D.C. pays $20k to settle four faulty DUI cases

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder

The District last month agreed to pay more than $20,000 to settle lawsuits with four men who were convicted of drunken driving after the city used faulty equipment to test their levels of intoxication, documents filed in federal court on Monday show.

Although the District didn't acknowledge fault in the "offers of judgment", which are essentially settlement agreements, the city agreed to pay Aaron Clements, Tommy Eckwood, Jose Nunez and Donnell Williams to end their portions of a 19-month-old lawsuit that accused the Metropolitan Police Department of knowingly operating flawed breath-analysis machines. The suit also faulted the city's prosecutors for using evidence generated by "inaccurate and unreliable breath test machines" to secure convictions.

Ted Gest, a spokesman for D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan, whose office prosecutes drunken driving charges and negotiated the settlements, said the District made the compensation offers to save the time and expense of continued litigation.

"We are resolving civil matters where it is in our interest to pay a certain sum to avoid the uncertainty of litigation," Gest said.

Cases settled
The District has agreed to pay four men who were convicted of drunken driving with evidence collected by a faulty alcohol breath-analysis machine. In total, they'll receive more than $20,000.
Aaron Clements: $5,001
Tommy Eckwood: $5,001
Jose Nunez: $8,001
Donnell Williams: $2,001

Thomas Key, who represents the men who reached agreements with the city, could not be reached.

D.C. Police Union President Kris Baumann said the settlements reflected that the city acted improperly.

"Everybody knows they were wrong," Baumann said. "Everybody knows that what they were doing was inexcusable."

The settlements with the four men do not represent the end of the case for the District. Hector Molina-Aviles, the case's original plaintiff, has not reached an agreement with the city, and more than a dozen other people joined the lawsuit after it was filed in June 2010. As early as 2008, the lawsuit says, an independent expert the District hired warned officials that the city's breath-analysis machines weren't accurate.

Still, prosecutors continued to use the machines, the suit says, which led to Molina-Aviles' conviction and subsequent five-day jail sentence. In all, city officials acknowledged that about 300 people were convicted using results from the faulty machines.

"As a result of the miscalibration, the instruments apparently produced results that were outside the acceptable margin of error to be considered accurate," city lawyers wrote in a 2010 letter to defense lawyers throughout the District.

Baumann predicted the lawsuit would continue to bleed money from the city's coffers.

"The incompetence of the Attorney General's Office is going to cost [the public] hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions of dollars," he said.

Gest declined to say whether the city was seeking settlements with other plaintiffs.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

DUI suit-050712

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Author:

Alan Blinder

Staff Reporter, D.C. City Hall
The Washington Examiner