UPDATE: Fruitland PD Chief found not guilty of DUI, DWI
Almost six months since he was arrested, the chief of the Fruitland Police Department was found not guilty for driving under the influence and driving while impaired while off-duty.
Somerset County Judge R. Patrick Hayman only ordered he received Probation Before Judgment for following a vehicle too closely.
“The Chief and I were very satisfied by the decision of Judge Hayman,” says John Phoebus, who represented Phillips in this case.
Somerset County Deputy Redding, who arrested Phillips, testified in District Court on Monday that on June 30, he saw a Ford pick-up coming behind him, traveling between two lanes, and it narrowly missed him after he pulled over. At that point, he says he pursued the truck for closely following, but when he radioed the information to the station, he did not mention that he was almost hit.
A dash cam stared recording video once Deputy Redding stopped the vehicle on the 11000 block of Somerset Avenue. When pulled over, Chief Phillips reportedly started to get out of the car, but once Deputy Redding ordered him to get back inside, he reportedly complied. However, because Chief Phillips got out of his car in the first place, Deputy Redding called back-up and drew his gun saying he feared for his safety. Shortly after, six officers showed up for back-up, and at least two others drew their weapons as well.
Phoebus says Phillips never threatened deadly force or bodily harm, so the officers had no right to pull weapons. He also pointed out Deputy Redding’s argument, that he did not know what Chief Phillips had inside his car, is something that he could argue for any traffic stop.
“The Chief does respect all of the jobs that every law enforcement officer has to do,” says Phoebus. “It was just about the very limited facts in this case today.”
Phoebus argued that the video showed no implication that Phillips’ was intoxicated or impaired. The video did record Phillips admitting to five drinks, but did not give a time frame. Phillips’ also denied a sobriety test.
Deputy Redding testified that Phillips smelled of alcohol, was mumbling and staggered twice, but was out of view of the camera when he did so. Apparently, this still was not enough evidence for Judge Hayman.
“By saying not guilty as opposed to saying that he granted the motion to suppress, he indicated that there was not enough evidence to find that my client had actually been driving under the influence of alcohol or driving while impaired,” says Phoebus. “In all the ways you could win, it’s the best way to win, because it meant that there was reasonable doubt as to whether a crime was committed at all, it wasn’t winning on a technicality.”
Phoebus says he anticipates that Chief Phillips will return to the Fruitland Police Department, but that decision is up to the city of Fruitland. 47 ABC reached out to the city about the decision, and they declined to make a comment.