Copyright 2006 The Columbus Dispatch
All Rights Reserved
Sobriety tests were conducted incorrectly
By JOHN FUTTY
The Columbus Dispatch
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Prosecutors dismissed a drunken-driving charge against the head of the local police union this week, after a Pickaway County judge cited problems in the way deputies conducted field sobriety tests.
Leif Bickel, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge No. 9, was convicted of the remaining charge, failure to control, after pleading no contest Tuesday in Circleville Municipal Court.
Judge John Adkins ordered Bickel to pay a $100 fine and $60 in court costs. A one-year driver's license suspension, imposed because Bickel refused to take a Breathalyzer test, will remain. However, Adkins said Bickel will be allowed to drive for work.
Bickel, a Franklin County deputy who has been with the sheriff's office for 14 years, couldn't be reached for comment yesterday.
His attorney, Mark C. Collins, said Bickel "is thankful he was treated fairly and given the same consideration as any other citizen."
Circleville Law Director Gary Kenworthy said his office dismissed the drunken-driving charge because of an opinion issued by the judge April 10.
Adkins found that a Pickaway County deputy and sergeant failed to follow proper procedures in administering field-sobriety tests after Bickel crashed his FOP-owned car Dec. 13 on Rt. 104.
"It was going to be impossible to get a conviction," Kenworthy said yesterday.
The Pickaway County sheriff's office was unaware of the judge's opinion or the resolution of the case, said Lt. Robert Radcliff.
"We stand by our arrest, and we stand by our officers," he said. "We would have been criticized if we hadn't made this arrest and now we're being criticized because we did."
Bickel, 40, was arrested after driving the Chevrolet Impala off southbound Rt. 104, north of Commercial Point, after a dinner meeting in German Village.
He was driving back to his home at 23483 Smith Hulce Rd. in Circleville.
Deputies reported the car hit two mailboxes, went into a ditch, ran over shrubs and a tree, and came to rest in a field.
A report by deputies said Bickel slurred his words and "had a very strong odor of alcoholic beverage as he spoke."
Adkins found that the first mistake Deputy Hunter Lane made was allowing Bickel to chain smoke, "which might have either obscured test results or masked evidence-gathering."
Adkins wrote that deputies should have begun by giving Bickel an eye-movement test that checks both sobriety and whether a head injury that would invalidate other tests might have occurred.
Adkins also faulted Lane for not properly instructing Bickel about how to take the walk-and-turn sobriety test that he gave, and for failing to take notes and complete a written report about the field tests.
The judge criticized Sgt. Curt Fortner for mishandling the eye-movement test that eventually was administered. He said Fortner admitted he did not follow the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration criteria for administering roadside tests "because he had changed public-safety vehicles and his checklist was in a different vehicle."
Kenworthy said the prosecution's case also was compromised because the only witness to the crash refused to testify.
Franklin County Sheriff Jim Karnes said his office will conduct a hearing to determine whether Bickel's conviction will result in administrative discipline.
"Any violation of laws of the state of Ohio, you receive some sort of disciplinary action," he said. "We hold our people to a higher standard. They are to enforce the laws, not break them."
Prosecutors drop Ohio police union president's DUI