Another bad weekend to drink and drive in SMC

SOUTH MONTGOMERY COUNTY-Some were brought in the backseats of patrol cars, as expected, but others drove themselves and some even walked right into the midst of uniformed officers, and other officials, gathered to draw blood from DWI suspects who refused breathalyzers.

The Houston Police Department’s BATmobile, or Blood Alcohol Testing Mobile Unit assisted the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office and other agencies in Montgomery and Harris Counties with 27 blood draws. Seven of the arrests were in Montgomery County, in the second “No Refusal” weekend of Spring Break 2009.

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Montgomery County officials included Judge Keith Stewart, Montgomery County CCL 5 and Montgomery County Asst. District Attorney Andrew James, later joined by Asst. DA J. Tyler Dunman, who were stationed at the BATmobile with HPD and a civilian nurse. HPD provided a couple of patrol units to assist the MCSO, who launched the “No Refusal” program in Montgomery County over two and a half years ago. Sheriff Tommy Gage has been a huge proponent of DWI enforcement. With now District Attorney Brett Ligon, who has made DWI enforcement a top priority, the two law enforcement entities are attacking the problem with full force.

The Texas Department of Public Safety and the Tomball Police Department, participated, along with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and Harris County Pct. 4 Constable’s Office.

The operation was setup in the front parking area of the shopping center where Rookies Sports Bar and Grill is located, in the 300 block of Sawdust Road. At least two other bars are visible from where the BATmobile was parked, and the area has numerous other drinking establishments.

The officer most successful in the effort was MCSO Sgt. Brice Herring, who took one suspect to the BATmobile for a blood draw, and had two more in custody by the time he left. As Herring finished paperwork and awaited completion of the rest of the process before transporting the suspect to the Montgomery County Jail in Conroe, a car with a frightened young female driver approached officers, pointing out a vehicle whose driver was harassing her. As the suspect vehicle began to flee the area, Herring handed off his paperwork and jumped into his patrol car, following the vehicle. In what seemed like no time at all, Herring returned with a suspect in custody and more paperwork to be done.

Before the sergeant could finish, one of the more strange incidents of the night occurred, when a man who appeared to be very impaired walked toward the DWI enforcement operation. Herring summoned him verbally and with a hand gesture, but the man smiled and staggered toward the rear of the BATmobile where he tried to pass behind it. Herring followed and another officer circled around the other end as Herring took his third intoxicated suspect into custody in a very short period of time. It was unclear why the man staggered toward the officers, since he did not approach one of the vehicles parked near the BATmobile.

In another odd twist, Herring was back at the parking lot as things were wrapping up around 5:30 a.m., when a woman parked and walked up to him saying she was searching for her husband. Herring asked his name and she gave the name of the third suspect he had arrested. When Herring explained to the middle-aged well dressed woman why he arrested her husband, the woman thanked Herring profusely. She said it “needed to happen.”

Other officers also had interesting encounters. A Harris County Deputy Constable arrived with a suspect when things were “backed up” and as he stood waiting for one of the two cells in the rear of the BATmobile to be vacated, the suspect decided he would not make things easy. The large and muscular young man, who was cuffed behind his back, bent over at the waist and pulled as hard as he could in an attempt to break the cuffs. When that failed, he tried several other maneuvers and ploys, including trying to force himself to hyperventilate and quickly dropping to the pavement. When a cell finally became available, the arresting officer and a few others struggled to put the suspect inside, as he fell limp faking unconsciousness. After the nurse determined he was conscious, the suspect became hostile and physically combative again but was eventually placed inside the vehicle, where he tried to cause damage and was further restrained. He tried to frighten a female suspect in the adjacent cell, and later got into a verbal altercation with a male placed in that cell, despite a solid wall with only a small hole between the two at the rear doors of the vehicle.

The Harris County cases took a little longer to process, since some of it was done by fax, while all of the necessary players from Montgomery County were present, expediting that process. When the suspect’s paperwork was complete, he was removed from the vehicle and again became combative trying to avoid a blood sample. Placed in a chair specially designed for possible restraint, the suspect still fought enough that it took more than one officer to try and secure him so that it was safe for the nurse to draw blood. As the battle persisted with no end in sight, an officer from a Harris County agency displayed his Taser and told the suspect he was prepared to use it if necessary. Suddenly, the man in a cartoon t-shirt who claimed to be a Louisiana attorney, became very reasonable. He even made idle chitchat with those standing nearby and when he saw a news video camera pointed in his direction, the suspect asked if he were going to be featured on COPS, and began to sing the theme song.

An occurrence that had some speculating about a “bug light” type situation created by the BATmobile and patrol cars, another adult white male staggered across the parking lot and approached an MCSO deputy who was sitting in his patrol car with the window rolled down. Slurring his words, the man asked the deputy, “Is it okay if I cross the street?” He probably did not get the reply he expected.

Perhaps, the most aggressive suspect, both verbally and physically, was a very small white woman. A surgical mask was placed on her after she was restrained and began to spit. She continued the verbal attacks through the mask, demanding that the news videographer keep his camera rolling, cursing him and accusing him of helping cover up what she felt was a violation of her legal rights when her blood was drawn. At one point, the little blonde woman shifted gears briefly. She looked over her shoulder and addressed the self-proclaimed Louisiana attorney, who had dropped to the ground and rolled on his side fighting the arresting officer. The female suspect smiled, and motioned with her head toward the nearest bar, telling the alleged attorney her uncle owned it. He did not respond. She then returned to her hostile behavior.

A middle-aged black female suspect smiled and posed for news video and a digital camera as though it were a modeling studio, asking for additional photos and video to be shot. Her mood changed quickly when she realized there would be a forced blood draw and she angrily informed officers it was her son’s birthday and they had ruined it.

Yet another wobbly pedestrian approached the BATmobile to proudly declare that he had called for a designated driver. After he was praised for doing the right thing, the man became increasingly chatty and offered to let someone take his blood for curiosity’s sake, to measure his blood alcohol content. When it was pointed out to him that there was also a charge called “public intoxication,” the man decided to wait for his ride in another area.

One cab after another pulled through the parking area to pick up those who decided not to drive. Some approached their vehicles and contemplated the situation for a while before dialing their cell phones and walking away from their vehicles.

A non-law enforcement DWI activist who heard about the program and decided to check it out was Doug Smith of Montgomery. Smith heads up the DWI Tracker program in memory of his daughter Meghann who was struck and killed by an alleged drunk driver last October at the tender age of 18.

Smith has a highly visible white pickup, customized with the words “DWI Tracker” on the side and rear in black and a photo of Meghann on the tailgate, which he parks in visible areas near night clubs during heavy DWI time periods. As with the BATmobile, many club goers decide to get another ride, rather than risk a DWI charge. For those whose driving indicates they drank too much and made the wrong decision, Smith reports their erratic driving and their location to law enforcement. The DWI Tracker program has been responsible for the arrest of nearly 30 DWI suspects in its few months of operation.

At daybreak, upwards of 40 vehicles were left in the parking lot.

HPD Capt. Carl Driskell said that number was a relevant statistic that is not documented.

“The true impact is not just in the number of arrests that we make,” Driskell said. “When we look at the parking lots that would normally be empty after the clubs close, they have a lot of cars.”

In Houston, the BATmobile has only been placed at substations for convenience, but after seeing the impact in Montgomery County, Driskell said he hopes to use more visible locations.

HPD hopes to have 6 of the vehicles, which cost between $92,000 and $94,000 outfitted and ready to roll by Memorial Day.

Driskell said discussions were underway with Montgomery County to coordinate a similar effort on Memorial Day weekend, targeting intoxicated boaters on Lake Conroe.

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