Officer under investigation over questioned DUI arrests

Officer under investigation over questioned DUI arrests

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (KDVR) — When the Problem Solvers first interviewed Fort Collins resident Harris Elias about his December 2021 arrest for driving under the influence, the team never guessed his story would lead to a much bigger story.

Harris’ DUI charge would be dismissed a month later when blood results showed no alcohol or drugs in his system.

“I really honestly would love to know how many times this happens to people,” Elias said.

Turns out at least 10 times when it comes to Fort Collins Police Officer Jason Haferman.

Fort Collins Police admit Haferman made eight DUI arrests in 2021 and another in 2022 where the blood results showed no alcohol or drugs were detected. In some cases, the blood tests were conducted even after the suspect’s breath showed zero blood-alcohol content on the breathalyzer.

Judge finds officer ‘lacks credibility’ in DUI arrest

The case of Harley Padilla is number 10. He’s not included among the nine cases Fort Collins Police have acknowledged because he had THC in his system, but his case may be the most troubling, based on a judge’s findings.

Blood results confirmed Padilla had no alcohol in his system. He did have 3.7 nanograms of THC, but under Colorado law, it takes 5 nanograms of marijuana to infer impairment and Padilla has a medical marijuana card.

“They still said they felt suspicious of DUI marijuana when I haven’t smoked in over 12 hours,” Padilla said.

Larimer County Judge Sarah Beth Cure found Padilla not guilty of DUI. In her March 3 verdict, she wrote: “The Court finds that Officer Haferman lacks credibility. His testimony was inconsistent. It changed course on several of the key facts. Some of his testimony is not supported by the evidence. In fact, some of it was contrary to the evidence.”

Padilla was pulled over on Feb. 18, 2021, after Officer Haferman accused Padilla of swerving while driving. The judge noted the body camera video did not show excessive swerving.

“It just showed that he was lying, and he had no business pulling me over,” Padilla said.

The 50-year-old is severely disabled from a previous motorcycle accident and speaks with a whisper through his throat because he has no larynx. Yet, the judge noted, “The prosecution argues that Mr. Padilla’s speech and language should be an indicator of impairment.”

“I don’t think Harley Padilla has the capacity to slur words,” said Padilla’s attorney, Troy Krenning. “His speech is through his throat. It’s not across his lips and tongue.”

Krenning is a former Fort Collins Police Officer himself. He said his old department needs to terminate Haferman. “I think he should be fired. I don’t think he should ever be allowed to testify in a courtroom again,” Krenning said.

Unable to pay his $1,000 bond because of his economic status, Padilla sat in jail for a year.

“The only thing that gave me hope was knowing I’d beat these charges. I was just waiting for trial to come so I’d get out,” Padilla said.

Attorney: Bodycam contradicts officer’s statements

Derrick Groves, 36, was arrested for DUI by Haferman on April 7. He only spent one night in jail, but he said it was one too many.

“When you’re an innocent person, it’s not where you want to be,” Groves said.

Groves crashed his Tesla into an embankment after he said he got distracted looking down at his cell phone.

But body camera video reviewed by the Problem Solvers shows Haferman believed more was going on, telling Groves, “Not only are your pupils different sizes but your eyes are doing different things. They’re not necessarily tracking.”

Groves’ attorney Matthew Haltzman said the body camera video completely contradicts what Haferman is saying.

“We’re seeing this investigation unfold in real-time in which Officer Haverman is essentially fabricating what he’s observing in order to support probable cause to make an arrest,” Haltzman said.

The DUI charge against Groves was dismissed earlier this month on June 7, when blood results showed no alcohol or drugs in his system.

“I think he should be relieved of his job or not be a police officer anymore,” said Groves, who added he plans to sue Fort Collins Police.

Man out thousands in DUI arrest before exoneration

Cody Erbacher, 23, was arrested for DUI on June 11, 2021, after he was stopped for a traffic infraction on College Avenue and Harvard Street.

When Haverman noticed prescription drugs in Erbacher’s truck, he asked Erbacher to consent to a roadside sobriety test. Erbacher insisted the prescription drugs belonged to a friend but agreed to perform a roadside sobriety test.

Body camera video reviewed by the Problem Solvers gives no hint that Erbacher is under the influence of anything, and he appears to pass all of the roadside sobriety tests without any issues. Yet at the end, Haverman can be heard saying, “I do believe that you’re unsafe to be driving so you are under arrest for driving under the influence.”

“It’s definitely frightening to know that there’s a cop that is willing to charge people for a DUI that they didn’t commit,” said Erbacher, who eventually pleaded guilty to some traffic violations on Jan. 25 but had his DUI dismissed when the blood results for alcohol and drugs came back negative.

“Well, financially it’s been a struggle,” said Erbacher, who said being innocent of a DUI still cost him at least $8,000 to $9,000 to pay for an attorney and weekly breathalyzer tests — not to mention missed job opportunities from employers who wouldn’t consider him because of the pending DUI.

“If he’s going to accuse random citizens of DUI charges, why is he on the force? How has nobody figured out that these are false charges?” Erbacher said.

Fort Collins Police: Drug panel not all-encompassing

A spokeswoman for the Fort Collins Police Department told FOX31 that Haferman is now the focus of an internal affairs investigation. Of the 10 DUI cases where Haferman made a questionable arrest, six involved motor vehicle crashes. The department acknowledged DUI charges were dismissed in some of the cases and others are still pending prosecution, but no further details were provided.

In addition, the department said it sends its DUI blood tests to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, which checks for 14 common categories of drugs. The department spokesperson told the Problem Solvers the panel is not all-encompassing.

In an email, spokesperson Kate Kimble wrote: “For example, aerosol inhalants, which are often abused by people trying to get high, get metabolized extremely quickly and may not show up on a DUI blood test. The illicit drug industry has also evolved to produce synthetic street drugs, many of which aren’t detected by the standard ELISA panel. All of this is to say — it’s possible for a person to be impaired without that showing up in the blood results. We’ll continue incorporating best practices to protect the safety of our community while respecting the rights of individuals.”

The department said Internal Affairs is reviewing the Harley Padilla case, where a judge said Haferman lacked credibility, calling that “a serious allegation” The department also added the other nine cases where blood results came back negative are now included as part of one large internal affairs investigation that is ongoing.

Haferman was the designated DUI officer for Fort Collins until his rotation ended last month. He has since transitioned back to being a patrol officer. But as the department’s DUI officer, he was given additional DUI training and was responsible for “facilitating training opportunities for officers,” according to a city spokesperson.

In 2022, Fort Collins Police Services made 227 DUI arrests. So far only one — Derrick Groves’ case — came back showing no drugs or alcohol. A police spokesperson said the department is still awaiting blood results from CBI on many 2022 cases.

In 2021, Fort Collins Police Services made 504 DUI arrests, and 11 of those cases, or 2.2%, had blood results with no drugs or alcohol detected. The department said Haferman was involved with 191 of the agency’s 504 DUI cases, or 37.7%.

Eight of his 191 cases, or 4.2%, had blood results with no drugs or alcohol detected. Of the 12 DUI arrests made since Jan. 1, 2021, where blood results showed no alcohol or drugs detected, nine of them were made by Haferman.

District attorney weighs in

The Larimer County District Attorney has sent a letter to defense attorneys across Fort Collins acknowledging that the judge found Haferman to lack credibility in the Padilla case. But Larimer County District Attorney Gordon McLaughlin has not placed Haferman on the state’s Brady List, which tracks officers deemed to be untrustworthy and are rarely called on to testify as a result.

McLaughlin’s letter shared with defense attorneys states: “The District Attorney has not concluded this officer’s testimony was incredible, nor that any disclosure would be necessary based on his testimony alone.” 

McLaughlin declined an interview request with FOX31, stating he wants to wait until Fort Collins Police Services completes its internal affairs investigation.

But his office sent the Problem Solvers a two-page letter on the afternoon of June 16, which closed by stating, “We expressed our expectations to FCPS that Officer Haferman’s conduct dramatically improve if we are to prosecute cases he submits.”

In McLaughlin’s letter to FOX31, he stated expanded on his reasons for not placing officer Haferman on the Brady list.

“We take our obligations regarding transparency and officer credibility very seriously, but we must be guided by the law (both statutory and case authority) and cannot issue a Brady notification or Credibility Disclosure Notification, pursuant to §16-2.5-502, unless the evidence supports an officer being ‘untruthful’ or ‘dishonest.'”

The letter went on to state, “While we did find concerning judgment and decision making leading to some of the arrests, we did not uncover any specific instances of dishonesty that would implicate Brady notifications. We are confident that FCPS is taking this issue seriously and will conduct a thorough internal review. Should their review reveal additional information regarding credibility, we will take appropriate action.

Read the full letter from the DA here.

But defense attorneys representing the four defendants interviewed by the Problem Solvers said it is incredulous to them that Haferman has not been added to the Brady list based on the issues uncovered by FOX31.

“There’s no reason whatsoever that they shouldn’t come out and put this officer on the Brady List and immediately insist that he’s no longer credible and should find a new career,” said Krenning, Padilla’s attorney.

Attorney Haltzman, who represented Derrick Groves, added, “I think Haferman should not be a police officer in this country. I think he should lose his POST certification, and I think he should never be put in the position again where he’s able to take somebody’s freedom for something that he’s falsely accusing them of doing.”

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