Clayton’s police chief gets his day in court

Brian C. Hill

DOVER — After nearly five hours of sometimes widely contradictory testimony Monday among law enforcement officers present during a suspicion of DUI investigation last summer, Clayton Police Chief Brian C. Hill’s fate now rests with a judge.

Deputy Attorney General John Donahue and defense attorney Jim Liguori both rested their suppression hearing cases around 5 p.m. and offered to make written submissions of final arguments to Court of Common Pleas Judge Anne Hartnett Reigle.

Mr. Liguori’s submissions are due April 18 and Mr. Donahue was required to respond by May 4. Three legal issues were raised for consideration at the hearing.

Delaware State Police alleged that Chief Hill, 47, had a blood alcohol content twice the legal limit after his disabled vehicle was discovered on railroad tracks on Sunnyside Road near Smyrna by a trooper who happened to pass by on the way to another call just after 10 p.m. on Aug. 12, 2017.

Chief Hill pleaded not guilty.

A Clayton Police officer called to the scene, however, testified that the chief exhibited no signs of impaired driving. He described the ensuing state police investigation as a “disaster from start to finish” as protocols were supposedly not followed correctly.

Officer Robert Bishop said he believed state police were trying to throw the investigation to benefit Chief Hill by not conducting tests at the scene of the crash and instead taking the investigation to Troop 9 in Odessa. He believed the weather would not have influenced tests at the scene and should have been done there if needed.

Troop 9 Commander Capt. Daniel Hall, though, said he transported the chief away from the scene due to the rainy weather and in an attempt to allow for “dry testing” that wouldn’t affect the results.

If Chief Hill failed to perform adequately on the tests, Capt. Hall said the investigation would continue by following proper procedures, transparently and fairly. The captain said he noticed Chief Hill speaking in an unusually measured way, smelled alcohol on his breath and believed him to be impaired.

Chief Hill was charged with misdemeanor first offense DUI of alcohol and failure to remain in a single lane. State police alleged that he had a BAC reading of 0.16 percent, with 0.08 being the minimum threshold for a drunken driving charge in Delaware.

The first trooper at the scene was Eric C. Gumbs, who testified that he smelled a “moderate” odor of alcohol on Chief Hill’s breath when contacting him in the area of the disabled vehicle. He called his sergeant afterward to determine how to proceed.

Trooper Gumbs said his first concern was ensuring safety with the disabled vehicle on the tracks. He said Chief Hill was apologetic for putting him in the position while asking for his help and worrying about how the situation would affect his career at the same time.

While the trooper said he detected six clues of possible impairment during eye testing at the troop, Officer Bishop, who was observing nearby, said the tests were conducted too quickly and he detected no clues present.

Officer Bishop, who was on duty at the time, testified that he eventually drove Chief Hill home after charges were filed as Smyrna Police and Delaware State Police covered his jurisdiction, as is standard procedure.

Chief Hill, a Dover resident, was placed on administrative leave with pay by Clayton Town Council shortly following the arrest.

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