Part Five of Peter Lance’s 2011 News-Press DUI series

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With no video in patrol units, it’s cop’s word against DUI suspects

By PETER LANCE, SPECIAL TO THE NEWS-PRESS

June 26, 2011 10:16 AM

In the 680 DUI arrests she took credit for from 2009 to 2010, Santa Barbara Police Officer Kasi Beutel put the handcuffs on drivers of every race and economic background. Rich, poor, student or scholar, her arrestees represent a true cross section of the community. 

Among them John Thyne III, a prominent lawyer and real estate broker whose run for the Santa Barbara City Council was derailed after the publicity he got following an encounter with Officer Beutel.

Mr. Thyne’s case, which took several twists and turns, and a related traffic stop initiated by Officer Beutel are important for what they reveal, not just about the lengths she is willing to go to get a DUI collar, but the need for onboard video in Santa Barbara Police Department patrol units.

“The legal fate of drivers in this city shouldn’t hinge solely on the word of an officer or a breath testing machine that can be manipulated,” says local DUI defense attorney Darryl Genis. “The Sheriff’s Department has video in its units, so does the CHP and the police departments in Santa Maria and Lompoc. Even the campus police at UCSB have it. But not the biggest police agency in the county. It’s no mistake that the SBPD boasts the highest DUI statistics.”

In a spreadsheet of DUI arrests compiled by Mothers Against Drunk Driving for 2009, the Santa Barbara Police Department was credited for 442 of 1,739 arrests — about one in four — in Santa Barbara County, with Kasi Beutel boasting 331.

Her purported figure for 2010 was 349, but as I’ve documented in this series, official Santa Barbara Police Department statistics put her two-year arrest total much lower, 615 vs. 680.

Three encounters with John Thyne

On Aug. 25, 2007, while returning from a fundraising event, Mr. Thyne’s Mercedes-Benz collided with an abutment near the San Marcos Pass Road exit on Highway 101. A breath test performed by the California Highway Patrol registered a blood alcohol content of .18, more than twice the legal limit in California of .08. Mr. Thyne ultimately put in three days of community service, paid a fine of $1,455 plus costs and was sentenced to three years probation. Then on Jan. 1, 2009, a new provision of the Vehicle Code went into effect making any driver on probation for a DUI conviction liable for driving with any concentration of alcohol above .01.

Five months later on May 14, after announcing his campaign for City Council, Mr. Thyne visited some victims of the Jesusita Fire. “My car was covered with ash,” he said, “and after having dinner and some drinks downtown, I went to use the car wash on the corner of Anacapa and Cota streets. As I was heading east on Cota, to turn left into the lot, I hit my blinker and accidentally flashed my high beams.”

As he pulled into the lot, Mr. Thyne was suddenly confronted by Officer Kasi Beutel, who roared into the car wash in her patrol unit, using the momentary flash of high beams as probable cause to stop Mr. Thyne, according to her police report.

“A police unit came rushing in with its high beams on,” said Mr. Thyne. “I’d already exited my car with a handful of quarters, about to use the car wash, when an officer, who I later learned was Kasi Beutel, confronted me. She walked up to me, outside in this open lot.”

Officer Beutel’s arrest report narrative states that: “I could smell an odor of alcohol emanating from Thyne and noted his eyes were bloodshot and glassy.”

“She told me she smelled alcohol and my eyes were bloodshot,” says Mr. Thyne. “Given that she was at least four feet away from me, it was a lighted lot and she couldn’t possibly have smelled alcohol or examined my eyes, I found that difficult to believe. But at that point she had me blow into a breathalyzer.”

The reading on the Alcotest 7410 Plus was .063, below the legal limit. “But since I was on probation,” said Mr. Thyne, “she arrested me and impounded my car.”

Because Mr. Thyne is a real estate broker who also teaches at Ventura College of Law and needed use of his car, Ronald Jackson, his lawyer at the time, filed a writ of mandamus to stay the DMV’s license suspension. It was heard in Santa Barbara County Superior Court on Oct. 14, 2009, and denied, but Mr. Jackson, who admittedly arrived late for the hearing, mistakenly thought that the motion had been granted and advised Mr. Thyne of that by phone before leaving on vacation.

Mr. Thyne found out the hard way that Mr. Jackson was wrong.

“Thinking I had my license back, I was driving home on Oct. 23,” said Mr. Thyne, “when I passed an accident scene near my house and encountered Kasi Beutel. I proceeded home, unaware that she had followed me, and she later filed a report with the D.A. recommending that I get charged with driving on a suspended license.”

In her referral to the D.A., Officer Beutel went to the extreme of attaching a copy of a local news story noting the electronic monitor in a headline; a move highly unusual for an officer who regularly refers cases for prosecution.

“Once my lawyer got back, we cleared up this misunderstanding,” said Mr. Thyne, “and that charge was dropped, but it wasn’t my last meeting with Officer Beutel.”

Following his car up State Street

On Feb. 25, 2010, Mr. Thyne was on his way back to his office at Mission and State streets from Ventura where he’d taught a law class. He was in the passenger seat of his Mercedes-Benz, which was being driven by attorney Paul Krawchuck, a former associate in Mr. Thyne’s real estate and law firm. “We’d stopped at my office so I could retrieve a backpack before I went home,” said Mr. Thyne. “Then we exited to get into my car.”

“We’re both about the same height and weight. If someone was watching from a distance, they couldn’t see for sure who was driving. At that point, the last thing I was going to do was get behind the wheel, so Paul was doing me a favor. He started the car and we began to head up State Street toward Hitchcock (Way) where I live. That’s when Paul looked in the mirror and spotted a female officer in a patrol car following us. It was Kasi Beutel.”

As Mr. Krawchuck later related it in a letter written to his lawyer, “I could see the police car heading in the same direction we were (north on State).” Realizing it was Officer Beutel, Mr. Krawchuck wrote, he drove up State Street “very carefully and obey(ing) the speed limit.”

Then, after following Mr. Thyne’s car for more than two miles, Officer Beutel suddenly flashed her roof rack and pulled them over as Mr. Krawchuck was about to turn left onto Hitchcock. “When I asked her why she had pulled me over,” wrote Mr. Krawchuck, “she said that I had been weaving and straddling the line. However, since I had been driving as perfectly as humanly possible, it was very obvious to me that this was a lie.”

“She had recognized John’s vehicle parked in front of our office, and decided to follow us and pull us over to harass John and engage in a fishing expedition,” the letter states.

“I told her that I had seen her following me since Mission Street,” Krawchuck wrote, and. . .that she had fabricated this story as a pretext to pull me over. She then became very hostile and said, ‘You’d better be careful about calling an officer a liar when you’re getting pulled over.’ ”

Moments later, Officer Beutel cited Mr. Krawchuck for a violation of Vehicle Code section 21658 (a) “Unsafe lane change.”

But on the day of Mr. Krawchuck’s court hearing, she reportedly failed to show up and, according to Mr. Krawchuck, the citation was dropped.

As John Thyne remembers it, “that same day, because she was absent, a DUI case got dismissed.”

In his letter, Mr. Krawchuck wrote, “There is one thing I cannot abide, and that is a crooked cop. And this is why I was so deeply offended by what Officer Beutel did. . . I felt that she was not only intentionally abusing her police power and violating my rights, but that she was doing it in a way to make it very clear to me that there was nothing I could do about it.”

“It was another case of Kasi Beutel’s word versus a suspect,” said Darryl Genis, who is representing me in a DUI case from New Year’s Day 2011, when Officer Beutel arrested me on suspicion of DUI. At that time, when I politely asked her if she had a “quota” of arrests, she put me in handcuffs and angrily told me that if I didn’t “shut up” she’d take me to jail.

“This Krawchuck case is a textbook example of the need for onboard video,” said Mr. Genis. “With a video camera tracking her movements from the moment she started shadowing Thyne’s car, I believe that Beutel would have been much more reluctant to execute an illegal stop. But keep in mind that right now these Santa Barbara cops operate with no video accountability. And if this happened to a John Thyne, it could happen to anybody.”

Why the CHP and sheriff use patrol unit video

Since 2008, the California Highway Patrol has deployed MVARS, a mobile video/audio recording system which uses a DVD-based recording unit. The CHP began using it in Santa Barbara County in September 2010 and it’s now in use in 2,000 CHP patrol units statewide.

“The MVARS have cameras that provide visual feeds from inside and outside the squad car,” said Sgt. Scott Payson who overseas the Fallbrook and Pauma Valley patrols. “At the end of each patrol, the CHP officer removes the DVD and logs it in to evidence.”

While some CHP officers balked at the systems when first deployed, they’ve become widely accepted.

“An extensive in-car camera study by the International Association of Chiefs of Police determined that cameras were found to present credible evidence, improve officer safety, as well as exonerate officers during citizen complaint investigations 93 percent of the time,” said Jaime Coffee, CHP spokesman. “Not only do they ensure that officers maintain a high level of integrity, but their mere presence serves as a deterrent to individuals who might choose to assault an officer.”

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department has a video system called COBAN in its 55 units. Department spokesman Drew Sugars said the units have resulted in a “reduction of potential litigation and complaints against deputies doing their jobs.”

The Sheriff’s Department has been using COBAN since 2003, but the Santa Barbara Police Department stopped using it in its patrol units in 2006.

Lt. Donald Paul McCaffrey the Police Department’s public information officer, blames the removal of the system on “upkeep.”

“The system was based on videotape technology and was not replaced after nearly 10 years in use. We could not afford the new digital based upgrades, and the old system became obsolete. The newer vehicles were not fitted with the old camera systems. Those systems were retired when the vehicle went out of service,” he said.

But Jaime Coffee of the CHP says that with the digital/disc-based MVARS, the cost per unit is low ($3,322 each) and upkeep is “minimal.”

Hundreds of thousands of dollars to SPBD in DUI grants

“A cost effective way of paying for a new video system for the SBPD would be to apply for an equipment grant from the Office of Traffic Safety,” said Darryl Genis. From November 2006 to November 2009, the Santa Barbara Police Department received a total of $609,851.00 in DUI related grants from the OTS. The department got another $223,000.00 from the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

“That’s more than $277,000 in DUI-earmarked grant money for the department every year,” said Mr. Genis. “And it underscores the profitability of the DUI suppression business in Santa Barbara, which boasts the highest DUI arrests statistics on the Central Coast.”

The direct link between DUI arrest volume and grant money was confirmed in a 2006 release from the Santa Barbara Police Department heralding a $123,000 grant from the ABC: “Reasons SBPD received the grant include: Per capita statewide, SBPD has one of the highest rates of DUI arrests,” the release stated.

Another release from the department in 2008 announcing a $100,000 ABC grant noted that, “The city of Santa Barbara has approximately 530 establishments which are licensed to serve alcohol.” The release noted that “During 2007 the SBPD made 5,278 arrests for alcohol related crimes including 509 DUI arrests (and) 2,951 open container of alcohol arrests.”

“Driving under the influence is the only crime statistic that a police department like SBPD wants to go up,” said Mr. Genis. “Murders, rapes and assaults, they want to go down. But the more DUI arrests they get, the more grant money they get. It’s an insidious relationship that pushes overzealous officers like Kasi Beutel who enjoy the fame from the awards and the stunning overtime a DUI cop makes, to put more and more people in handcuffs. If the (Drinking Driver Team) patrol unit she used had onboard video, I believe her arrest rate would have been a fraction of the 349 arrests the department claimed for her last year.”

“You have to wonder,” said Michael Kenny, “if there had been onboard video in Kasi Beutel’s police car, whether she would have gone so far as to Tase me with 50,000 volts.” (I detailed Mr. Kenny’s encounter with Officer Beutel in Part Two of this series, on June 23.)

“The Office of Traffic Safety doles out millions of dollars for this kind of equipment,” said attorney Mr. Genis. “It’s there for the asking. SBPD knows how to the get grant money if they really wanted to put video in their units to stop this kind of DUI arrest abuse.”

The responsibility of the D.A. in pushing DUI arrests

District Attorney Joyce Dudley was interviewed for a recent episode of “On Patrol with Santa Barbara P.D.,” the “Cops”-like program that airs weekends on KCOY.

“It’s my job to ensure that the guilty are prosecuted,” she said, “and to ensure that the innocent are protected. We do this by carefully prosecuting cases. When cases come into the office, we determine whether there has been proof beyond a reasonable doubt to prosecute that crime. If anywhere along the line we have a doubt that the case should be pursued, then we either seek further investigation or we reject that case.”

One case the D.A.’s office continues to pursue involves Mr. Kenny, the commercial fisherman who was shot with a stun gun by Kasi Beutel after a routine traffic stop, only to have a blood test showing that he was not driving above the .08 legal limit.

Threatening a probation violation over an $8 fish

On Jan. 21, on the second day of a trip in search of sea urchins off Santa Rosa Island, Mr. Kenny’s 35-foot commercial fishing boat, the Patty Ann, was boarded by two wardens from the state Department of Fish and Game. By Mr. Kenny’s written account, after a routine check of the vessel’s papers, the wardens passed up the 1,873 pounds of urchins in the boat’s hold — the catch from the previous day — and, instead, examined a small quantity of fish that Mr. Kenny and his mate William Eggers caught with rod and reel for personal use.

That catch included “10.2 pounds of rock fish, and one 24.5-inch ling cod,” wrote Mr. Kenny. “While checking our fish, the wardens asked if we had measured the ling cod, which we had. They then asked if they could use our measuring device, since they did not have one. We then provided a measuring tape for them. The ling was found to be of legal size.”

Nonetheless, two hours later, when they arrived in the harbor, the men were shocked to find officers from the Santa Barbara Harbor Patrol at the dock. They were ordered to wait before unloading the perishable sea urchins and after about 90 minutes, according to Mr. Kenny, he was given a citation for violation of Section 8067 of the California Fish and Game Code. It’s an amorphous regulation declaring it unlawful “to land any load of fish in violation of. . .federal ground fish regulations.”

The code section then references the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, a federal statute embodied in a 426-page compendium of Federal Pacific Coast Groundfish Regulations. On page 413, there’s a small box noting that the season for ling cod is “closed between January and April.”

“I’m a commercial fisherman,” said Mr. Kenny. “I dive for sea urchins. How was I, or anybody who might have pulled this fish in, supposed to be carrying 400 pages of federal regs on my boat in order to determine whether or not this fish was caught in season?”

Soon Mr. Kenny learned that he was being charged by the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office with a misdemeanor.

“This caused me concern,” he said, “because I was about to start serving 35 days of house arrest for resisting arrest following the incident in which Kasi Beutel shot me with the stun gun. My lawyer went back to court at a cost of $500 in legal fees, and we’ve now had five court dates over a fish with a market value of about $8.”

Mr. Kenny has been subject to electronic monitoring since May 26. On June 3, during one of his hearings in the fish incident, he was told that the D.A. was threatening to add another 30 days of electronic monitoring to his sentence due to this ling cod charge.

On June 17 at another hearing, his attorney was served with a notice from the city of Santa Barbara Finance Department requesting that the D.A.’s office expand the current charges against him. The city wants Mr. Kenny to pay restitution of $7,762.89 in worker’s compensation damages incurred after Officer Kasi Beutel claimed that Mr. Kenny injured her shoulder during his August 2009 arrest.

As reported in Part Two of this series, despite Officer Beutel’s claim at the time of Mr. Kenny’s arrest that he kicked her in the “right hip,” battery charges against Mr. Kenny were dismissed after zero evidence of injuries appeared in his police report.

And later after a test of his blood at Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital, Mr. Kenny was found to be under the legal limit and DUI charges were also dropped.

These new allegations that he injured her shoulder in the incident came to light 22 months after Officer Beutel pulled him over for a traffic stop, alleging that he was DUI and shot him with 50,000 volts from a stun gun.

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