One of many jobs of the police is too identify dangerous drivers. To do that the driver has to be caught and convicted. Catching them is not the hard part, convicting them certainly is throughout St. Louis County and especially in Chesterfield.
This is thanks to too many lenient judges and prosecutors plus a patchwork court system. In the age of instant information, the municipal court system in St. Louis County and drunk drivers charged or placed on probation in one jurisdiction are often completely off the radar when arrested in another.
Too many people are injured or killed on Chesterfield streets at the hands of drunk drivers and what is the city doing about it? Nothing?
Last March, I spent a night at the Chesterfield Municipal Court. Everything there was a big secret—including the name of the judge. It was never mentioned. I later found out after court had adjourned the judge was Rick Brunk.
Instead of defendants’ names being called and the charges read, Judge Brunk would call them, and motion the defendant and their attorney to step up directly in front of him. They would then whisper back and forth. Brunk would make a ruling, but no one in the courtroom would know what it was. All night long, none of the public had any idea exactly what was happening to accused drunk drivers. I wrote a column titled, “The Judge Whisperer.”
In June, I attended municipal court in Creve Coeur. The same thing occurred. I should not have been surprised. The Creve Coeur judge is Tim Englemeyer, who is also the city prosecutor in Chesterfield. I wrote
I don’t write about courts and drunk drivers as an outside observer.
I was in law enforcement for 30 years. During that time I made more than 350 DWI arrests and either assisted or supervised an equal amount. I have spent a lot of time in courtrooms.
What I have found here in St. Louis County is that a fraternity of lawyers has made it impossible to get a real conviction of a drunk driver represented by an attorney, unless someone dies or is seriously injured.
City judges and prosecutors will brag how they have a 98% conviction rate of drunk drivers. But in fact most of those convictions are wiped off the books at the end of a one- or two-year suspended imposition of sentence (SIS) probation terms and the drunk driver ends up with no conviction.
Often the courts don’t even seem to check to see if the defendant has violated the terms of his probation and got arrested elsewhere.
It is one thing for a judge to give a person who possibly had one too many glasses of wine at dinner a reduced sentence.
But why should someone whose blood alcohol level is well above .10 percent, who was involved in an accident, who refused to take a breath test or who was driving recklessly, get probation even the first time around?
This is dangerous.
All this brings to mind the case of Chesterfield resident John D. McGuire. Back in 2008 McGuire was clocked driving over 100 mph on Highway 40 by the Town and Country Police. He was also very drunk. I was sitting in the back of the courtroom when McGuire was sentenced. He was given probation for the DWI and a fined several hundred dollars on a reduced charge of speeding.
How do you give probation to a person driving 100mph through your community with a BAC level of .22 percent? I don’t know, but the judge, who is a fulltime St. Louis County assistant prosecuting attorney, had no problem doing it.
Fifteen minutes after pleading guilty, McGuire was under arrest again for DWI.
A police officer in court smelled alcohol on McGuire’s breath and followed him to the parking lot, stopping him as he backed out of his parking space. A handheld breath test instrument showed McGuire’s BAC level was .18 percent. He later refused to take the breath test inside the station. Despite this evidence the court did not revoke McGuire’s probation.
The cop was smart enough to file the second DWI in the Associate Circuit Court. Unfortunately that court gave McGuire another suspended imposition of sentence.
McGuire was next picked up by the Ladue Police and the Chesterfield Police for drunk driving. Chesterfield cops wisely kept the case out of their municipal court and McGuire pled guilty as a repeat drunk driver in Circuit Court.
Town and Country did not revoke McGuire’s probation until a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter started asking questions, three DWI arrests later.
All this brings me to the recent arrest of Cardinal broadcaster Dan McLaughlin.
August 16, 2010 McLaughlin was falling down drunk while driving his large SUV east on Highway 40. Police were receiving calls from the public about McLaughlin weaving on the highway. Officer Daniel Dunn got behind McLaughlin. He watched him swerving and being unable to keep a steady speed, going back and forth between 40 and 60 mph.
Once Dunn was finally able to get McLaughlin stopped, the drunk McLaughlin put on the charm. When asked for his license, he introduced himself and tried to shake Dunn’s hand. At first he said he had not been drinking and then changed his story to not drinking “much.” He told Dunn all the work he has done for the police benefit organization Backstoppers.
McLaughlin was failing all the roadside field sobriety tests. At one point Dunn reported McLaughlin said he couldn’t do the test even if “he was sober.” Dunn eventually stopped the tests for McLaughlin’s safety as he was afraid he was about to fall down.
According to Dunn, McLaughlin began a theme of saying how he was “only a block in a half away from home” and how the officer should follow him or drive him home. McLaughlin even screwed that up and once told Dunn he was “only a month and a half” away from home. Actually McLaughlin was several miles from his Town and Country home off Ballas Road.
After being placed under arrest McLaughlin went from being an annoying DWI arrest to being a jerk, when he accused Dunn “of trying to ruin his career” as a broadcaster.
At the police station McLaughlin refused to take a breath test.
In November Judge Brunk gave him the “no record SIS” probation. How and why a judge would give a highly intoxicated driver who refused to take a breath test a SIS probation term is a mystery to me.
Now in September of 2011, the same week that a popular local high school teacher was killed by a drunk driver on a Chesterfield street, McLaughlin was involved in a hit-and-run accident and arrested by the Chesterfield Police for DWI.
He again refused to take a breath test. Why should he take the test? The last time when he refused he got the “no record” SIS probation. The Chesterfield judge sent a clear message—we will take care of you.
It seems as if the police are doing their job in the war against drunk drivers. Now it is time for the city council and mayor to do theirs and appoint a judge and prosecutor who will get tough on drunk drivers.