Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman dismissed more than 100 driving while impaired cases this week after a sheriff’s deputy was found to have lied on the stand.
Freeman’s actions came after District Court Judge Jacqueline Brewer disqualified Wake sheriff’s Deputy Robert Davis, a member of the DWI Task Force, as a witness.
Freeman said because Davis had been untruthful in some cases that he was no longer competent to testify in any of them. Davis, who worked at the Wake County Sheriff’s Office for 15 years, was fired last week by Sheriff Donnie Harrison.
In an order attached to one of the cases in which Brewer disqualified Davis as a witness, the judge outlined three incidents in which Davis had made false statements on court documents and on the witness stand.
One incident stemmed from the case of a woman stopped for DWI on Aug. 2, 2014. Davis took her to the Wake Forest Police Department, where machines were set up for breath tests. The room also had audio and video recording equipment.
Under the DWI law, a driver may refuse to take any test, but if that happens the state revokes the driver’s license for a year. The driver may also call an attorney for advice, or a witness to monitor the test, but testing cannot be delayed for more than 30 minutes.
Davis, according to the judge’s order, did not give the driver the full time to contact a witness before recording her as not requesting one. When the driver still had questions about the breath test, the deputy marked her as refusing to take it and filed paperwork with the state Division of Motor Vehicles stating that she had refused to take the test. That meant her license would be automatically revoked for a year.
DMV sent a notice to the woman that her license was going to be revoked for a year, and she asked for a hearing that was set for March 4, 2015. That hearing revealed conflicts between Davis’ assertion that the driver never asked for a witness and her testimony that she tried to call someone but could not get an outside line. It also showed Davis pushing her to take the test, though her full 30 minutes had not been exhausted, according to the court order.
On Feb. 22, 2014, Davis made similar claims after stopping a woman for driving while impaired. At that stop, according to the judge’s order, Davis fired a Taser stun gun twice at the driver.
Davis’ supervisor then arrived at the scene and followed the deputy to the Wake County Detention Center, where more testing was to occur. The supervisor made notes at the detention center while Davis proceeded to advise the driver of the testing procedures. The driver made a phone call to her attorney but did not get a full 30 minutes after that call before the deputy proceeded with testing, according to the judge’s order.
Not only did Davis wrongly record that the driver had not made a phone call, according to the court documents, but he also marked her as refusing to take the test.
In March 2015, Davis again stopped a woman for DWI and wrongly noted her attempts to contact someone to witness her taking the breath test. When she questioned why she had not been allotted the full 30 minutes for a witness to watch her take the test, Davis again marked her as refusing to take the test, according to Brewer’s court order.
Harrison said he fired Davis the day he received a copy of Brewer’s order.
“I hate it, but we’ve got our credibility to look after, too,” Harrison said Thursday.
Alerting training and standards commission
Freeman said Thursday there were no plans at this time to pursue perjury charges against the deputy. Her office plans to send a letter with the court order attached to the North Carolina Criminal Justice Education & Training Standards Commission, which hears cases of deputies or officers accused of violating commission rules.
In addition to the 104 DWI cases dismissed by Freeman on Wednesday, the district attorney’s office also found 71 traffic citations written by Davis, which also will be dismissed. Her office does not plan to review cases involving Davis that were heard before the March 22 court order issued by Brewer. Moving forward, Freeman said, it would be difficult for prosecutors to call Davis as a “competent witness.” But in cases heard before then, she said, defense attorneys and the defendants had an opportunity to raise questions about the credibility of the officer and a judge presided over those hearings.
“This court order is sort of a line in the sand,” Freeman said.
In recent years, Wake County has seen an increase in DWI arrests, in part, because of the task force on which Davis was a member.
In 2014, the Raleigh Police Department received a $525,000 federal grant that was the basis for a special unit focused on more DWI checkpoints and patrols for impaired drivers. The Wake County Sheriff’s Office has a task force of its own focused on the issue, too.
Wake County, according to records from the state Administrative Office of the Courts, had 5,741 DWI arrests in the fiscal year that started on July 1, 2014, and ended June 30, 2015, the highest number for any county in the state. Mecklenburg County, the most populated county in the state, had nearly 2,000 fewer DWI arrests, according to the AOC records, with 3,765 in the same time frame.
Freeman said Thursday that she did not think Davis’ actions were emblematic of what was happening in the special units or on the task force.
William Finn, a Raleigh defense attorney, raised concerns about Davis in the hearing in front of Brewer.
“Nobody’s happy when something like this comes to light,” Freeman said. “At the end of the day, we’re committed to following the law and doing things right, and the courts should be a place where justice prevails.”
Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald contributed to this report.