Commonwealth Journal

February 8, 2014

SPD sergeant demoted after DUI

by Heather Tomlinson
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset — A local police sergeant has been demoted and is undergoing an unpaid 30-day suspension as he works toward resolving his DUI case.

Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler on Friday released a statement detailing administrative actions taken against Jason Griffith, 41, who is accused of driving under the influence while off-duty.

Griffith, of Somerset, who was arrested last fall, has been demoted from sergeant — a rank he’s held since 2005 — down to patrol officer, and he has been suspended for 30 days without pay.

“This action stems from recent personal events involving (Griffith),” said Girdler in his short statement.

Griffith was pulled over by Kentucky Fish & Wildlife Officer Lucas Tucker on Oct. 27, 2013  at the intersection of East Ky. 80 and Ky. 914 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.

Tucker also reported that Griffith refused field sobriety tests and a Breathalyzer test.

As per Kentucky’s implied consent law, Griffith’s license was initially suspended, but Pulaski District Judge Scott Lawless in November 2013 opted to give Griffith his license back after evidence was introduced that suggested Tucker failed to read Griffith the implied consent warning during the arrest.

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 — but that only holds true if the defendant is warned of the consequences that stem from such a refusal.

Now, prosecutors will be unable to use the implied consent law as aggravating evidence against Griffith in court.

Griffith’s attorney Scott Foster has said he also takes issue with whether Tucker had the authority to carry out the arrest.

Foster has 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. Foster said the question is whether the Oct. 27 incident qualified as a “life-threatening” situation. But, in a long-standing precedent used by state authorities, the Kentucky State Police in the 1990s officially asked that Fish and Wildlife help the agency enforce all laws.  

Griffith has maintained his innocence since his October 2013 arrest.

Foster on Friday said they continue to deny the allegations — and he said he and Griffith opted to forego a hearing before Somerset City Council in accepting Girdler’s decision so they can focus on the court case.

“Now we’ll go fight the criminal case, knowing his job is secure,” said Foster. “We’ll be able to concentrate fully on (the criminal case).”

If Griffith had declined the city’s decision, he would have been afforded the hearing before city council.

“By Kentucky Statute, the mayor controls and supervises all departments and employees of the city, including police officers,” said attorney Charles Cole, who is retained by the city for legal issues. “Under certain circumstances, officers are afforded a hearing before the city council, however, those circumstances were not presented in the current situation involving Officer Griffith.”

Girdler, in his statement, thanked Griffith for his cooperation during the administrative process.

Foster said he and Griffith met with city officials to discuss what options lay ahead.

“We got with the city to discuss potential outcomes,” said Foster. “They (city officials) take this very seriously and they wanted to send a message and set a precedent.

“I think everybody’s pleased with it,” Foster added.

Griffith’s next court date is set for March 12.

“For us, it’s a relief to have the whole issue of his job over with,” said Foster. “He can concentrate on being a patrol officer, something he cares a great deal about.”

Foster said Griffith was grateful for the support he’s received from family and friends.

Griffith, who was initially suspended from his SPD duties with pay the week after his October 2013 arrest, began his 30-day unpaid suspension on Feb. 5. He is expected to return to work at SPD in early March as a patrol officer.