Editorial by John Ziegler

The REAL Chief White??!

12/19/2002

Here are a series of articles about the scandels of Louisville's new police chief while he was the head of Greensboro's police department.These articles appeared in Greensboro's alternative newspaper, "The Rhinoceros Times Greensboro."

Police Dept. Seems To Have New DWI Policy (7/4/02)

by John Hammer, Editor

Since Greensboro Police Chief Robert White was hired, we have received numerous letters and beeps about White taking care of his friends with good assignments and jobs and generally playing favorites in the department. Some of these we have printed, but many we have not because we had no proof that White does play favorites. Now we do.

It is unfortunate that White placed the temporary inconvenience of his son over his own reputation for being fair and honest. At least, that's what White would have us believe. The story White tells is a difficult one to swallow.

White's son was stopped because an off-duty police officer observed his son driving erratically and followed his car until a police officer arrived to stop the car and check the driver for a possible driving while impaired arrest. Imagine Sgt. A.A. Moore's shock when the young man driving the car handed her a cellular phone and she recognized the voice on the phone as that of Chief White.

There are a lot of parts of this puzzle that just don't fit. The main one is that White maintains that his son was treated like anyone else who was stopped for a suspected DWI. Add to that the report that when she pulled him over, Moore reportedly said she smelled beer on White's son's breath. Perhaps the chief needs to get out in the field more. The standard practice of the Greensboro Police Department after a driver is pulled over for driving erratically and the officer smells beer on the driver's breath is not to sit and wait by the car for the driver's parents to come pick him up. No, the standard practice is to administer some kind of on-site test, either a test of physical dexterity or a chemical test that measures the amount of alcohol in one's system.

If there is evidence that the person has been drinking and is impaired, then they are arrested and taken downtown for a Breathalyzer, the results of which are admissible as evidence in a court case.

I've lived in Greensboro a long time, and I have known a large number of people to be stopped by police for a variety of reasons, including suspicion of drunk driving. I have been stopped a number of times myself. Never has the officer waited with me while my parents came to pick me up, and I know of no other person in Greensboro who has had this experience. White said this was not an unusual occurrence, but on Monday the police department could not provide us with the name of one other person who has been pulled for suspicion of driving while impaired, was allowed to wait by the side of the road until their parents arrived and was then driven home by a parent based on the parent's assurance that their child was not impaired.

There is another part of this that is really troubling, and that is White's insistence that his son was not drunk. White has been around long enough to know that you don't have to be drunk to get a DWI. I have seen some folks that walked and talked just fine who blew over the legal limit, which in North Carolina is .08. For many, men three beers in an hour would put them over .08, and even the police chief can't look at someone or talk to someone and tell whether they would blow a .06, a .08 or a .10. Everyone's metabolism is different, and some heavy drinkers do their jobs every day with an amount of alcohol in their system that would put other folks under the table.

If White's son was not impaired by alcohol, why didn't the police officer who stopped him simply let him drive home? Why did White have to come out to his son's car and drive his son home? Police officers stop people all the time and don't give them tickets, simply letting them continue on their way. In this case, for some reason Moore and White did not want young White to drive home. Why not?

If White's son was not impaired and was not going to blow over the legal limit, why didn't White insist that at the very least a roadside test be administered to his son? The most obvious explanation is that both White and the officer knew that White's son had been drinking and nobody really knows what they will blow on the Breathalyzer except those who have not had anything to drink. White says that his son had had one beer. Nobody in their right mind is going to tell a police officer, even if that police officer happens to be their father (or perhaps especially if that police officer happens to be their father), that they have just downed a six-pack and are out driving around.

If White's son had only had one beer, wouldn't it have been better for him to go through what everyone else goes through and prove to the officer that he was not impaired by at least taking a roadside test?

There is the problem with the reason for the traffic stop. The reason young White was stopped was that an off-duty police officer observed him driving erratically and followed him until a police officer who was on duty arrived. So this was a police officer who was not out on patrol but just out going somewhere and he observed a driver who appeared so out of control that he decided it was more important to get this driver off the road than to go wherever he was going.

White's son said he was driving erratically because he thought he was being followed, but the police officer who was following him says he was following White's son because he was driving erratically. If you suspect you are being followed, you might pull into a parking lot or turn down a side street, but it is hard to explain why you would drive like a drunk.

The truth is that White's son got special treatment because he is the son of the police chief. It is not the policy of the Greensboro Police Department to call the parents of 21-year-old men who are suspected of driving under the influence and have the parents come take them home instead of testing the young men and arresting them if there is evidence that they are drunk.

Maybe it should be the policy of the police department to call the homes of young people who are suspected of driving under the influence and have the parents come get them. That way, the entire court process could be bypassed, and one would hope the parents would take the opportunity to convince their children that driving after drinking is not a great idea. If Chief White wants to promote that as the new policy of the police department, I think it has some real pluses. Mothers Against Drunk Driving and those other organizations will not be happy, but if Chief White wants to promote that as his new policy, he should do so. Certainly an argument can be made for giving young adults one mistake before clobbering them with jail, the courts, fines and a mar on their permanent record.

But this is not currently the policy. On June 11 Chief White's son got special treatment from the police department because he was the chief's son, and that is wrong.

At the very least, White should be reprimanded, and he owes an apology to the people of Greensboro. It is up to White's boss, City Manager Ed Kitchen, to decide what to do about White using his position as police chief to get his son out of trouble, but if Kitchen doesn't do something, it is up to the City Council to demand that some action be taken to ensure that people who are stopped by police officers are all treated fairly.

 

 

White Blasts Media For Son Stop Coverage

By James Moffat, Staff Writer

 

Attention being paid to one traffic stop has made Greensboro Police Chief Robert White a little peeved.

White recently blasted local media coverage of his son's traffic stop for possible drunk driving, saying it would not be such an issue if it were anybody else. The chief said coverage from the media has been blown out of proportion 'just because it's an incident involving me and my kid.'

The chief's son, Robert White III, 21, was pulled over by Sgt. A.A. Moore at 2:45 a.m. Tuesday, June 11 after an off-duty police officer observed him driving erratically on Battleground Avenue. The younger White then called his father, who came to the scene. Moore didn't give the younger White a Breathalyzer test and turned him over to his father, who drove him home. According to the chief, his son was not drunk and the officer took the necessary actions.

'I didn't do anything wrong and my son didn't do anything wrong. My actions were not a violation of any laws, city policies or procedures,' White said Monday. 'I'm not going to stop being a father because I am police chief.'

Others, though, don't see eye to eye with the chief on this issue. Councilmember Sandy Carmany said while she can understand the chief taking his son's side on the matter, she doesn't agree with the way the incident was handled.

'I would have insisted on that Breathalyzer test, if nothing else, to clear him,' Carmany said. 'If that Breathalyzer had been done and it came back negative, there wouldn't be any discussion.'

Carmany has asked City Manager Ed Kitchen if there will be an inquiry as to what exactly happened that morning, but has yet to receive an answer.

According to White, his son was driving down Battleground Avenue when he noticed a truck following him. The truck was being driven by an off-duty police officer who called headquarters to report a car driving erratically. Shortly thereafter, White's son was pulled over by Moore and called his father.

The chief then spoke to the officer on his son's cell phone and told her to 'handle it any way she would,' White said. According to White, Moore then told the chief she smelled 'a faint odor of alcohol.' White drove to the scene and asked Moore if she wanted to conduct a breath test, but was told there was no Alco-Sensor on the scene. An Alco-Sensor is a device used to measure the alcohol content of a person's breath. According to White, his son was lucid and clear in his speech and Moore told him there was no probable cause for issuing the breath test.

Why did the chief go to the scene and drive his son home if there was no reason for his son not to drive himself? According to the chief, there is 'a wide range of discretion' in handling such situations. He said that out of thousands of stops every year, the police 'don't give tickets every time.' Even so, that does not explain why he drove his son home from the stop.

White said his sons 'sure as heck haven't gotten special attention in the past' because of his position when they were stopped by police. The chief said his sons have been pulled over on three separate occasions and not once has he influenced the police officers? decisions in those matters. He even said an officer pulled a gun on his eldest son one time, believing him to be a suspect in a robbery. White said his actions June 11 were those of any father in the same situation.

'I was a father before I was a police chief and I'll be a father after I'm a police chief,' White said. 'That's my story.'

When asked about the incident, Councilmember Yvonne Johnson said she doesn't believe it to be a big deal. She agreed with the chief that if this situation happened to anyone else, the spotlight wouldn't be shining so brightly.

'If this was 25,000 other people, it wouldn't be in the newspaper,' Johnson said.

But 25,000 other people wouldn't have gotten the chance to call their father to come pick them up by the side of the road instead of downtown. According to White, Greensboro police do not give tickets to every driver stopped for questioning. Officers can, at their discretion, have the parents intervene and bring the children home.

But after numerous calls and transfers to different departments, the police department was unable to provide the name of a single parent who has received such a call, nor could anyone in the police department even provide an example of such an instance, except prefaced by 'what happened to Chief White's son.'

 

911 Tapes Tell Tale Of Erratic Driving

By John Hammer, Editor

 

Since last week, I have talked to Greensboro Police Chief Robert White and Sgt. A.A. Moore, listened to the 911 tape, and talked to a number of police officers, ex-law enforcement officers, elected officials and regular folks about the traffic stop involving Chief White's son for suspicion of driving while impaired. (To avoid confusion, Police Chief Robert White will be referred to as Chief White, and his son will be referred to as Robert White.)

Chief White maintains that there was nothing unusual about the traffic stop involving his son except that it involved the son of the police chief. Sgt. Moore maintains that it was just a normal traffic stop except that it happened to involve the son of the police chief. However, even Moore finally had to admit that it was unusual to have a lieutenant, a sergeant, two police officers, an off-duty officer and the police chief participating by telephone at a simple traffic stop.

Moore also made some rather strange assertions, the kinds of assertions one would expect from someone making excuses. She said that although she was certain Robert White was not in any way impaired by alcohol or drugs, she didn't trust him to drive a couple of blocks home because his driving had been so erratic and dangerous. She attributed his erratic and dangerous driving solely to the fact that he was talking on his cell phone while driving. When asked if she trusted him to control himself enough to drive a couple of blocks in a safe manner, she said no, which is why she thought Chief White should drive him home.

So you have a young man perfectly lucid and in complete control of his faculties, which Moore was able to ascertain by watching the young man sit in the driver's seat of the car and hand her his driver's license, but that same lucid, sane and not-impaired-in-any-way young man could not be trusted to drive a couple of blocks in a residential neighborhood.

It's tough when you have to explain why your boss's son didn't get treated like everyone else.

Both Chief White and Moore maintain that it is not unusual for the parents of young adults to talk to police officers on the telephone when their children have been stopped and to come pick their children up by the side of the road. But neither Moore nor Chief White could come up with the name of another person who had been involved in such a traffic stop. We have asked for the name of any person who has had a similar experience, and the police department has provided us with none. Moore said she has had parents pick up their young adult children by the side of the road at traffic stops about once a year during her 14 years as a police officer. She was unable to explain how parents knew where to pick up their children in the days before cell phones were ubiquitous or why parents would drive home children who had not been charged with anything.

Moore also maintained that by looking at young Robert White sitting in the car, despite the faint odor of alcohol that was overpowered by an extremely strong scent of cologne, she could determine by the way he sat and handed her his driver's license that he was not impaired by drugs or alcohol. This is despite the fact that he had been followed from Battleground and Lawndale all the way down Battleground to Westridge Road and a good ways on Westridge Road by an off-duty police officer who called in the report and followed the car. The implication is that the off-duty police officer followed the car only because young Robert White's driving was so erratic that she thought it was imperative to get him off the road. The off-duty police officer described Robert White as being all over the road, crossing four lanes of traffic and at one point driving 55 mph in a 35 mph zone. According to the tape, when she started to follow him he was at Battleground and Lawndale 'just right in the middle of the road, stopped.'

While she was following him, he pulled into Herbie's Diner on Battleground, and at that point the check on the license plate came back and the police officers all knew that this was the police chief's car. The following is a partial transcript of that evening's radio communication.

Unidentified Officer: 'Oh, stick with it. Do you realize which Robert White we're talking about here'?

Off-Duty Officer: 'Right.'

Moore: 'Well, the address matches. I'm sorry I added myself to the call. I'm at Friendly and Dolley Madison. I'm going to head to that address, because I think that's where he's going, given his DOT.'

Off-Duty Officer: 'Well, he just acted like he is turning left on Westridge and came across all the lanes. He's pulling over into the Harris Teeter. You want me to just go ahead and get out and deal with it'?

Moore: 'Not until I get there. But pull into the parking lot so that he sees you, and maybe that will keep him still until we can get our cops up there.'

Despite all of this, Moore said the explanation by Robert White that his driving was erratic because he was talking on his cell phone satisfied her that he was not impaired.

It appears that if the police department wants to save a lot of time and money, they can do away with Alcosensors and roadside tests when Moore is on duty because she can look at a driver and determine without any doubt by the way they hand their license to her whether or not they are impaired by drugs or alcohol. At those 'Booze it and Lose it' road blocks, Moore could certainly keep traffic moving along at a much faster pace than it does now, because other officers have to rely on the roadside sobriety tests and the Alcosensors; Moore doesn't.

That is somewhat unfair because it isn't Moore's fault. She has been put in a really tough situation by Chief White and is making excuses for letting Robert White ride home with him instead of at least giving him a roadside test. Actually, Moore was not the ranking officer at the scene, so although she said the decision was hers, it may have been hers based on what she was told by Lt. J.E. Hinson Jr.

The fact that she did not believe it was safe for Robert White to drive a couple of blocks home shows that at least she was trying to protect the citizens from an out-of-control driver, but certainly most 21-year-olds who were driving all over the road, speeding, weaving and driving erratically, would not be allowed to get off without at least proving that they were not impaired by hopping around on one foot and touching their nose.

It is also insulting to the police officer who followed Robert White all the way down Battleground. At one point on the tape, the officer said she was just driving home but that 'he was so over the road that's why I came on Dispatch 3.'

Presumably the off-duty officer could have pulled up beside him in the parking lot and offered him a ride home. But Sgt. Moore, who was on duty, decided he should be stopped. According to what Chief White said, when Sgt. Moore approached the car at the traffic stop, Robert White was talking to Chief White on his cellular telephone and his son handed the phone to Sgt. Moore.

Moore said that she thought Robert White was speaking to someone else on the telephone when she approached the car and that she only talked to Chief White on his son's telephone later, after she had decided that there was 'no probable cause' to give Robert White any kind of sobriety test, or even have him get out of the car.

According to the radio calls right after the traffic stop, someone said, 'don't panic.' That is probably pretty good advice when you have just pulled over the chief's son. Then Sgt. Moore got a radio call telling her to make a telephone call. Someone answered, 'She's 10-6 on the phone right now.' That was right after the traffic stop, when Moore was speaking to someone on the telephone and did not want to be interrupted. It certainly seems likely that her recollection of that part of the stop might not be entirely accurate, and she said that it might not be. But to pull the chief's son on a traffic stop and then be handed the telephone with the chief on the other end could change your perspective.

Moore explained why both she and Lt. Hinson were there by saying, 'When you know it's the chief's son you want people of rank there.'

It has been reported that the reason young Robert White was not tested at the scene was that no one at the scene had an Alcosensor. However, Moore said that the police have about one Alcosensor per squad, and it is still common to give people a roadside test to determine whether there is probable cause to arrest them and take them downtown for a Breathalyzer.

Despite both Chief White and Sgt. Moore maintaining that this was just your average traffic stop that happened to involve the son of the police chief, the pieces just don't add up.

An experienced police officer was so convinced that the driver of the car was impaired that she was willing to follow him on her own time for miles down Battleground Avenue.

If this officer had been on duty and had pulled the driver over, you can bet he would have been required to do a roadside dance to prove he was not impaired by anything other than his cell phone. Instead, the officer who did pull the car over was reportedly greeted by the police chief on the telephone. Sgt. Moore said she had already decided Robert White was not impaired when she talked to the chief on the telephone. If that is the case, then that was a snap judgment, judging from the transcript of the radio calls.

After a week of rummaging around in this issue, it still appears that the chief's son received special treatment. Maybe that is to be expected and maybe that doesn't bother the city manager or the City Council, but it sure bothers a bunch of regular folks.

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