Bannister DUI Arrest
The Gwinnet County Sherriff’s Department has recently found itself in the middle of a controversy regarding the driving under the influence (DUI) arrest of Gwinnet County Commission Chairman Charles Bannister. Bannister was arrested on May 28, 2010 after allegedly smelling strongly of alcohol and failing three field sobriety tests; however, the Intoxilyzer 5000 breath test results showed that his blood alcohol content (BAC) was .000%.
Though Gwinnet County Sherriff Butch Conway originally stuck up for the deputy responsible for Bannister’s arrest, he issued an apology three days later and exonerated the chairman. Conway stated that an investigating regarding what went wrong with the arrest is pending.
Bannister’s arrest can be attributed to a tip that was received by on off-duty deputy. The deputy’s friend stated that Bannister was drinking at the Café Hot Wing restaurant in Lilburn, and had driven there in a county vehicle. While the sheriff’s report states that Gwinnet county regulations prohibit consuming alcoholic beverages while driving a county vehicle, a county spokesman later stated that no such regulation exists.
After receiving the tip, a deputy waited outside until Bannister exited the restaurant. The deputy stated that he saw Bannister weave and cut off a vehicle, almost causing a collision. After pulling him over, the deputy reported that Bannister smelled of alcohol and could not perform the administered field sobriety tests. Bannister admitted that he had two beers over the course of two hours at the restaurant.
Once Bannister was brought into the jail for a breathalyzer test, he blew a BAC of .000%. Deputies questioned the validity of the breathalyzer, which was last inspected on May 5, 2010, because it seemed at odds with Bannister’s statement regarding the two beers he consumed at the restaurant. A state trooper and Gwinnett county police officer inspected the Intoxilyzer 5000 after the arrest and determined that it was indeed working properly.
A blood sample was also taken from Bannister. The results from this blood test were consistent with the results from the breathalyzer test.
Several issues have been raised following Bannister’s DUI arrest. Field sobriety tests are not recommended for drivers over the age of 65; however, Bannister, who is 71, was asked to perform a series of tests. The arresting officer also stated that Bannister smelled strongly of alcohol, though the chemical tests show he had no alcohol in his system.
While the sheriff’s department is a law enforcement agency, they are not usually tasked with making DUI arrests. There was also no camera in the vehicle that was used to pull over Bannister. Because field sobriety tests are so subjective, this could have lead to a he said/she said scenario had the case gone to court.
An investigation regarding Conway’s arrest is currently underway.
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