Rep. Louis Stokes (D-Ohio) left the floor of the House yesterday afternoon and went to a Montgomery County police station where he was handed three traffic citations, including one for driving while intoxicated.
The charges filed yesterday, which Stokes has denied and says he plans to contest in court, stem from an incident March 25 when Stokes allegedly failed three roadside sobriety tests after he was stopped by police in Wheaton.
"These charges against me are blatantly untrue," Stokes said in a brief news conference after returning to Capitol Hill from the police station. "For the record, I have never had a drinking problem, and was not drinking on the night in question. Furthermore, no accident or traffic violations occurred."
Stokes, who says he will seek a jury trial, said the "matter is now in the courts, where I wanted it to be." He then refused to answer questions and left the news conference, asserting he did not want his rights "further prejudiced."
Stokes, the chairman of the House ethics committee, left the House floor at 4 p.m. and was driven by an assistant to the county police station in Silver Spring. After passing reporters at the door, the eight-term congressman approached the front desk and announced politely, "I'm Congressman Stokes. I'm to pick up some citations here."
Stokes' appearance at the station and the signing of the traffic citations completed the formal process by which police charged Stokes with driving while intoxicated, failing to obey an automatic signal and failure to keep to the right of center.
In his brief statement yesterday, Stokes challenged police for waiting almost three weeks to charge him. "When before today has anyone heard of a police department needing three weeks to decide whether to charge someone with traffic violations which occurred in their presence?" Stokes asked.
Police had said earlier that Stokes would not be charged because the officer at the scene had failed to give the congressman a breath test, which police said was required under Maryland law before drunk driving charges are brought. However, State's Attorney Andrew Sonner said Tuesday that a review of previous cases showed that failure to give the test did not bar prosecution.
Stokes was stopped by police in Wheaton at 2 a.m. March 25, about two hours after a night session of Congress adjourned. Police have stated that Stokes had been driving on the wrong side of six-lane Randolph Road, had run a red light and had made an illegal U-turn. According to police, the congressman then flunked three roadside sobriety tests.
In a press conference in his home town of Cleveland Monday, Stokes contended that the police were wrong in saying he had failed the sobriety tests and he challenged the Montgomery County prosecutor to bring charges againt him if he had a case.
At the time of the incident, police said that Stokes had claimed immunity from prosecution because he was on the way from Congress to his home in Wheaton. Later, police reversed their account and said Stokes had not asked for immunity, but that they had been told by U.S. Capitol Police that he was entitled to it.
In an interview in his car as he was traveling to the Silver Spring station yesterday, Stokes said "I wanted this to be done in the open . . . . Let the media be there so nobody will say Mr. Stokes is getting special treatment."
During the interview Stokes reiterated his allegations that the media was focusing on the incident because he is black. "There are nine camera crews sitting down there right now waiting for me to respond . . . for these rinky-dink type charges," Stokes said as he was being driven back to Congress for his press conference. "When have you ever known the media to show this kind of interest in such a thing?"
The 58-year-old congressman, who is a lawyer, spent nearly an hour in an office at the police station picking up the citations. When he emerged, he refused to discuss what had taken place behind a door marked "police only."
"Being a lawyer and one who was a trial lawyer," Stokes said, "I have in my mind how this case should be tried and I don't want to jeopardize my trial."