Congressman Louis Stokes said today that Montgomery County (Md.) police were wrong when they said he failed three roadside sobriety tests on March 25 and he challenged county prosecutors to bring charges against him if they have a case.
Stokes, 58, chairman of the House ethics committee, also said that the police and the media would have handled the incident differently if he were white.
Stokes held a news conference in the meeting room of a Baptist church in his home district attended by several hundred supporters.
Some of his loyalists heckled reporters who asked questions and they sang "We Shall Overcome" when the news conference ended.
In a 20-minute statement interrupted 14 times by applause, Stokes said he had not been drinking before being stopped by police in Wheaton on March 25. He denied police statements that he had been driving on the wrong side of six-lane Randolph Road, ran a red light, made an illegal U-turn and failed a three-part field sobriety test.
"The only question I can ask is why wasn't I stopped while I was doing some of those things? At the scene the police never discussed these charges with me."
[County police spokesman Cpl. Phillip Caswell, informed of Stokes' comments today, said, "The facts speak for themselves. . . . We're going to stand on the facts that happened that evening."]
[Caswell added, "We're not going to get into a debate with the congressman."]
Montgomery police said at the time of the incident that Stokes claimed immunity from prosecution because he was en route to his home in the Silver Spring area from a late-night congressional session. Later, police reversed their position and said Stokes did not ask for immunity but that they had been told by Capitol police that he was entitled to it.
Stokes said: "The police stated that Stokes sought immunity and they also stated that Stokes was drunk. Subsequently, the police stated that Stokes did not seek immunity.
"The only point to be made is that if they didn't tell the truth about the first thing immunity how do you assume they told the truth about the second?" The county police, at the time of the incident, said the officer who stopped Stokes detected the odor of alcohol, that Stokes was swaying and "gave the impression of being under the influence" and failed the sobriety tests.
Stokes continued: "If Montgomery County police have a case, they ought to charge me and take me to court. It is unfair to try me in the newspaper and on radio and TV. I am not hiding behind immunity. I waive immunity."
The Montgomery County prosecutor's office is reviewing whether to file traffic charges against Stokes. The police said previously that Stokes would not be charged because he had not been given a breath test. A county prosecutor met with the police officer involved in the case today and is reviewing whether a breath test is required before charges can be filed. A decision is expected this week.
Stokes, at his press conference, bitterly criticized the media for their "rush to judgment" on the incident saying, "I always knew that someday, racism and bigotry in the media would raise its ugly head against me, too."
Stokes reiterated that he was present for a midnight vote on Social Security in the House of Representatives then went to his office for 90 minutes "cleaning up my desk." About 45 minutes after leaving his office, Stokes was stopped by police.
Stokes said he had not been drinking and said he willingly took the sobriety tests. He said he recited the alphabet, walked a straight line and touched his nose with both his left and right forefingers with his eyes closed. Stokes said police told him he failed the last test because he moved his head while touching his nose.
Stokes said that police should have given him a breath or urinalysis test, which Stokes said would have proved that he had not been drinking.