But for video: Wisconsin deputy badly injures woman in crash, attempts to blame victim

Here’s an infuriating story from Fox 6 in Milwaukee. In February 2013, Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Deputy Joseph Quiles ran a stop sign, then T-boned 25-year-old Tanya Weyker, leaving the woman with a neck broken in four places and medical expenses that could top a million dollars. Yet immediately after the accident, Quiles had Weyker arrested for drunken driving, based on statements from Quiles’s fellow cops that Weyker had a slight odor of alcohol on her breath and she admitted to having a few sips of a friend’s drink at dinner. Her injuries prevented her from taking a breath test.

Quiles then filed a police report claiming he had come to a complete stop at the stop sign, putting Weyker at fault for the accident. Unfortunately for Quiles, Weyker’s blood tests came back clean. She was completely sober at the time of the accident. Moreover, Quiles’s report claimed that Weyker hadn’t turned on her headlights. But she was driving a car in which the headlights turn on automatically.

To this point, this looks like a story about a bad cop who possibly tricked his colleagues into helping him cover up an accident he caused by blaming it on the woman he nearly killed. But it gets worse. From Fox 6:

The truth might never have surfaced were it not for video from a nearby airport surveillance camera. It shows what investigators say is Deputy Quiles’ squad car traveling west on Hutsteiner Avenue, then continuing onto Howell without making a complete stop, as Quiles claimed in his report. The Sheriff’s Office knew about the video just two days after the crash. But no one told Weyker.

Instead, the County sent letters blaming her for the crash and threatening legal action if she didn’t pay for the damage.

Of course, if Weyker was drunk, it would have been easy to pin the blame on her. But less than a month after the crash, test results showed she had no alcohol in her system. And by July, her drug test came back negative too. Five months after the crash, it was clear Weyker had been stone cold sober.

But still the case didn’t go away.

“I don’t think it is fair at all,” Weyker said.

Five more months passed before a prosecutor finally looked at the case and declined to file charges. But even then, Weyker says, she was left in the dark.

“No one called me.”

“She had to live with this hanging over her head for way too long,” [drunk driving defense expert Andrew] Mishlove said.

So the sheriff’s department had the video that exonerated Weyker two days after the accident, but it continued to allow prosecutors to prosecute her on provably false charges, even as she lay in traction in a hospital bed. And were it not for that video, it seems likely that she’d still be facing charges. (Add this to the growing bank of “But for video …” stories.)

There’s more. Apparently, Quiles’s injuries from the accident weren’t particularly all that serious. According to Fox 6, he was treated and released the night of the crash. Yet he has been on paid medical leave ever since and has cited the accident in an attempt to avoid paying child support. He is also now asking for permanent disability pay. Quiles has apparently been disciplined for running a stop sign, but he has not been disciplined for filing a clearly false police report and attempting to frame an innocent woman whom he badly injured. He also apparently has a history of filing reports writtend by others.

Quiles did finally admit he caused the accident (only after he was confronted with the video evidence), but Milwaukee County still hasn’t paid Weyker’s medical bills. Even if the county finally writes her a check, there’s a law capping the costs at $250,000. If she wants more, she’ll have to file a civil rights lawsuit. Those are difficult to win, and she could be further tied up on in court for years.

Here’s what should happen: Quiles should be fired. Immediately. He should also face criminal charges for filing a false police report. The county should pay all of Weyker’s medical bills, plus a hefty sum for her pain and suffering — not just from the accident, but from all the stress and worry county officials caused her for nearly a year by threatening her with baseless criminal charges. Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. should then investigate why it took months for the video of the accident to be turned over to Weyker’s attorneys. He should also get to the bottom of why a cop with a history like Quiles’s was still working for the agency in the first place. (And, apparently at least as of March was still working for the agency.) He should investigate why those other deputies claim to have seen signs of intoxication in a clearly sober woman. (If those deputies are capable of seeing signs of drunkenness in a stone-sober person, what does that say about the credibility of their observations and testimony in other DWI cases?)

Clarke, incidentally, also occasionally writes at a personal blog. In a 2009 post about racial profiling, Clarke dismissed complaints from black motorists and accused groups like the ACLU of being “anti-cop,” and cynically undermining public trust in law enforcement.

Seems that Clarke’s own deputies are doing a pretty good job of undermining public trust all by themselves.

Radley Balko blogs about criminal justice, the drug war and civil liberties for The Washington Post. He is the author of the book "Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces."
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