About the 2011 DUI Series

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By PETER LANCE (c) 2012

October 3, 2012 6:23 AM

What follows is the introduction I wrote in June 2011 to what became a 13-part series published on this website and in the Santa Barbara News-Press. At the time I was facing misdemeanor criminal charges for a DUI and the Department of Motor Vehicles threatened to take away my driver’s license. Since then, all charges were dismissed and I was vindicated.

But while some reforms have come from the series – like video in the patrol units of the Santa Barbara Police Department, mandated after the recommendation of a civil grand jury – little else has changed.

The principal subject of my probe, Officer Kasi Beutel, not only remains on the job but she’s been promoted. Further, multiple city, county and state agencies have circled the wagons to protect her.

Because the issues underlying this investigation are so compelling – whether an officer or officers conspired to frame innocent drivers for DUI crimes they didn’t commit – I began researching the story again last spring after the DMV returned my license.

What I ask for now is no different than what I asked then – a full, unbiased investigation of my findings by an outside law enforcement agency with subpoena power and the legal weight to get to the bottom of the scandal that one commentator called “Kasi-gate.”

BEHIND THE SERIES:

First published June 22, 2011

An investigative reporter has many ways to get onto a story. A tip from a whistle-blower or an anonymous source, or, as in the case of my three HarperCollins books critical of the FBI’s performance on the road to 9/11, the proximity of my son’s high school to Ground Zero and the loss of a friend – an FDNY fire marshal who died when the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed. Those events led me to a 12-year investigation that is ongoing.

I got into the story of DUI arrests by the Santa Barbara Police Department after being arrested about an hour into New Year’s Day for allegedly driving under the influence; a crime I did not commit.

On that night, I became the first arrest in 2011 for Kasi Beutel, the award-winning officer assigned to the Santa Barbara Police Department’s Drinking Driver Team from 2009 to 2011.

The first hint that Officer Beutel operated outside the conventional rules of police conduct came when I politely inquired if there might be a quota; that being a holiday night. She immediately flashed anger and told me to shut up. She then put me in handcuffs, and stated that if I said another word she’d send me to jail.

I made a comment about my First Amendment rights, but she kept my hands locked behind my back. Later, I noticed that when she had me perform a breathalyzer test, she was blocking what I later found out was the exit port on the Drager Alcotest 7410 Plus testing machine.

The blood alcohol level she arrested me for was .09, which is one hundredth of a percent above the .08 legal limit. I soon learned that some DUI officers enhance test results using the Alcotest 7410 Plus by suppressing the exiting breath and forcing additional alcohol into the test chamber.

A few days later, when I got a copy of my police report, there were so many material misstatements of fact by Officer Beutel that I started kicking over rocks to see if mine was an isolated case or if there might be a pattern of misconduct in her DUI arrests.

As you’ll see, scandals have erupted in Sacramento, and in Charlotte, N.C., where DUI officers were found to have lied, putting hundreds of cases in jeopardy. Also, from Ventura to Burlington, Vt., the accuracy of breath-testing machines has been challenged; a discovery that may lead to the dismissal of hundreds more DUI cases.

Driving impaired is a repugnant crime. I’ve lost several friends over the years to drunken drivers and I’ve done many stories relating to auto safety, including pieces that celebrated the work of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the worthy organization that cited Kasi Beutel as the Top DUI officer for Santa Barbara County two years in a row.

I’ve devoted much of my career to reporting on law enforcement misconduct. So this probe began, not as some vendetta or attempt to “get” a police officer, but as an honest, dispassionate exercise in truth-finding and it will remain that way as I continue to report the story.

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