Driving drunk ends lives and ruins families, so the penalties when drivers are caught behind the wheel intoxicated are, understandably, extremely harsh. The lead DUI enforcement officer in Fort Collins, Colorado, resigned after eight DUI arrests without convictions in a single year.
Fort Collins Police Services began investigating officer Jason Haferman after the Larimer County District Attorney’s Office told police it would no longer prosecute cases brought by Haferman. The DA found his testimony too problematic in too many cases. Fox 31 first reported the story, and the Daily Beast put together a great rundown of how even the baseless accusation of DUI by an officer spun at least a dozen, if not more, people’s lives around.
Take Harris Elias, a single father of three who was coming home from a taco run with his son when Haferman pulled him over on December 3, 2021. From the Daily Beast:
“At first, he asked me if I knew why he had pulled me over, which I thought was a ridiculous question because I had no idea why he would pull me over,” Elias said. “As soon as he asked me what I had to drink, I knew it was happening all over again.”
In a police report obtained by The Daily Beast, Haferman claimed Elias’ “eyes were glassy, pupils constricted, and his breathing was deep” and immediately placed him under arrest to get tested for drugs and alcohol at a local hospital. A Colorado Bureau of Investigation Forensic Services lab report later detected no drugs or alcohol in his system.
But before those results came back, Elias was already halfway to hell.
“I can’t explain what it is like walking through the hospital handcuffed. To see how people look at you, and how the staff interacts with you,” Elias said. “It was really degrading.”
The humiliation, he said, was just the start. When he was allowed to bond out of jail three days later, he said, he had to deal with child protective services and beg a judge to let him have contact with his son.
That’s because in Colorado, state law dictates that an individual who commits a DUI that involves a child can also be prosecuted for child abuse, a charge Elias faced in addition to driving under the influence and careless driving. Elias eventually got all charges dropped after approximately two months—but, he said, the sting hasn’t gone away.
People lost time in court, money to lawyers and their sense of safety. Some even faced serious jail time. Haferman testified one of the people he pulled over, Harley Padilla, of slurring his words, despite the fact that Padilla spoke through a tracheostomy and was physically disabled from a motorcycle crash. Padilla spent a year in jail before his bench trial cleared him of any wrong doing.
Once Fort Collins Police received the news from the DA’s office, it opened an internal investigation on Haferman. Before any action could be taken, however, Haferman resigned.
The idea Haferman might get off scott-free, and even potential be hired by another law enforcement organization, was too much to bear for Elias and several other law-abiding citizens who had their lives turned upside down by Haferman. Victims are filing a lawsuit against both Haferman and the Fort Collins Police Department for the pain and damages caused by these phony arrests.
Though Haferman seems driven by ambition, rather than public safety, drunk driving seems to be on the rise. AAA just released its its annual Traffic Safety Culture Index and found nearly 24 percent more Americans self-reported driving drunk in 2021. Drunk driving also contributed to the fastest rising rate of traffic fatalities in 47 years. To combat this rising tide of DUIs, Congress is requiring automakers to include alcohol detection technology in all new vehicles starting in 2026. It could be decades, however, before we see a significant dent in drunk driving fatalities.
The story of what these folks went through at the hands of Haferman is a wild ride, and well worth your time. Read the entire story here.