Surprise man seeks $500,000 over dismissed DUI case

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Video report by Stella Inger

Posted on June 12, 2013 at 7:24 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jun 12 at 7:24 PM

SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) -- A man is seeking $500,000 from an Arizona city for his arrest on a drunken driving charge even though a breath-alcohol test showed he hadn't consumed any alcohol.

Jessie Thornton was cited in a Dec. 7 traffic stop in the Phoenix suburb of Surprise, but the misdemeanor drunken driving charge was dismissed nearly two months later after a blood test revealed no signs of mind-altering drugs in his body.

In a precursor to a lawsuit, Thornton, who is black, filed a $500,000 notice of claim against the city in late April, alleging he is the victim of racial profiling and harassment by Surprise police.

The Surprise Police Department had no immediate comment Monday on Thornton's case.

Police say the 64-year-old retired firefighter had crossed a white roadway line, had blood shot eyes, acknowledged taking a prescription blood-pressure medication and swayed and struggled to keep his balance during a sobriety test.

Thornton's lawyer Marc Victor says his client's eyes were bloodshot because had just returned from swimming at a gym and that he was suffering from knee and hip problems at the time.

Police say Thornton yelled during the arrest but insisted throughout that he was sober.

A breath test showed Thornton's blood alcohol level to be 0.00.

An officer who is a drug recognition expert had concluded Thornton wasn't under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Still, Thornton was cited for the misdemeanor charge, but the charge was eventually dismissed.

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Statement from Surprise Police Chief Michael Frazier:
June 10, 2013

There is a great deal of focus on a complaint and a notice of legal action against the City of Surprise by a resident claiming unfair treatment by the Surprise Police Department during a traffic stop last December.

Legal issues limit what we can say publicly right now, but it is important for you to be aware of a few things as the matter moves forward.

First, no charges were brought against the resident involved. The citation was dismissed by Surprise prosecutors when blood tests showed no evidence of impairment.

You may be under the impression that DUI test results are available to our officers immediately. That’s not the case. When a subject in a DUI investigation agrees to give blood for testing, as occurred in this case, it can take weeks for the results to come back. In the meantime a DUI citation can be issued, pending the results of the test.

This is just one example of how easy it can be to get the wrong impression of what has happened.
Let me say this:

We all know there are many sides to a story. It may be easy for some to make inflammatory public statements, but my obligation to you is exactly the opposite. My commitment is to be deliberate, professional and careful. I will not sensationalize this matter or try a legal case in public. I ask you to do the same: keep an open mind, withhold judgment, do not jump to conclusions based on one side of a story. The facts will emerge.

Today, we are moving to respond to media requests for documents associated with this case, and we look forward to providing what we can as quickly as possible.

Public trust and public safety go hand in hand in Surprise. One depends on the other. One reason our community is so safe is the strong bond of trust we share with our residents. We will never jeopardize that trust.

Whenever anyone thinks they have been unfairly treated, I insist on knowing about it. Our record shows that we investigate and respond appropriately. That will never change.

I promise our residents and the public-at-large that the Surprise Police Department never forgets the trust that you place in us. We are very proud of what we do together to keep Surprise a desirable and safe community for all.

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