Tilted scales trouble the community

Special to The TelegraphOctober 11, 2012 

For the second time in a little more than two years, Superior Court judge Howard Simms is under suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol after a stop at a license check on Lamar Road on Sept. 22.

After he registered 0.083 in a roadside breath test, Simms admitted that he’d had a couple of drinks, but he said that he was not impaired. The judge went on to state something to the effect of “... I don’t need this,” according to statements of deputies involved in the traffic stop.

The legal limit to drive in Georgia is under 0.08 which means that Simms was over the legal limit to drive in Georgia and therefore should not have been operating a motor vehicle.

According to the Bibb County Sheriff’s internal affairs investigative file, the judge was stopped by a Douglasville police officer who said he had a possible violator after he smelled alcohol on the judge’s breath. The officer then asked to see Simms’ license. In the process of presenting his license the judge stated that his name was “Judge Simms.” After identifying the possible violator as a judge, the Douglasville police officer then turned the judge over to two Bibb County deputies who failed to perform necessary tests to determine if the judge should be charged with a crime.

Preliminary breath tests between 0.07 to 0.09 necessitate further investigation to see if a driver is impaired before a decision to arrest is made. The Bibb deputies failed to perform a standardized field sobriety test, the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, a walk and turn test and a one legged stand test which could have established probable cause and required that the judge be taken to jail for a breath test.

Instead of performing the required tests, the deputies decided, after some discussion, to follow the judge 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.

One of the Bibb deputies was quoted as saying that deputies did not get the impression Simms was “throwing his authority around,” but when Simms was asked his name after he presented his license he said his name was “Judge Simms.” I submit that this was in fact “throwing his authority around.” I also feel Simms knew he would be treated differently if law enforcement knew he was a judge.

I believe Simms knew the deputies would handle the DUI incident the same way it was handled in 2010. As a basis of comparison, consider that a Macon police officer was charged with DUI on the same night Simms was stopped. This police officer was correctly arrested for DUI and speeding and was immediately placed on five days administrative leave pending termination. A total of nine people were charged with DUI on the night Simms was stopped by law enforcement.

Recently, Sheriff Jerry Modena announced reprimands and suspensions for the deputies involved in Simms’ checkpoint stop. I believe these reprimands and suspensions are unfair punishment of these deputies since they did what they thought their superiors would have wanted them to do.

I feel that this was the way the sheriff and police departments handled these kind of scenarios and that the implication the deputies violated policy is false. Furthermore, the punishment of these deputies is a cover up of an unspoken and unwritten departmental policy.

I find it disturbing that the sheriff found it necessary to chastise the media for continuing to call his office with questions about Simms’ case. After he chastised media representatives at a recent press conference, the sheriff stated that he would not field any questions from reporters. Why would the sheriff have a problem with a complete disclosure of what went on in a case that his office appears to dispense justice in a unequal and unfair manner.

Could it be the sheriff knows these deputies did what was expected of them when they escorted Simms home? I submit that without the media asking questions about the preferential treatment given Simms, the sheriff would not have disciplined his deputies.

Members of this community have a right to know that our sheriff and police departments have a bias when it comes to carrying out their duties to enforce the law.

Therefore, the media should be commended, not chastised, for shedding light on this very disturbing sequence of events regarding this traffic stop. The media is the only avenue that the average citizen has to know the facts about how our government is performing.

A free and open media strengthens, not weakens a democracy. To the local media both broadcast and especially print, thanks for a job well done.

Finally, to the leaders of the sheriff and police departments of this community, please address this issue because when citizens perceive the scales of justice are tilted in favor of who you know rather than enforcing the law fairly to everyone no matter the title, we the citizens have a problem.

Leroy Mack is a resident of Macon.

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