Bid to suppress evidence in Clayton chief’s DUI case denied

DOVER — A northern Kent County police chief’s bid to suppress evidence from a DUI investigation just over a year ago was denied, and the matter will move to trial.

Clayton Police Chief Brian C. Hill pleaded not guilty following an Aug. 12, 2017, incident south of Smyrna that resulted in a misdemeanor first offense DUI of alcohol charge and failure to remain within a single lane violation issued by Delaware State Police.

Brian C. Hill

According to authorities, Chief Hill, 48, of Dover, was driving alone in a 1998 Porsche Boxter that became disabled on railroad tracks in the area of Sunnyside Road and Southern View Drive at approximately 10 p.m.

A subsequent investigation led to the charges, and an evidence suppression hearing was held on April 9 before Court of Common Pleas Judge Anne Hartnett Reigle. The defense sought to eliminate intoxilyzer results taken by DSP and cited a supposed lack of probable cause at the scene.

Attorney James E. Liguori said Tuesday that Chief Hill “expressed disappointment that the judge didn’t see the facts as he believed them to come out in the hearing.”

The chief asked to move to trial and Mr. Liguori used a baseball reference to speculate about the case’s future.

“As wise, old sage Lawrence Peter Berra (also known as “Yogi”) once said ‘It ain’t over till it’s over,’ ” Mr. Liguori said.

Deputy Attorney General John Donahue represented the state at the suppression hearing. The Delaware Department of Justice declined comment Tuesday.

Judge reviews incident

In a 10-page opinion, Judge Reigle pointed to police testimony quoting Chief Hill as identifying himself to arriving DSP Trooper Eric Gumbs and immediately stating “This is totally my fault and I’m in a bad situation here and I need your help, dude.”

The trooper then asked the chief for his badge, which he said he did not have. Chief Hill also didn’t have a cell phone but did give an identification number, according to court documents.

According to the trooper at a hearing in April he allegedly smelled alcohol coming from Chief Hill’s mouth.

“He also described him as wet, having glassy eyes and some stuttered speech,” according to the Court. “He described his overall demeanor as nervous but cooperative. He also testified that he did not slur his speech or stumble or sway.”

As the interaction continued, the trooper testified that “he wanted to get [Chief] Hill out of the rain by having him sit in his patrol vehicle,” the order said.

“Mr. Hill followed Trooper Gumbs and again stated ‘I’m in a bad situation.’

Also, the judge found that Chief Hill also expressed that “I’m not worried about the rain, I’m worried about getting my car out of here.”

The initial meeting was recorded on Trooper Gumbs’s patrol car video system, the judge said.

Judge Reigle determined that “[Chief] Hill’s statements to be admissions that he was the driver of the motor vehicle which was stuck on the railroad tracks and that he was at fault for turning improperly onto the railroad tracks.

The trooper confirmed Chief Hill’s identity, according to testimony, and he was not handcuffed or restrained. Police let him use his cell phone “and believed he was calling a tow truck, based upon their conversation that he knew someone who could tow his car off the tracks.”

More police arrive

Fellow Clayton Police Officer Robert Bishop arrived, according to testimony, and asked the trooper “if he could take Mr. Hill home and if they could ‘work this out,” the judge found.

The trooper declined and testified to calling his commanding officer to report the incident. DSP Capt. Daniel Hall arrived to assist in the investigation, papers said, and two other troopers responded.

The state presented several photographs of the scene, including one of the railroad crossing that the Court said “does look like a roadway because it is as wide as a road and appears to have dirt and gravel on either side.”

Trooper Gumbs testified “there was no roadway nearby for which the railroad tracks could be mistaken.”

According to the Court, KentCom radio transmissions confirmed Trooper Gumbs’s testimony about his calls.

Captain Hall and Mr. Bishop testified, and the Clayton officer was not considered as working in his official capacity but as a proffered defense witness.

“From the testimony, it appeared to the Court that everyone knew that this was an investigation for driving under the influence and everyone, including Mr. Hill, believed that he had committed the offense,” Judge Reigle determined.

“It also appeared to the Court that the Delaware State Police were fair and courteous to [Chief] Hill but followed protocol in conducting the investigation.”

Rain complicated the investigation, according to the Court. The trooper was thus justified in not conducting field sobriety tests on the roadway, Judge Reigle said, and qualified through training to make that decision.

Sobriety tests follow

After Chief Hill was transported to Troop 9 in Odessa, sobriety tests followed.

“[Chief] Hill was able to complete the alphabet test, but he paused during the recitation of some of the letters,” according to the order. “He was able to count backwards from 68 to 53 but paused and transposed several numbers.

“Trooper Gumbs also performed a Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test and he testified that the test indicated that [Chief] Hill was under the influence of alcohol. [Chief] Hill refused to perform the one leg stand or walk and turn test because he said that he had a ‘bad knee. ‘ “

The defense argued that Delaware State Police improperly took Chief Hill from the scene and no probable cause had been established. Also, according to the defense, the trooper “improperly conducted the 20-minute observation period and therefore a proper foundation was not laid for the intoxilyzer test.”

The intoxilyzer results must then be inadmissible, according to the defense.

But Judge Reigle found the trooper did complete the 20-minute observation period as required. “Trooper Gumbs testified that he observed [Chief] Hill in a small area and was sure that he did not eat, drunk, or smoke for over 20 minutes before he had [Chief] Hill submit to the breath test to determine his blood alcohol content.”

Ultimately, Judge Reigle found “Trooper Gumbs testified that he arrived on the scene where [Chief] Hill had been involved in an accident involving his motor vehicle.

“Despite [Chief] Hill’s familiarity with the local road due to his role as a patrol officer, he drove off Sunnyside Road and onto the railroad tracks.

“The railroad tracks were marked with two signs … This was a significant mistake in driving which demonstrated a significant likelihood that the driver was impaired …”

Paid leave continues

At a Clayton city council meeting on Aug. 29, 2017, Chief Hill was placed on paid administrative leave under the advice of town counsel. According to town records at the time, he was paid $80,828 annually. Lt. Carl Hutson was named interim chief and has since been promoted to captain.

Clayton Mayor David Letterman said Tuesday that Chief Hill’s status remained the same pending results of his case. He was present at the suppression hearing in April.

“My interest is making sure that the town’s reputation is not harmed and making sure that we do what’s in the best interest of the employee in terms of being treated fairly,” Mayor Letterman said.

The mayor described the suppression decision as “the next step in the process toward an eventual conclusion that we are all now awaiting.”

Capt. Hutson “has stepped up to the plate and done a fantastic job, and we haven’t missed a beat,” according to the mayor. Though one part-time officer was added and regular officers missed time due to injury, the budget didn’t expand and the mayor said work shifts were adjusted accordingly to assure proper coverage.

As far as public reaction to the situation, Mayor Letterman said “I’ve heard pros and cons but not to a great degree any way, nothing extreme one way or another.”

The mayor said he’s heard “a lot of support for Chief Hill. We all make mistakes and people put themselves in others’ positions and try to understand what’s going on. I don’t sit in judgment and would hope I would be treated the same way if I were in a situation.”

According to official Town of Clayton council meeting minutes posted online at clayton.delaware.gov, Chief Hill led the Pledge of Allegiance to open the gathering on Aug. 14, 2017, two days after the investigation.

When contacted by the Delaware State News on Aug. 16, 2017, Mayor Letterman said he was unaware of any possible incident involving Chief Hill, but would check into it. The mayor confirmed the stop the next day but said he “wasn’t going to get into the specifics” of whether the chief called him about the incident or vice versa.

“We had a discussion,” Mayor Letterman said. “Just like anybody else, if you were in that position, you’d be getting your ducks in a row first before anything else.”

Delaware State Police first confirmed when asked by media that a Brian C. Hill was charged with DUI on Aug. 12, 2017, but would not disclose any employment information due to policy.

An initial report filed by an investigating trooper listed Chief Hill’s blood-alcohol concentration as .016 percent, and that figure was corrected. Police did not divulge what the updated BAC was and referred media to the court system for further information. Also, the stop was originally listed as taking place in New Castle County and then corrected to Kent County.

Chief Hill is an Executive Board member of the Delaware Police Chiefs’ Council.

 

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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