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D.C. alcohol breath-test program faulty for more than a decade, documents say

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Capital Land,Freeman Klopott

Attorney General Peter Nickles' office was aware that problems with the District's alcohol breath-test program likely stretched back more than a decade, but only alerted defendants in cases going back to 2008, documents obtained by The Washington Examiner show.

In February 2010, the police department was alerted by independent contractor Ilmar Peagle that its alcohol breath analyzers were not properly callibrated and were returning inaccurate results. The department shutdown the program and Peagle continued his review of the program. 

On April 20, 2010, Paegle issued a memo Kimberly Brown, chief of the attorney general's criminal section under Nickles. In the memo, Paegle tell Brown that for than a decade the police department "had no parameters for simulator test results and, in consequence, the simulator test in the field became meaningless."

In June, Nickles announced that he was informing defendants in 400 cases dating back to 2008 that they may have been wrongly convicted because the breath analyzers were off by as much as 40 percent. 

Nickles left the attorney general's office in December. A call to Nickles' law office late Friday was not immediately returned.

Paegle said in the memo that in 2008, the officer who headed the breath-test program began altering calibrated results to match what he believed an accurate reading should have been, Paegle wrote in the memo. 

Meanwhile, at-large Councilman Phil Mendelson has called a hearing on the dozens of drunken driving cases dropped by the attorney general in recent weeks. 

During the Monday morning hearing, Mendelson will also question police and attorney general officials on the city's broken alcohol breath-test program. 

The Examiner reported earlier this month that Attorney General Irvin Nathan was dropping drunken driving cases that involved two police officers who are under an internal investigation. Nathan has since said he plans to revive the cases when the investigation is over, but that has not happened yet. 

"A similar hearing was held last July 14th and nothing has changed, except to get worse" said Mendelson, who chair the council's public safety committee. 

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