Thursday, June 9, 2011
Three hundred and forty dollars in impound charges plus missed work, a DUII citation record, $250 in future record expungement costs and the chance of being dropped from a nursing program.
Those are the alleged results of one 22-year-old nursing student's traffic stop following a late-night break at a local establishment between double-duty shifts at a Heights nursing home.
Michael Winkler, here for summer employment and new to town, was stopped by Hood River Police Officer Isaac Miller April 30 at 1:25 a.m. for "stopping three-quarters of a car length over" the stop line at the intersection of May and 22nd streets, according to Miller's report.
In a letter forwarded to the City of Hood River's insurance agent, Winkler is claiming that traffic stop lead to a "false arrest" for DUII and an unnecessary impound of his vehicle.
Winkler received notice May 2 that the Hood River County District Attorney's office had dropped the DUII charges against him; however, the DUII and traffic citation remain on his record and the related fees remain his responsibility.
Winkler, intending to clear himself from what he claims are false charges, drafted a letter outlining his complaint, requesting $1,775.74 in compensation from the HRPD along with an investigation of Miller's actions.
In his letter, Winkler asked for acknowledgement of "emotional distress and damage to reputation" along with reimbursement for the costs incurred in the arrest, the future cost of having his record expunged and potential work-related losses.
Winkler met with Police Chief Bruce Ludwig May 11 to present his letter and concerns.
According to Winkler, Ludwig's response did not address his concerns. He also stated that he was asked to leave the police department after a short meeting.
Winkler claims that on the morning of his arrest, he had been followed after leaving the Red Carpet Inn where he had been playing pool, and that he was targeted for a DUII stop without cause.
Winkler later reported to Miller that he had one beer at an earlier location during his break between work shifts at 10:30 p.m. on April 29 - three hours before the stop.
Two separate lab results registering 0.0 percent blood alcohol content were ultimately obtained from Winkler following his arrest.
"I was not drunk or taking any drugs," said Winkler. "I told the officer that I was tired from my double-duty shifts as a certified nursing assistant. I told him I was almost blind in my left eye, but he arrested me anyway. I don't believe I stopped over the line, either."
Officer Miller also directed the impound of Winkler's vehicle at the scene, a residential area with curbside parking, four blocks from Winkler's place of employment, his destination for the night.
Noted in the police report from the scene is Winkler's own statement to the officer indicating that he was very tired and had been working multiple double-duty shifts at a local nursing home and had only three hours of sleep in the 30 hours prior to his traffic stop.
According to Acting Interim Police Chief Neal Holste, Miller was in his final week of field training as a new police officer at the time of the incident.
Sgt. Stan Baker, field training supervisor for Miller, was in the arresting officer's vehicle during the incident.
"Officer Miller did have probable cause for the stop," said Baker, responding to an inquiry made after the meeting between Winkler and Ludwig.
According to Winkler, Miller asked him to perform field sobriety tests, which Winkler attests he passed. The officer's arrest report notes Winkler did deviate from the sobriety test behavior standards.
Following is a sample of the officer's noted deviations: On the walk and turn test, Miller noted that as Winkler made his turn, he did not leave his lead foot planted as instructed; Winkler lifted his lead foot off the ground twice to reposition it to face back in the other direction. His eyes were noted to be bloodshot and watery.
Winkler contends that any imperfections in the field sobriety test may have been due to his near-blindness in his left eye - and being tired, both issues he reported to the officer and which were noted in the officer's report.
Following his field tests, Winkler was arrested and cited for DUII and transported for intoxilyzer testing. Twin tests confirmed a BAC of 0.0 percent.
Winkler was then asked to submit to a urine drug screen, which he complied with. Urinalysis test results will not be available for several weeks, according to the district attorney's office. Winkler contends that they will come back clean.
Following his arrest, Winkler began to take action to correct what he contends is an improper stop and arrest.
Concerned that his future as a nursing candidate, both in completing his bachelor's degree and obtaining subsequent employment, would be affected by an erroneous DUII charge, Winkler went to the Hood River Police Department May 1 and made a public records request for information on his arrest and the arresting officer's record.
Specifically, Winkler requested a copy of the arresting officer's on-vehicle videotape of his traffic stop and field test. He also requested Miller's sobriety testing certification, and a summary of Miller's DUII arrests since hiring along with his DUII case outcomes.
When making his records request on May 1, Winkler reports that he was told to take his request to the district attorney's office.
Winkler left and made his request with the DA's office that same day, where he was referred back to the police department - the appropriate jurisdiction for the request. He submitted his request again.
Regarding the requested copy of the officer's on-vehicle videotape of the alleged traffic violation and sobriety test, Winkler was informed that the vehicle's front camera was not operating at the time of the incident, so no video record of his stop or test was available.
The patrol car back seat camera was operational during the incident. Review of that tape provided only documentation of Winkler's sitting calmly in the vehicle post arrest.
Winkler has, as yet, been unable to pay for the remaining records requested and will wait until his next payday to obtain them. He was provided a copy of the officer's report and citations.
According to District Attorney John Sewell, his office declined to prosecute Winkler's DUII citation because it was determined that their office did not have sufficient evidence, beyond a reasonable doubt, to ensure conviction.
A portion of text - adjunct to his now-revised compensation request for $2,115.74 - is excerpted from Winkler's letter to Ludwig and the HRPD:
"I would like to work this out as simply as possible and believe the above is a justified amount. I would also like the traffic citation canceled as I did not violate the traffic laws as the officer claimed. I believe the officer in question did not know what he was doing and falsified a reason to pull me over hoping that he could make a DUII conviction that night."
Ludwig is currently on administrative leave and is not able to comment on any HRPD matters.
Hood River City Manager Bob Francis, responding to questions about the matter, stated that Winkler's allegations "did not enter into my decision to place Chief Ludwig on administrative leave. This is an absolutely, totally unrelated matter."
As of May 23, Francis had not received a copy of Winkler's letter. He confirmed, however, that the city's insurance carrier, CIS Oregon, had notified him that an investigation was pending.
Acting Chief Holste indicated he has no information on the meeting that transpired between Winkler and Ludwig, and that he did not have a copy of Winkler's letter.
Francis also responded via email to an inquiry as to standard policy on impounding vehicles during suspected DUII arrests.
"Under 10.64 of the HR Municipal Code, there is guidance on impoundment; but I believe that relates more to parking and vehicles being considered obstructing traffic," said Francis. Winkler's car was listed in the officer's report as being stopped 3 feet from the curb.
Holste confirmed that HRPD tow policy allows for some officer discretion on initiating a tow, "based on how the vehicle is parked. If close to a corner or too far from the curb, it could be considered illegally parked."
On May 13, Winkler received a confirmation letter from CIS Oregon indicating that the company is investigating his claim.
"CIS called me for a recorded session regarding my claim and said they are working with the department to try and reach a settlement."
As of press time, Officer Miller had not returned an inquiry on the