A former CHP captain appeared intoxicated, with red eyes, slurred speech and a wobbly gait, when sheriff’s deputies found him in a parked car two years ago, but they didn’t ask routine questions that might have led to a driving-under-the-influence arrest, according to court testimony Wednesday.
In San Luis Obispo Superior Court, Deputy District Attorney Kristy Imel made her opening statements in the case against Martin Joel “Marty” Whited — arguing that he displayed the common symptoms of drunkenness and that he was the sole occupant in his state vehicle on El Pomar Road east of Templeton.
Whited, 50, who since has retired from the CHP after being demoted to lieutenant, has pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence in connection with the March 2009 incident.
Defense attorney Ilan Funke-Bilu said he’d reserve his opening statement until the conclusion of Imel’s evidence.
But during his cross-examination, Funke-Bilu tried to poke holes in the prosecution’s case by suggesting authorities chose not to make an arrest because Whited didn’t appear to be breaking the law.
Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Norris took the stand and said he and his partner, Deputy Matthew Terrell, found Whited in a vehicle on the night of March 12, 2009, but they never saw him driving and the car was turned off.
A person in a parked car can legally be arrested under certain circumstances — such as if police believe he’s a threat to injure himself or herself, the vehicle is blocking the roadway (Whited’s vehicle was just off the roadway), or the person may destroy or conceal evidence of a crime.
At the scene of the incident, Norris commented on the radio dispatch that Whited was “(expletive) blottoed.”
Once officers learned who Whited was, Norris reported the incident to his office and spoke with Sgt. Dale Strobridge, according to a sheriff’s surveillance recording that captured audio and video at the scene.
“Even if it was a regular person, it’s, uh, this, uh, would sorta be an ‘F’ in my book,” Norris said in the recording of the audio played in court.
Norris testified that an “F” referred to a drunk in public arrest. The letter is associated with the Penal Code 647(f), which applies to public intoxication.
Norris also said that when he asked Whited where he lived, the former CHP captain said “I live in the trailer with my sheep.” Later Funke-Bilu in his questioning clarified that Whited was saying “chief” instead of “sheep.”
Norris also testified he followed orders and Sheriff’s Department procedure by turning over the suspected drunken driving case to the CHP — the agency that typically handles all DUI arrests as part of an agreement with the Sheriff’s Department, he said.
Norris said he and Terrell waited with Whited until CHP Capt. Bill Vail arrived to pick him up and take him home.
No arrest was ever made; after an internal investigation, the CHP later turned the case over to the District Attorney’s Office.
Funke-Bilu asked Norris if he asked any of the standard questions officers typically ask when investigating a DUI, including when Whited last ate, drank alcohol and slept, and where he started driving from.
Norris acknowledged that he did not and also that he did not conduct a field sobriety test as a preliminary step to determine Whited’s sobriety.
On the surveillance recording, Norris said during a recorded conversation with Vail that “I just figured I’d have somebody come pick him up and just cover my rear.”
When Vail informed Norris that Whited’s boss was driving down, Norris responded, “Whoops, I tried to keep it down.”
The trial resumes at 10:30 a.m. today in Judge Michael Duffy’s courtroom.