Trooper's remark contributes to OWI dismissal - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Trooper's remark contributes to OWI dismissal


BARABOO (WKOW) -- Court records show a state trooper's remark to a dispatcher contributed to a prosecutor's decision to dismiss a first offense drunk driving case against a Wisconsin Dells Police sergeant.

Authorities say 33-year-old off-duty officer Brent Brown slammed into a dumpster in Wisconsin Dells July 17 of last year and left the scene. Officials say Wisconsin Dells Police turned the case over the State Patrol, and investigators arrived at Brown's home several hours after the crash.

Records show a breathalyzer recorded Brown's blood alcohol level at .14, above Wisconsin's legal limit for driving of .08, but Brown refused to submit to a sobriety test. Records also state Brown told investigators he had been drinking at home.

In special prosecutor Jennifer Harper's Dec. 16 motion to dismiss the drunk driving case against Brown, she described trooper Christopher VandenHoven's communication with a dispatcher.

"While en route to the Sauk County Sheriff's Department, one of the troopers informed dispatch that the Defendant 'claims that he was drinking since he got home...I don't know how far this OWI case is going. It'll probably get dropped.' "

Harper, who is Richland County District Attorney, wrote VandenHoven's remark would have hindered prosecution. "The Trooper's statement that he 'didn't know how far this OWI case is going to go, it'll probably get dropped' is a powerful piece of evidence that would undoubtedly be used by the Defense if this case moved forward towards trial," Harper wrote in her court motion.

Harper tells 27 News prosecuting the case would have been made more challenging "...if the officer doesn't think he was drinking and driving" was heard by jurors.

But Harper says a defense attorney using the officer's statement to leave that impression would be "inappropriate," because Harper says the officer appears to have been talking candidly about legal challenges the case faced.

Harper tells 27 News the more significant issue to mounting a successful prosecution was "post driving drinking."  In her court motion, Harper notes the State would not have been able to prove that Brown's test result was taken within three hours of the crash, making the blood alcohol result inadmissible.

State Patrol Captain Charles Teasdale tells 27 News he's not heard the recorded communication between VandenHoven and the dispatcher, and has no comment on whether it was ill-advised.

But Teasdale says general practice calls for troopers to focus on enforcement.

"It is not common for a trooper to make comments that would somehow influence prosecution," Teasdale tells 27 News. "It's a clear division of responsibility. Our responsibilities are to enforce the law. And it's the courts and the prosecutor's role to prosecute those cases they think are worthy."

Brown's attorney, Jay Englund tells 27 News he discounts the officer speaking candidly as being the primary factor dooming the case against his client. Englund says the drunken driving case against Brown lacked necessary evidence.

Harper and Teasdale offered no comment on the extent of investigative efforts to pinpoint any drinking by Brown before the crash.

Brown was found responsible for citations in connection to property damage, and leaving the scene of the crash.

The web site of the Wisconsin Dells Police Department shows Brown has been demoted from sergeant to officer. Chief Jody Ward has yet to return a call from 27 News seeking comment.

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