mason Valley, it appears the driver didn’t want to be arrested for impaired driving and lost his life over a misdemeanor offense. While the motive for the second one is still under investigation, all news reports suggest the fugitive driver did not want to go to prison for being a prohibited person in possession of “semi-automatic pistol and an AR-15 style rifle.” Thankfully, no one else was hurt in either case.
And finally, I want to give a BIG shout of praise to our Search & Rescue. There was a motor vehicle accident off of Hwy 341 between Mound House and Silver City. NHP took the accident report but couldn’t find the driver, believing the driver left the area prior to their arrival. The next day, our SAR Commander made the decision to call out SAR, extend the search area “just in case,” and provide a training opportunity for several new team members. Their effort paid off, as the driver was found about ¾ of a mile away from the crash site, without shirt or shoes, and with an altered state of mental health. It would have been a different outcome had not our great SAR team gone into action.
As always, keep the faith!