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Lawyer sues police, others over DUI arrest

Prosecutors later dropped the charge, and the man says he was wrongfully arrested.

By ERIC STIRGUS

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 26, 2000


LARGO -- William Thomas Wadley hasn't kept count, but he figures he has defended hundreds of people charged with drinking and driving in his 18 years as a trial attorney.

Then he found himself facing the charge.

On March 19, 1999, Wadley, 42, of St. Petersburg, was driving his date home after dinner when he was pulled over by Largo police, who were conducting a detail to catch drunken drivers. Wadley remembers a local television news crew and about a dozen young people from an anti-drunken driving organization who braved the cool night air to watch.

After a few questions from the officers, several field sobriety tests and two Breathalyzer tests, Wadley was placed in handcuffs and driven to Pinellas County Jail where he was charged with driving under the influence.

A month later, prosecutors dropped the charges and said there was insufficient evidence to pursue a conviction. Wadley says the test results he was given show his blood-alcohol level was far below the legal threshold for drunkenness.

The memories of being carted off before those kids that night -- along with the unshakeable belief that he was not under the influence -- chill Wadley. On July 11, Wadley filed a lawsuit against the city, Kim Barnes and Tim Block, the officers who made the arrest. In the suit filed in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court, Wadley claims he was wrongfully arrested and imprisoned. The lawsuit also names Pinellas County Sheriff Everett Rice, arguing Wadley should not have been held at the jail. Wadley is seeking damages in excess of $15,000. "I don't think you can indict the entire police profession," Wadley said Tuesday afternoon. "I have a lot of respect for the profession. I think there was some amazing incompetence and some shocking arrogance. I'm pretty upset about it."

A Largo police spokeswoman declined to comment and said the city had not seen the lawsuit.

On that March 19, Wadley and his date dined at E & E Stakeout Grill on Indian Rocks Road. Wadley had three Jack Daniel's and Cokes with his dinner of steak and potatoes. The drinks, he thinks, were equivalent to about two shot glasses.

Wadley was driving east on East Bay Drive in his red BMW 328i, when he saw the officers motioning for him to pull over by the Newport Square office complex at 4625 East Bay Drive.

After being pulled over, Wadley said he was asked where had he come from and where was he going. The officers asked Wadley to step out of the car.

In an arrest affidavit, the officers said he appeared to have "bloodshot" eyes and smelled of alcohol. Wadley said he told the officers he had been drinking.

Wadley was asked to take nine steps in a straight line, the back heel of one foot touching the tip of his other foot, along a blue handicapped parking space. He then had to count from 1001 to 1030. After that, Wadley had to touch his nose with his index finger.

"As far as I'm concerned, I did great," Wadley said.

The officers reached a different conclusion.

Wadley was handcuffed and escorted to a building where he took two Breathalyzer tests. He said he registered 0.018 grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath. In Florida, a driver is considered impaired if he or she registers 0.08 or above on the breath test.

Wadley was asked to give a urine sample. Afterward, he was uncuffed and sat in a lounge for about 15 minutes. Police came back in the room, handcuffed him again and took him to jail. His date bailed him out the next morning.

The case was referred to state prosecutors. Pinellas-Pasco Assistant State Attorney Shawn Crane is foggy on the details of the case, but he remembers there wasn't enough to move forward with the case.

"We felt, based upon the facts and circumstances, there was insufficient evidence to show that he was DUI," Crane said Tuesday.

Wadley, who said he is a former president of the Pinellas County Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, insisted he was not drunk. He said he would never drive while intoxicated.

"I know better," he said.

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