A Pinal County sheriff's deputy who failed to keep proper records to validate blood-alcohol readings in DUI cases was pulled from that duty when the department launched an internal audit into the matter.

Records issues spur dismissal of Pinal DUI cases

Deputy Cardest James, a patrol officer in the Santan and Johnson Ranch areas, is no longer assigned to ensuring quality control on Pinal's equipment used to verify DUIs.

The move came after the Pinal County Sheriff's Office received a complaint from the county prosecutor's office in early June, according to officials.

Breathalyzer verification reports that James was in charge of maintaining were missing for periods between April 2007 and June 2008, according to sheriff's officials.

At least four DUI cases were dropped as a result of missing records, according to case files in the Apache Junction Justice Court. Sheriff's officials say that two more cases could also be dropped as a result of the missing records.

Part of James' job was performing checks on the department's Intoxilyzer 8000, which calculates blood-alcohol readings. The checks were supposed to involve a monthly test to calibrate the machine's accuracy and a more in-depth check every 90 days.

The tests are supposed to be documented on a state form, according to sheriff's officials.

Mike Minter, a sheriff's spokesman, said the internal audit of why the records are missing is in its "infant stages" and that there has been no formal disciplinary action taken against James.

"That's yet to be determined," he said. "They need to see what all has occurred."

The audit could lead to an internal investigation, according to officials. Richard Platt, a chief criminal attorney for the county, spurred the audit, said sheriff's officials. Platt sent an e-mail complaining about the missing breathalyzer records in early June, Minter said.

Prosecutor Michael Larsen complained to James directly in a May e-mail, telling the deputy that he would have to dismiss "a number" of cases if the records could not be produced.

Phoenix defense lawyer Craig Gillespie, a former prosecutor, said that blood-alcohol readings are a central piece of evidence in prosecuting a DUI case.

"They have to disclose those records to the defense so that we can determine whether it's been done properly," he said. "If they can't produce those documents, then the prosecution can't do their jobs, which is to disclose those documents to the defendants."

The Pinal County cases that were dropped as a result of the missing paperwork ranged from charges of minor DUI offenses to an extreme DUI.

It's not clear how many convictions were obtained without the proper verifications of the breathalyzer. Minter said that the county is doing a comprehensive check of all of its records to see if the problem is more widespread.

Other police agencies said that keeping breathalyzer records are very important, even as some departments move toward blood analysis as evidence in alcohol-related cases.

The city of Mesa, for instance, typically does a blood draw on a suspect in a DUI case.

The blood tests are considered more accurate than breath tests, and samples are retained that can be tested independent of the police lab.

"It removes the whole idea that it's just the police version of things," said Sgt. Ed Wessing, spokesman for Mesa.

He said the department does use a breathalyzer in the rare event that they can't perform a blood draw. He estimated the department has used it five or six times in the last two years.

However, he said retaining the proper records for the breathalyzer is essential.

"It's extremely important," he said. "That's exactly what DPS requires -- that we retain those records."

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