Bibb sheriff suspends two deputies for allowing judge to drive home

awomack@macon.comOctober 4, 2012 

Stopped at a license check last month, a man in a red truck handed over his license and said his name was “Judge Simms.”

After he registered 0.083 in a roadside breath test, Bibb County Judge Howard Simms admitted that he’d had a couple of drinks, but he said he wasn’t impaired. He added “something to the effect of ... I don’t need this,” according to statements of deputies involved in the traffic stop.

Two deputies -- Capt. Alden Washington and Sgt. Bruce Jordan -- face reprimands and unpaid suspensions for their actions at the Sept. 22 checkpoint on Lamar Road, Sheriff Jerry Modena said at a Thursday news conference.

Washington will receive five days of unpaid suspension, serve a 90-day probation and be sent to a 16-hour course on professional ethics training.

Jordan will receive three days of unpaid suspension, serve a 90-day probation and will be reassigned from a specialized sheriff’s office traffic unit to regular patrol operations.

Deputy Robert Scarborough, who was also at the checkpoint, was not involved in the decision to allow Simms to leave, and he was not disciplined, Modena said.

Simms, a Superior Court judge and former district attorney, released a statement Sept. 25 saying he was entering an in-patient alcohol addiction treatment facility. The judge has not been charged with DUI.

Reading from prepared remarks during the news conference, Modena divulged additional details of what happened during the traffic stop.

Afterward, he chastised media representatives, saying he wouldn’t field questions from reporters.

“Most of you have just hounded and tied this office up. And that’s not necessary, ladies and gentlemen. It is not necessary. ... I swore back in 2000 I would keep this office open, and that’s what I’ve done,” the sheriff said.

The Telegraph obtained a copy of the sheriff’s office’s internal affairs investigative file Thursday through an Open Records Act request.

Here’s what happened that night, according to the file:

Bibb County deputies, Byron police, Highway Enforcement of Aggressive Traffic units from Douglas County and Dublin, and officers from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency participated in the “Rolling Thunder” license check on Lamar Road that lasted from 8 to 9:45 p.m.

Scarborough was standing in the middle of the road checking driver’s licenses about 9:30 p.m. when a Douglasville police officer said he had a possible violator.

The driver pulled over, and Scarborough asked for his license.

“He stated his name was Judge Simms,” Scarborough said in his statement.

The deputy smelled alcohol on the judge’s breath and notified Washington.

Scarborough administered a breath test for alcohol while Simms sat in his truck. The test registered 0.083, just over the legal limit to drive.

At one point, Simms admitted that he’d had a couple of drinks, but the deputy didn’t see any alcohol containers in the truck.

Washington and Jordan walked over to the judge’s truck.

Simms said he’d just left home to buy steaks, since his daughter wanted to grill. He said he was fine to drive, but Scarborough showed the sergeant and captain results from the breath test.

There was more discussion between Simms and Washington in which Simms again said he was able to drive.

Jordan interjected, “If it’s gonna go this route, you know, somebody here needs to drive him home,” Jordan said in his statement. “I said, this is gonna be the way we handle it, I’ll even drive him home. ... But he cannot drive an automobile at that Alco sensor showing.”

Washington asked if Simms could call his wife or someone else to drive him home. Simms replied that his wife was home, but that she had been drinking wine.

Washington and Jordan said they didn’t smell alcohol on Simms’ breath and they didn’t notice any slurred speech. The judge’s eyes weren’t bloodshot.

Deputies didn’t get the impression that Simms was “throwing his authority around,” Jordan said.

Scarborough and Jordan left the judge’s truck. Washington stayed behind.

Jordan and Washington disagree on whether Jordan was present when Washington decided to follow Simms home. Jordan said he wasn’t present when the decision was made, while Washington says he was there.

Washington chose to allow Simms to drive because he appeared “as usual,” he said in his statement.

He told investigators that Simms’ being a judge was a factor in his decision.

Simms didn’t weave or show other signs of impairment as Washington followed him home.

In 2010, Simms got a ride from a Macon police officer who smelled alcohol in the government car Simms was driving. The officer didn’t administer any tests and drove Simms’ car to Freedom Park, where his son was playing baseball.

Lt. Brad Wolfe was supervising last month’s checkpoint, but was in his car writing a report when Simms was stopped. He didn’t find out the judge had been given a breath test until after he’d driven away.

Wolfe told investigators that roadside breath tests are used for preliminary screening. If a person tests over the limit, deputies ask the driver to undergo further field sobriety tests.

Preliminary breath tests between 0.07 to 0.09 necessitate further investigation to see if a driver is impaired. The breath test can be impacted by a recent alcoholic drink, which can cause the result to be higher than a person’s actual blood alcohol, Wolfe said.

Deputies didn’t perform any other field sobriety tests.

No one was charged with DUI on Lamar Road during the license check.

To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.

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