D.C.'s attorney general to face grilling over dropped drunk driving cases

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Local,DC,Freeman Klopott
D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan will be grilled about the city's failed alcohol breath-test program and his decision to drop dozens of drunken-driving cases when he faces a D.C. Council oversight committee in just a few weeks. "We're sure going to ask about it," Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh told The Washington Examiner. "It looks like this problem has been going on for a while, but what is he going to do about it?"

The Washington Examiner reported this week that Nathan has been dropping drunken-driving cases in recent weeks, citing problems with the police department's breath analyzers, whose results have been unusable as courtroom evidence since it was revealed in February 2010 that they were inaccurate. Defense attorneys say they believe the attorney general is dropping the cases because he doesn't want to reveal the history of an investigation into two police officers who are responsible for a third of the city's 1,400 drunken-driving arrests each year. A review by The Examiner of 25 dropped cases showed the officers made the arrests in all of them.

"If [Nathan] is proceeding to drop cases because we have police officers who have become unreliable, then we have to clean it up," Cheh said.

The investigation into the officers didn't start until they spoke out in department e-mails and during trial testimony about the problems with the breath analyzers, court documents and e-mails obtained by The Examiner show.

"These are officers who have refused to lie and refused to hide what's going on, and as a result the attorney general is trying to ruin their careers," police union chief Kris Baumann said.

Nathan did not return calls Thursday for comment. The investigation started before he was in office.

Last week, D.C. police stopped using breath analyzers to test the blood-alcohol level of suspected drunken drivers because the medical examiner's office won't certify them for use. Instead, they're relying on urine samples for evidence, police officials have confirmed.

At-large Councilman Phil Mendelson said he's "angry" that the police department's breath-test program has been broken for more than a year. He said he also plans to question Nathan during the March 11 oversight hearing about the shut down program and the dropped cases.

"I don't understand why they're taking equipment out of service instead of getting it certified," Mendelson said. "I don't understand what's going on here."

fklopott@washingtonexaminer.com

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