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Redskins Rookie Cleared of DWI

Video Leads to Dismissal

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 6, 2005; Page B01

A Fairfax County judge yesterday dismissed a drunken driving charge against Redskins defensive back Sean Taylor after watching a videotape of Taylor's sobriety tests.

"When I sit back Monday morning quarterbacking, I've seen a whole lot worse," said General District Court Judge Mitchell I. Mutnick. "I just don't think the evidence was sufficient" to convict Taylor of drunken driving.

A Fairfax County judge dismissed a drunken driving charge against Sean Taylor, left, after watching a videotape of Taylor's sobriety tests. (Larry Morris - The Washington Post)

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But Mutnick did find Taylor guilty on a separate charge of refusing to take a blood alcohol test after he was pulled over about 2:35 a.m. Oct. 27, which means Taylor must forfeit his driver's license for a year. Taylor immediately appealed that ruling, postponing his license revocation until a hearing in March.

Taylor, 21, testified that he had one glass of champagne with dinner about 11 p.m. at a District nightclub where teammate Rod Gardner was celebrating his birthday. Gardner and several other teammates -- Laveranues Coles, Clinton Portis, Fred Smoot and Garnell Wilds -- came to the Fairfax courthouse to testify about Taylor's drinking that night. Only Coles made it to the stand before Mutnick threw out the charge.

Taylor declined to comment afterward. His attorney, Warren W. McLain, said the judge's ruling vindicated Taylor's earlier claim that he was sober when he was arrested and that the videotape "showed a lot of exculpatory evidence."

The tape came from the patrol car of Virginia State Police Trooper Mandre D. Boggess, who testified that Taylor's 2004 BMW sedan sped through his radar beam at 82 mph as Boggess sat on the outer loop of the Capital Beltway near Georgetown Pike. When Boggess hit his lights and siren to pull over the BMW, the camera started automatically.

Taylor already had his license out when Boggess approached the car, the tape showed, and the trooper asked for the car's registration. Then, the trooper asked, "Who's been drinking?" The answer was inaudible. Boggess testified, "I detected a strong smell of alcoholic beverage coming from the vehicle."

The trooper said that he asked Taylor, the driver, to lean his head out the window and that he thought Taylor's eyes were glassy. He asked Taylor to step out of the car, and he said he still smelled a strong odor of alcohol. Taylor told Boggess he had had one drink but that someone might have spilled a drink on him while he was at Gardner's party, at Home Nightclub on F Street NW.

Taylor stood behind his car, in jeans and a long-sleeved pullover shirt with musician Bob Marley's image on it, while Boggess returned to his car. Taylor did not appear unsteady or particularly nervous throughout the next half-hour. "I'm not drunk, sir, I'm honestly not drunk," Taylor told the trooper.

In response, Boggess asked Taylor to take a preliminary breath test with a small portable device carried by many police officers. "I'm not going to blow; I play ball," Taylor said. "I kind of know how this works."

Boggess explained why he wanted Taylor to take the test and said, "If you don't take the [test]," Boggess said, "I'm going to give you a field sobriety test and I'm going to place you under arrest for DWI."

Taylor did not sway as he walked heel-to-toe in a line and wobbled slightly after about 15 seconds of standing on one foot before regaining balance. He touched the tip of his nose three times without incident. But when asked to say the alphabet from "E" to "O," Taylor said, "E-F-G-H-I-K-L, do you want me to say O?"

Boggess told him, "I gave you a chance. The results of the test, they were bad." He then handcuffed Taylor, who asked to make a phone call. "I need to call my agent," Taylor said. (Taylor gained some notoriety for hiring and then firing agents after being drafted by the Redskins last spring.)

The trooper then drove Taylor to the Fairfax jail with the camera off. Boggess, who is black, said Taylor called him "Mr. Clean" and an "Uncle Tom" and made a derogatory comment about police. Taylor later testified that he was upset because he felt Boggess was proud of having arrested a Redskins player. At the jail, Taylor again declined a breath test.

Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs was in a meeting yesterday and unavailable for comment. He suspended Taylor for one game after the arrest.

Staff writer Nunyo Demasio contributed to this report.

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