Heather Squires was arrested for DUI without drinking a drop of alcohol (Phoenix New Times)
Friday May 30th, 2008
Heather Squires was the designated driver. Never exactly a fun thing, but a college buddy of her husband's was driving up from Tucson to celebrate his acceptance into law school. So when her husband, Jason, asked, Heather said yes. At Chuy's in Tempe, Heather's brother and her husband and the soon-to-be-law-school student knocked off four pitchers of beer. Everybody was having a great time.
Around 9:30 p.m., they decided to head home. So they piled into Jason Squires' new pickup truck. As planned, Heather drove.
They didn't get very far.
A motorcycle cop spotted the truck as Heather drove through the intersection of Baseline Road and Mesa Drive. Not familiar with the truck, she'd failed to flip on her lights. Soon the cop was flipping on his — and they were flashing.
Heather was ordered out of the vehicle and almost immediately handcuffed. She was taken to the Mesa Police Department and charged with both driving under the influence and driving with a blood alcohol content over the legal limit. The truck was searched, then impounded.
Heather Squires was no different from any of the thousands of people who've been charged with DUI this year in Arizona. They drank, they got busted, and now — thanks to the toughest DUI laws in the nation — they can expect jail time, big fines, and an ignition interlock.
Except for one thing.
Heather Squires' blood alcohol content that night was 0.00. The records prove, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that she was an exemplary designated driver.
She hadn't had a drop to drink.
Heather Squires is a 29-year-old legal assistant, but with long blond hair and wholesome good looks, she resembles nothing so much as a fresh-scrubbed high school student.
So it doesn't surprise me that the Mesa policeman's first question was, "How old are you?" On a dark night, it would be easy to assume she was underage and out past curfew.
The problem is, she wasn't. Wasn't underage, wasn't past curfew, wasn't drunk. Wasn't even drinking. The arrest should never have happened. And though Mesa police quietly dismissed the charges against her a month later, I think her case still raises serious questions.
Let's face it. The DUI situation in Arizona is out of control. As I reported earlier this year, drivers are getting popped after just one or two drinks, with blood alcohol contents far below the legal limit.
But Heather's case is the only one I've seen in which the driver drank nothing. It certainly makes me wonder whether her treatment was related to the fact that her husband, Jason, is a DUI attorney based in Mesa.
A few months before Heather's arrest, in fact, he helped a client beat the rap for extreme DUI at a jury trial, even though records suggest the guy was guilty.
The officer who arrested the guy? Bond Gonzalez — the same cop who would arrest Heather Squires.
I would call that a remarkable coincidence, except I'm not so sure it is a coincidence. The truck, after all, was registered to Jason Squires. And when Gonzalez began questioning Heather, Jason immediately identified himself from the back seat, as Gonzalez's report confirms.
Gonzalez wrote in the report that he did not recognize Squires for quite some time. In fact, when Squires showed his bar card to verify that he's an attorney, Gonzalez wrote that Squires was attempting to claim he worked for the county attorney.
I find the officer's report a little disingenuous.
The Squireses agree that, upon his pulling them over, Gonzalez was almost immediately hostile. Rather than ask Heather Squires whether she'd had anything to drink, he ordered her out of the truck. Then he immediately ordered her to do a field sobriety test.
Sensing trouble, Jason Squires advised her to refuse.
"I didn't like the way this was happening," he explains. "At that point, I'm not going to trust him to be fair." It didn't help that the area where they were standing was covered in thick gravel and Heather Squires was wearing strappy heels. As any DUI lawyer knows, that's setting a driver up for failure.
Now, the law is clear. If you refuse a blood test, the police confiscate your license right away and suspend it for a year. By refusing, you're admitting guilt.
But that is not true for field sobriety tests. They are supposed to be optional.
That's not how Gonzalez handled it. When Heather Squires refused the field tests, Gonzalez said he had no choice: "If you're not going to do these, I'm putting you under arrest."
"What for?" Jason Squires asked, incredulous. He knew his wife hadn't been drinking.
Within minutes, she was in cuffs anyway.
The Mesa police are equipped with portable Breathalyzers — a test that would have shown immediately that Squires was not intoxicated. But Gonzalez never administered one.
And though Gonzalez's supervisor showed up, he never administered a breath test, either.
In total, five cops reported to the scene. (Nice use of Mesa's tax dollars, eh?) And not one of them did anything to stop the madness. Not one of them noticed that the woman they were arresting was as sober as an undertaker.
The next day, Jason Squires filed an Internal Affairs complaint, alleging retaliation. He and Heather say there will be a lawsuit.
The Mesa police see things a bit differently. Detective Steve Berry, a spokesman for the department, tells me that by refusing the field test, Heather Squires "forced" Gonzalez's hand.
"He had to look at the totality of the situation," Berry says. "You have a car where the other two individuals are clearly drinking. He smells alcohol. And then you have someone driving without their headlights, not willing to do field sobriety tests — he's left with few options at that point."
Berry adds that Gonzalez likely had no idea whom he was pulling over. Yes, police typically run license plates before making a traffic stop, but they're mostly checking to make sure a vehicle isn't stolen. He's skeptical that Gonzalez actually recognized Squires' name.
But as scary as it is to think that the police harassed the wife of a DUI lawyer, I think the other option is almost scarier.
And that's this: In this time of anti-DUI zeal, are police so eager to make arrests that everyone on the road at night is presumed to be a drunk driver?
It's interesting to read the affidavit that Officer Gonzalez wrote that night about Heather Squires, intending to ask the Motor Vehicles Division of ADOT to yank her license. (He never mailed it — possibly because of the blood-test results.)
It describes "bloodshot and watery eyes."
"Strong odor of an alcoholic beverage emitting from breath."
All this on a woman who was sober.
Anyone at that scene should have noticed that Heather Squires didn't smell of alcohol, that her eyes weren't bloodshot, that her face wasn't flushed. She wasn't, after all, drunk.
But that's not what they wanted to see.
There's no one who understands that better than Jason Squires.
Two months ago, when Squires questioned Officer Gonzalez in court for that extreme DUI arrest he'd made, Gonzalez admitted that he'd pull people over at night for things he'd never bust them for during the day. And when a juror asked if he had a quota, Gonzalez replied that he liked to arrest three people per night.
So what if some of them are sober, right?
One month after her arrest, Heather Squires is still nervous behind the wheel.
"Particularly when I'm in Mesa," she admits. "Like, I would not want to call them in an emergency — the people you think are there to help you and assist you are not." Even knowing that she was sober, she says, she agonized over whether the charges would be dismissed.
Keep in mind, this is coming from a woman whose husband handles DUI cases for a living. Most of us would have been on our own.
Honestly, I don't want to believe that Officer Gonzalez sought out the lawyer who beat him in court — and then penalized his wife when she'd done nothing wrong.
But a rogue cop is almost preferable to a system that's stacked against motorists who want nothing more than to get home at night. Those people might not be as sober as Heather Squires proved to be, but after one or two drinks, I'm willing to bet that they don't have bloodshot eyes or reek of booze. You're still going to read that in the police report.
That's how the system works these days.
"We have to fight this," Jason Squires tell me, "for all the people out there who can't."
It's going to be a lonely fight in this teetotaler's paradise. But if nothing else, I bet he's got the Mesa PD's attention.
Drive carefully, Jason.