Handcuffed and seated in the back of a patrol car, Adam James contemplated his perception of his own reality: Had he, in fact, unwittingly ingested a narcotic?
Of course, the answer for the 41-year-old Tulsa man was “no.” However, James was en route to a hospital for a blood draw after a Tulsa County sheriff’s deputy determined the real estate investor had failed a field sobriety test.
James, an African-American, told the Tulsa World that he passed the test — except for one part involving balance that he struggled with — but the deputy “treated me as such a criminal.” He felt unfairly profiled and victimized by the arresting deputy, who he said “misrepresented” what took place during the traffic stop in the probable cause affidavit for James’ arrest.
James’ defense attorney had the state’s blood sample forwarded for testing. Nothing was detected when the results came back nearly two months later in November.
The prosecution dropped the case four weeks later in December after the results were filed with a motion to dismiss, but James can’t escape the “surreal” feeling of being in custody overnight on Sept. 30.
“It left me feeling not an equal,” James said. “That I was not a citizen. That I don’t matter.”
Sheriff Vic Regalado said he spoke with both deputies involved in the traffic stop and examined the probable cause affidavit. Regalado said he found no issues with the arrest because the deputy saw indicators of drug intoxication.
Regalado looked into the backgrounds and records of both deputies and found no indications or patterns that either engages in racial profiling or targets certain communities or groups, he said.
“There were no red flags,” Regalado said.
The sheriff said the deputy who made the arrest is certified in enhanced field sobriety tests, meaning he has more DUI experience than the average deputy.
“That is not uncommon for that to happen,” Regalado said of James’ negative blood test results. “And the reason why is when it does happen, it could be a variety of different things. It could include those tests only test for certain intoxicants; it doesn’t test for synthetic drugs, inhalants and things like that.
“That’s not to suggest that this individual was under that; I’m just telling you that when law enforcement has had a negative test come back, there are reasons for it. And it can be sometimes from mistakes made during field sobriety testing, especially with untrained individuals.”
District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said “in no uncertain terms” that his office did not dismiss the case out of concern that the deputies acted improperly.
“We dismissed the case based upon the preliminary blood test results that came back from the laboratory testing. However, that drug screening test is not exhaustive,” Kunzweiler said. “There are many other potential substances that could be tested for, and we are evaluating whether we would like the state laboratory to conduct that further screening.”
Probable cause affidavit
The probable cause affidavit states that Deputy David Allen was following Deputy Randy Schaefer when Schaefer conducted a traffic stop near 31st Street and Sheridan Road. The encounter took place just after midnight early Sept. 30 in the parking lot of a liquor store.
James was charged the day of his arrest with driving under the influence of drugs, unsafe lane use and failure to carry proof of insurance. He also had a citation for his expired tag.
James reportedly “veered partially” into an inside lane three times while driving a black 2001 Honda Civic.
“Adam James had uncoordinated movements with his hands, dropping items from the glove compartment while searching for insurance verification and continuously raising his hands in the air,” Allen wrote in his report. “Adam James had difficulty following simple instruction (sic) without them being repeated multiple times and continuously raised his hands in the air.”
James disputes how the deputy characterized the encounter to make it appear that he was under the influence of drugs.
He said items popped out of the glove box because it was disorganized, not that he was dropping things. He said his heart rate was up because he was nervous and afraid that a wrong move could end up with him being shot.
He said the deputies were frustrated that he was “over-obeying” by moving slowly, explaining what he was doing as he did it and keeping his hands raised — to try to protect himself and the deputies.
“So no matter what I did in there, I was going to lose,” James said.
The first deputy, Schaefer, wrote James a ticket for the expired tag. James said Schaefer never mentioned that he was swerving. Allen then took over and asked James to get out of his car.
“I don’t recall swerving because the (deputy) would have said that,” James said. “He never mentioned that.”
James said he wasn’t accused of swerving until the topic came up again at the hospital with Allen, his arresting deputy.
Regalado said both deputies told him they saw James swerving. He said Allen conducted the field sobriety test because he had specialized training and Schaefer’s DUI-grant shift was up.
The arrest report states that James performed five tests, of which he failed four (walk and turn, one-leg stand, lack of convergence and Romberg’s test for balance).
Eight of eight clues were listed as observed during the walk-and-turn test, as well as four of four clues on the one leg-stand test. The report states that James demonstrated a lack of convergence of the eyes and that during the Romberg’s test he presented eye tremors, estimated the passage of time to be 21 seconds during a 30-second period and swayed in a circular motion.
James acknowledged struggling with the one leg-stand test, calling it a “karate kid” type stance that the deputy himself couldn’t perform well. Otherwise, he said he passed the tests.
In explaining his nine-second difference on the Romberg’s test, he said to keep in mind “that in my world” there is a possibility the deputy could take his life.
“When you think you’re going to die, we have to be calm and they don’t,” James said.
Regalado responded that it is difficult to delineate whose story is more correct when the encounter is labeled a “misrepresentation” as opposed to an “absolute lie.”
“Not just African Americans get nervous on stops,” Regalado said. “And can that affect to a certain extent (field sobriety tests)? Absolutely. Can mental illness do it? Absolutely. Can other factors, … being under the influence of intoxicants, inhalants, synthetic drugs? … All those things taken into effect can absolutely.
“But the checks and balances with that is that (field sobriety) test.”
Deputy’s wife on ride-along
James also is concerned that Allen’s wife was with him in the car during the traffic stop and arrest.
He wondered whether her presence might have affected how Allen conducted himself, perhaps encouraging the deputy to “show off” for her.
Regalado confirmed that Allen had his wife with him on patrol that night, something the pair do “on occasion.”
He said that is allowable by policy about once every four months, provided Allen filled out the proper paperwork and his wife underwent a background check — just like any citizen for a ride-along. Exceptions to the four-month rule are permissible through the chain of command, he said.
Regalado said Allen told him that he filled out the proper form and that his wife underwent a background check. However, Regalado said that documentation has yet to be found.
He said it’s “no secret” that record keeping under the previous administration was “less than perfect,” so he has opened an Internal Affairs investigation to determine if the guidelines were followed.
“And if it turns out he didn’t, there will be consequences to that,” he said.
Public awareness, outreach
James’ reason for going public with his encounter is two-fold: He wants to try to prevent others from enduring a similar experience. He also hopes to raise funds to help inmates who can’t afford to pay bonds, fines or court costs so they can get back to work or their families.
After his attorney is able to get his case expunged, James said he likely will have spent $8,000 to $10,000 because of the arrest and charges.
He said he is working with Still She Rises Tulsa, a nonprofit that advocates for mothers in the criminal justice system. During his overnight incarceration, he said he heard several stories of inmates who were unable to pay to leave the jail, so they had lost jobs or were unable to take care of their children.
“I was there; I got out because I had the means,” he said. “What if I didn’t?”