Commonwealth Journal

October 31, 2013

Griffith arrest is questioned

Was action legal?

by Heather Tomlinson
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —

The attorney for a local police sergeant arrested for allegedly driving drunk has some questions about the legality of the charge.
“I’ve got questions about the jurisdiction here,” said Scott Foster, attorney for Sgt. Jason Griffith, with the Somerset Police Department.
Griffith, 41, of Somerset, was arrested at around 11:30 p.m. Sunday by Kentucky Fish & Wildlife Officer Lucas Tucker and charged with one count of operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol. 
According to the arrest citation, Tucker allegedly saw Griffith “driving at a high rate of speed on (Ky.) 80 ... crossing all lanes, going into the grass and shoulder on both sides of the road.”
Tucker also wrote in the citation that he smelled “a strong odor of (an) alcoholic beverage” on Griffith. Griffith was also allegedly swaying while standing outside the Ford F-150 he was driving when he was pulled over. 
Griffith was not on duty when the arrest happened. 
Tucker also reported that Griffith refused field sobriety tests and a breathalyzer test.
Captain Shannon Smith, with the Somerset Police Department, confirmed that SPD was called to assist on the scene, and two patrol officers and a lieutenant responded. Written as a witness on the arrest citation was SPD Lt. Mike Correll. 
The traffic stop and arrest took place at the intersection of East Ky. 80 and Ky. 914 in Somerset. 
Foster said state statute limits the legal jurisdiction of Kentucky Fish and Wildlife officers, pointing out that KRS 150.090 limits conservation officers’ powers to that of enforcement of laws and regulations directly related to fish and wildlife jurisdiction. 
But Foster said that section also states that a “life-threatening” situation — something he said is open to interpretation — may give a fish and wildlife officer the power to carry out something like a DUI arrest. And so Foster said he fully intends to bring those questions up in the case, which is set for a court date on Nov. 18. 
Foster also said Griffith has not yet had his license revoked as a result of his refusing the sobriety tests, but he expects that to be brought up during the court hearing. Under the state’s implied consent law, those driving a vehicle in Kentucky are deemed to have given their consent to sobriety tests. If tests are refused, that may be used against the defendant in court as aggravating evidence of committing a DUI. The defendant’s driver’s license can subsequently be revoked. 
Griffith, who posted a $2,000 bond and was released from jail on Monday, was placed on paid suspension pending the outcome of the court case. 
According to SPD’s disciplinary section of its personnel manual, which was obtained by the Commonwealth Journal through an unrelated July 2013 open records request, criminal complaints filed against an SPD employee generally result in either the paid or unpaid suspension of the employee until criminal proceedings are completed. 
Also included in the section is a statement that any resolution in court handed down that may favor the employee (as in the employee has been found innocent, or the case has been dismissed), administrative action from within the department may still be carried out. 
Griffith is currently a patrol sergeant with SPD. He began his tenure with the department in February of 1998. 
Foster said Griffith has an “unblemished” record in his 15 years with SPD and said his client denies he was driving under the influence of alcohol. 
“He (Griffith) has had no criminal record,” said Foster. “Being an officer ... it’s his passion, it’s his career.”
Foster said Griffith will plead not guilty to the DUI charge during the Nov. 18 hearing.