The recent arrest of a county official for Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) after-arrest handling of the man have led to reviews and refinement of procedure for both county sheriff and Clinton Police.
The arrest came in the opening minutes of Saturday, May 27, when County Coroner Joe Tsosie was spotted driving down New Road from Fairfield Bay by a Fairfield Bay officer returning to that community after dropping off a prisoner at Van Buren County Jail. A Be on the Lookout (BOLO) had been issued a short while earlier and radioed to police patrols by dispatch, after a Fairfield Bay restaurant Dock of the Bay reported a patron, Tsosie, who they had stopped serving due to his overindulging had gotten in his SUV and left, Clinton Police Chief John Willoughby said.
Tsosie’s SUV had a personal license plate which made it easier to recognize.
What happened after the SUV was spotted can be followed both by a reading of police reports from Fairfield Bay and Clinton, and by the footage from the body camera worn by the Clinton Police officer who arrested Tsosie. The Fairfield Bay officer spotted the SUV and made a U turn to catch up with it, catching up just as it entered Clinton, per his report
(In DWI arrests, officer routinely have to follow the car in question for a short distance in order to confirm the driver’s lack of appropriate control, usually noted by the suspected car’s swerving.)
As the Fairfield Bay officer followed the SUV it came into Clinton and was driving on Highway 65B, poorly, occasionally leaving its lane, when the officer called to pull it over as they passed the Fire Department. The SUV pulled over in the police department parking lot, a short distance from the fire station. There a Clinton Police officer made the arrest. In the video footage from the parking lot, a Arkansas State Trooper is seen, as well as the Fairfield Bay officer. The Clinton officer’s report shows the stop was made 14 minutes after the SUV was first spotted by the Fairfield Bay officer.
On the body camera footage a obviously drunk Tsosie is seen both confused and dismayed by his plight. The Fairfield Bay officer is seen expressing his disappointment is Tsosie, letting him know he would have been willing to pick the man up at the restaurant and given him a ride home, but “it’s too late now.” Tsosie is seen on the video, and recorded in the police report, stating he did not want the arrest to go “on his record or in the newspaper” and repeating the word “No” over and over.
Tsosie refused to take a field sobriety test, where a trained officer puts the subject through a series of walking and balancing maneuvers in order to assess motor control, and refused to take a breath test, used to determine blood alcohol content. Due to this he was also charged with Refusal to Submit as well as DWI, per the Clinton Police report. He was handcuffed and taken to Van Buren County jail for processing.
Since the traffic stop was ultimately made in Clinton, it became a Clinton Police matter.
It was the handling of the matter at the jail where department supervisors found a need to review and refinement of procedures.
After being taken to jail and formally charged, Tsosie was release “On Recognizance,” (called “O.R.’d” by officers) to the Clinton Police officer who arrested him, who then took him to a family member’s nearby home.
Willoughby said the officer should have contacted him or his supervising sergeant to get permission to O.R. the man prior to doing so. Van Buren County Sheriff Scott Bradley, meanwhile, said Tsosie should not have been released without a mandatory six-to-eight hour wait at jail to where the arrestee is no longer intoxicated. The six to eight hour hold is not mandated by state statute, he said, but is typical procedure in such matters. As was the case with the O.R. release, jail staff has now been updated that releasing someone ahead of this time - even to a police officer undertaking the release - should not be done without receiving clearance from a supervisor.
Tsosie released a statement after the arrest: “I made a mistake and I deeply apologize to the citizens of Van Buren County. I seek your prayers as I move forward and accept the consequences of my actions. There is no excuse for what I have done and I am not making any. I have learned a very valuable lesson and I am already receiving help to ensure that this never happens again. With God’s help and the support and prayers of the residents of this County, I look forward to the better future.
It is expected to be several months before Tsosie is brought to trial. City of Clinton Attorney Matt Gilmore said it was the policy of his office not to comment on any forthcoming hearings.