Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway held a press conference apologizing for the wrongful DUI arrest of County Commission Chairman Charles Bannister a mere three days after saying he stood by his deputy’s decision to arrest the 71-year-old.
Bannister’s DUI arrest occurred after an off-duty deputy received a tip that the chairman was drinking at a Lilburn restaurant. Based on the tip, the sheriff’s deputy drove to the restaurant and waited for Bannister to leave. In his police report, the deputy said he witnessed Bannister weaving in and out of his lane before cutting off another car, almost causing an accident prior to pulling Bannister over.
Bannister insisted he was sober, telling the deputy he only drank two beers over a two-hour period. The deputy said that he smelled a strong odor of alcohol on the chairman’s breath and made Bannister perform several field sobriety tests, which he failed. Bannister was transported to jail where he was administered a breathalyzer test, which came back with a .000 reading.
The deputy felt that the breathalyzer must be broken, but, upon examination by a state trooper and police officer, the Intoxilyzer 5000 seemed to be working correctly. Still uncertain of the chairman’s sobriety, the deputy ordered a blood test. While waiting for blood test results, Sheriff Conway came out in support of his deputy and Bannister’s DUI arrest.
Two days later, when the results of the blood test showed that the chairman was indeed sober, Sheriff Conway changed his tune, saying that although he believes disciplinary action is unnecessary for the deputy who arrested Bannister, he does think the department needs to undergo further training on DUI arrests. Sheriff Conway has insisted that the arrest was not politically motivated.
After the results of the blood test confirmed that he was not guilty of driving under the influence, Bannister released a statement saying that he is relieved that the truth he already knew has been revealed.
Generally, DUI investigations are handled by the Police Department and not the Sheriff’s Department, raising questions about why the deputy pursued the arrest. Even though Sheriff Conway has promised to investigate how and why Bannister was wrongfully arrested, the chairman’s attorney is calling for an independent investigation.
Ga. sheriff in hot seat after botched DUI (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)