Barry Cleared of DUI, Other Traffic Charges

By Yolanda Woodlee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 14, 2007

D.C. Council member Marion Barry was acquitted yesterday of driving under the influence and three other traffic-related charges after he testified that he had a glass of wine and took at least five different medications on the night of his arrest.

Magistrate Judge Richard H. Ringell said there was not enough evidence to show that Barry (D-Ward 8) was impaired when he was stopped near the White House last Sept. 10. Ringell said he was not convinced by the testimony of three Secret Service officers, who said they thought the former mayor was intoxicated because his eyes were red, his speech slurred and his balance unsteady.

"What I saw was a man who walks in an extremely slow gait," Ringell said. Based on his observations during the two-day trial, Barry's eyes tend to look red and his speech can be unclear, Ringell said. "I had to have him repeat some questions because I did not understand him."

Ringell said the breathalyzer was the only test used to measure whether Barry was intoxicated. The machine registered 0.02, far below the legal limit of 0.08.

Barry also was acquitted of driving an unregistered vehicle and misuse of temporary tags. The night he was stopped, he was driving a 1995 Camaro loaned to him by a friend who leases cars.

Minutes after the ruling, Barry stood outside D.C. Superior Court and repeated what he had been saying since his arrest: The charges were unfair. He blamed the officers and the D.C. Office of the Attorney General for not dropping the case.

"This was an effort by the government to embarrass me and break my spirit," said Barry, 71, adding that the breathalyzer reading should have exonerated him. "I was not driving while impaired. I know better than to be out here drinking heavily."

Barry still faces charges from a Dec. 16 traffic stop by the U.S. Park Police. He was charged with driving an unregistered vehicle and misuse of temporary tags in that incident, too. Ringell chose not to consider that matter, and Barry is to return to court in August. Barry contests the charges.

During the trial, Barry's attorney, Frederick D. Cooke Jr., said the officer who administered the breathalyzer test did not factor in Barry's age, deteriorating health and medications for high blood pressure, congestive heart failure and diabetes. He did not dispute that Barry talks with a "thick tongue," as the officers described it.

The officers charged Barry with driving under the influence after he refused to take a follow-up urine test. Cooke said Barry did not have to take a urine test because District law does not mandate two different tests. Barry testified that he was willing to retake the breathalyzer test but that police didn't let him. Barry said he would have taken the urine test if the officers had explained to him why it was necessary.

As far as Barry's speech pattern, Cooke said his client has been criticized over the years for his diction.

"That's Mr. Barry," Cooke said. "For good or worse, that's how he talks."

The prosecutor, Kara Preissel, said Barry had been driving "a bit irregular and dangerous" when he was arrested at 3:23 a.m. near the White House. Barry said he was giving a tour to a state legislator from Oklahoma who was in town for the Congressional Black Caucus festivities. In an interview, he would not give her name but said she could not testify on his behalf because she was in Africa.

One of the uniformed Secret Service officers, Ryan Montiero, a New Hampshire native, said that he did not know the former mayor and that he smelled alcohol. Montiero, 24, called for Officer Marie Wadford, a certified technician, to give Barry a field sobriety test.

Wadford said Barry failed the test and was later given the breathalyzer.

Barry, who was convicted of a misdemeanor count of cocaine possession in 1990, faces another court date next week. A federal judge is considering whether to revoke his probation in a tax case.

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