A screen capture of body-worn-camera video from the April 7 arrest of Derrick Groves.Fort Collins Police Services via YouTube
WESTWORD - On April 7, Derrick Groves was arrested by Fort Collins Police Services Officer Jason Haferman for allegedly driving under the influence even though he exhibited no signs of intoxication. In June, after blood-test results exonerated Groves and the case against him was dropped, Matthew Haltzman, his attorney, publicly accused Haferman of routinely busting sober drivers for the crime — and he says FCPS chief Jeff Swoboda promised to personally apologize to his client if evidence emerged to suggest this claim was true.
A lot has changed in Fort Collins over recent months, and on December 2, Swoboda announced that Haferman had resigned after an internal review found problems with his performance. However, Haltzman notes that Swoboda has yet to reach out to say he's sorry — and an expression of regret down the line won't derail the attorney's plan to file a lawsuit against the department.
The Groves matter wasn't the first to raise questions about dubious DUI arrests in northern Colorado; on March 30, a just-filed lawsuit contended that the Loveland Police Department was running a DUI scheme for "money and sport." Earlier that month, a judge had issues with Haferman's testimony in another DUI trial, according to Haltzman. This determination prompted the Larimer County District Attorney's Office to issue a document about Haferman similar to a so-called Brady letter, which identifies certain law enforcement officers as suffering from possible credibility issues should they be called to testify at trial.
Such actions suggest that what happened to Groves was "part of a broader practice," Haltzman says. "We're talking about a series of events and seeing them in multiple departments up in northern Colorado — and it's terrifying."
According to Haltzman, Groves was driving home on April 7 in "a Tesla Model Y with beta Autosteer. It's a Tesla product that essentially controls steering, and he admits that he looked at his phone screen because he had a call coming in — and when he did, the Autosteer overcorrected and he went over an embankment. He got out of his vehicle, and two bystanders were there to help him."
Haferman and another FCPS officer responded to the incident, and both had active body-worn cameras. "The videos show an individual with no signs of impairment or intoxication," Haltzman says. "They told Derrick that they were going to conduct tests to determine if he was impaired, and after he successfully completed a series of tests, they had a dialogue and he was told he was under arrest for DUI even though there wasn't a single thing we observed that would lead anyone to believe he was impaired. The two bystanders on the scene were interviewed, too, and when they asked them if he smelled like alcohol or was acting strangely, they said, 'No.'"
Here's body-worn-camera video of the interaction between Groves and the police, which begins just past the seventeen-minute mark.
And this video includes the witness interviews:
Nonetheless, the report Haferman submitted portrayed the driver as obviously impaired. "l observed Groves had blood shot, glassy eyes, and his pupils appeared to be different sizes," he wrote — and even though "Groves denied consuming any drugs or alcohol prior to driving that night," Haferman stressed that he admitted to "using marijuana 5-6 days prior," and when officers searched the car, they found "several CO2 cartridges, balloons, and receipts for THC products."
According to Haltzman, the marijuana Haferman referenced was an edible that Groves uses to help him sleep, and he had nothing illegal in his possession. Still, Haferman's report contended that the driver didn't complete "the eye portion of roadside maneuvers...as a sober person. Groves displayed Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus in both eyes and Lack of Convergence in both eyes." Haferman added that Groves was on probation for a previous DUI at the time of his crash.
The results of the blood test Groves was given after he was taken to jail told a very different story from the one offered by Haferman. "It came back zeros," Haltzman points out, "so the DA's office dismissed the case. But my client still had to take a blood test, he had to go to jail overnight, and the case was filed and prosecuted for two months before it was thrown out. You can imagine the stress and anxiety my client had because of that."
Haltzman subsequently discovered three other cases in which drivers arrested by Haferman for DUI passed blood tests — and one of them is represented by Sarah Schielke of The Life & Liberty Law Office, who pressed the Loveland lawsuit on behalf of her client, Harris Elias. But a Fort Collins Police spokesperson initially pushed back against the notion that Haferman had cuffed Groves without cause by, among other things, emphasizing that the blood test he passed wouldn't have picked up "aerosol inhalants" or "synthetic street drugs."
It was a different story on February 2, when Swoboda posted a video on the department's Facebook page regarding "an internal investigation into the performance of our former DUI enforcement officer."
Swoboda doesn't use Haferman's name in the clip, but he said that "this situation began as an internally initiated review of the officer's DUI cases that came back with ND results (no drugs/alcohol detected). While those periodically occur, we discovered that our DUI enforcement had nine ND cases in less than a year, which prompted further internal scrutiny. Due to the number of cases, Internal Affairs took over the investigation to thoroughly review each one, including reading lengthy reports, interviewing witnesses and SMEs [subject matter experts], and watching hours of body camera footage. In May, the officer rotated out of the DUI Officer assignment and began working in the Patrol Division. In early September, he was reassigned from Patrol to an administrative role with no involvement in casework. In early October, he was placed on administrative leave pending the results of the Internal Affairs investigation."
The results of the probe "revealed a pattern of performance that did not meet the training and standards we require for our officers," Swoboda continued. "As a result, I lost faith in his ability to serve as a Fort Collins Police officer. I had a meeting scheduled with him to discuss my final disciplinary decision, but he resigned prior to that meeting. As of today, he is no longer employed with our agency." He stressed that "in law enforcement, we cannot afford to make assumptions or jump to quick conclusions, and that applies to external and internal investigations alike. This investigation was thorough and definitive. I'm extremely disappointed that this officer's actions impaired our effectiveness as an agency, violated the public’s trust, and damaged community confidence in FCPS."
See the video below:
In Haltzman's view, Fort Collins Police Services bears a large measure of responsibility for Haferman's abuses, which "terrorized the targets of his malicious and unconstitutional conduct. FCPS had ample opportunity to train and correct Haferman's behavior, and they repeatedly failed to take action.
"The damage has already been done, and the indelible impact these false arrests have left on our community will reverberate through our justice system for years to come," he adds. "FCPS and Jason Haferman have left a wake of individuals who were falsely arrested, resulting in careers that have been ruined, relationships destroyed and an erosion in the fundamental trust in the rule of law that is at the core of our justice system. It is my hope that the District Attorney for the Eighth Judicial District of Colorado will not continue to sit idle and investigate Jason Haferman for these egregious violations of law."
A Facebook statement "does not fix the problem," he adds. "Until real changes are implemented at Fort Collins Police Services, the root of the problem remains unresolved and will continue to erode public trust."
Expect Haltzman to raise these issues again in a lawsuit he plans to file against the department in the early months of 2023. Click to read Officer Jason Haferman's narrative about the Derrick Groves arrest, the 18th Judicial District DA's Office letter about Haferman's credibility, and Harris Elias v. City of Loveland, et al.
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