A high-ranking commander in the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office has a private deal to provide security for events at Phoenix International Raceway, where a top NASCAR driver was released Friday without being subjected to tests to determine whether he was driving while intoxicated.
Larry Black, chief of enforcement at the sheriff’s office, told the Tribune Monday he was at the sheriff’s command post working his off-duty job as PIR security manager when race driver Kurt Busch was brought in Friday night on suspicion of drunken driving.
But Black said he did not play any role in the decision to turn Busch loose with a citation for reckless driving and without administering a Breathalyzer or blood test to determine his blood alcohol level.
"I didn’t make any decisions at all," said Black, who is paid a salary as manager of security services at PIR.
When Busch, the defending Nextel Cup champion, was brought into the command post at the raceway, Black said he told sheriff’s deputies "whatever needs to be done needs to be done."
"As far as I’m concerned, he’s just another guy. It makes no difference to me," Black said.
But former deputies say Busch’s case was unusual because of the way the Breathalyzer test was handled.
Black said he coordinates the security needs of the racetrack for the five major events staged there every year.
As part of his duties, he finds sheriff’s deputies and other officers to work off-duty at the track.
The off-duty officers are paid by the track to provide security inside the facility and to direct traffic, Black said.
The sheriff ’s office does provide equipment "for us to do our job," he said.
Black said he does not think there is a conflict of interest between his job overseeing patrol and other officers at the sheriff’s office and his off-duty work for the racetrack.
"The deputies do their jobs and they’ve been allowed to do their jobs 100 percent," Black said.
Black would not disclose how much he is paid by PIR. He has had the job for about seven years, he said.
Lee Baumgarten, director of operations at PIR, did not respond to attempts to contact him by phone and e-mail.
Busch, who was in the Valley for the Checker Auto Parts 500, was stopped by a sheriff’s deputy about 8:20 p.m. Friday after he nearly rear-ended another vehicle and ran a stop sign, according to sheriff ’s reports.
He was belligerent at the scene and refused to take a field sobriety test, said Lt. Paul Chagolla, spokesman for the sheriff’s office.
The officer smelled alcohol on Busch’s breath and took him into custody, Chagolla said.
Busch was taken to the sheriff’s command post at PIR, rather than a nearby sheriff’s facility in Avondale.
At the command post, Busch was initially given a roadside breath test, typically used by officers to determine whether there is probable cause to arrest a person suspected of drunken driving. Busch registered a 0.017 on the field test, less than onefourth the legal limit of 0.8, according to Chagolla.
Results from field testing units are not admissible in court.
Officers then tried to administer a Breathalyzer test, which is admissible, but the machine was malfunctioning, according to Chagolla.
At that point, a sergeant administered an eyemovement test, usually given when a suspect is pulled over, and there was no indication that Busch was intoxicated, Chagolla said.
Busch was then cited for reckless driving and released.
Deputies did not attempt to draw blood from Busch to determine his actual blood alcohol content. They also did not take him to another facility that had a working Breathalyzer. The sheriff’s Avondale facility is less than seven miles from the racetrack.
Chagolla said it was the arresting officer’s decision not to draw blood or drive Busch to another facility. On Saturday, Chagolla said blood was not drawn because there was not a phlebotomist present.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said Monday deputies didn’t seek a blood sample because there was not enough probable cause for a search warrant, which is what is required to take someone’s bodily fluids.
"There was no need to go any further," Arpaio said.
Arpaio said he sees no conflict of interest for Black to have the contract as security manager for PIR.
The sheriff said it is no different than the common practice of individual officers who contract their off-duty services to bars, swap meets or special events.
Former deputies say the way Busch’s case was handled is unusual.
Mike Pennington, who retired from the sheriff ’s office in July, said that if a Breathalyzer machine malfunctions before a suspect can be tested, the deputy should take the prisoner to another location where there is a working machine.
Pennington, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Maricopa Lodge 5, said that aside from the sheriff’s station in Avondale, other West Valley police agencies or the Arizona Department of Public Safety would have been available to administer the test on Busch.
"They couldn’t find a Breathalyzer that works? I’d find another one," Pennington said.
John Frieling, who retired from the sheriff’s office in January, also said the standard procedure if one machine failed would be to find one that works, whether it be at the sheriff ’s office or another police agency.
"If it was (an average) Joe, it would have been handled differently," said Frieling, who spent 17 years with the sheriff’s office.
David Cantor, a defense attorney whose practice includes drunken driving cases, said it is not unusual for Breathalyzers to break down.
In those instances, police officers typically seek a search warrant for a blood draw or take the suspect to a nearby police station where another Breathalyzer is available.
Deputies could have done either if necessary. A judge is on the bench around the clock at the Maricopa County Jail in downtown Phoenix and can sign warrants that are transmitted by fax, said J.W. Brown, Maricopa County Superior Court spokeswoman.
Breath tests should be administered within two hours of driving, Cantor said.
Busch was suspended for the balance of the NASCAR season by the racing team he drives for, sponsored by Crown Royal whiskey.
He did not race Sunday, but his brother, Kyle, won the Checker 500.
Kurt Busch told NBC Sports that alcohol was not a factor in his run-in with sheriff’s deputies.