The Community Services District is continuing its effort to institute a vehicle-stop policy for drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The proposed policy was addressed at several meetings this month, including last week’s meetings of the CSD and Rancho Murieta Association boards.
The CSD proposed the policy in response to a DUI car accident a Security patrol officer witnessed but couldn’t take any action to prevent. The policy would allow a Security patrol officer to attempt a voluntary stop if the officer believes a driver is "under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and the Security Patrol Officer reasonably believes that the operation of the motor vehicle presents an imminent threat to public safety or property."
The CSD has asked for input from the RMA, the Country Club and other entities before the board acts on adopting the policy.
At the CSD board meeting Wednesday, General Manager Ed Crouse said the RMA has legal questions about the CSD’s authority for the stops, use of force, protection of civil rights, liability and indemnification. A letter from Country Club President Bob Wright "indicated the Country Club is concerned about the policy impacting their members' ability to participate and enjoy the club and its amenities," Crouse said.
"I get the impression from Bob Wright's letter that the Country Club feels it's perfectly all right for people to drive drunk so long as they're driving a golf cart," Director Dick Taylor remarked.
President Bobbi Belton pointed out that golf carts are motor vehicles and subject to California law.
"I think there are quite a few people who feel that once you're behind the gates traditional laws are not enforced and you have free rein," Crouse said.
“When you're driving on private property, which this entire gated part is, I think that has to be handled a little bit differently than public streets," said Director Jerry Pasek.
"The California Legislature differs with you and so does California state law. ... An ATV on private property, and any other motor vehicle on private property, it's exactly the same," said Director Steve Mobley, a retired law-enforcement officer.
Director Betty Ferraro said intoxicated golf cart drivers on Country Club property could be arrested for DUI.
"That is correct. That's state law right now," confirmed CSD legal counsel Jonathan Hobbs. "It's a pretty broad statute.”
“... Nobody's out there making arrests for a guy driving from the 9th Hole to the tee box. It's not happening,” Mobley said. “It's happening with idiots getting behind the wheel and driving like a fool. … The only concern here is we would like (Security patrol officers) to be able to use an amber light to try to effect a stop of somebody that is seriously drunk and driving on our roads endangering us. That's the only issue we have here. It's not the legalities of it. ... We'd like to give them a tool to try to prevent somebody from hurting somebody else."
Belton referred to an RMA director who said at the RMA meeting the previous night that he knows "a resident who joked, I hope, that he would douse himself in alcohol, get in his car and drive erratically and see what Security would do. I think comments like that are atrocious. People are saying ha, ha, ha, isn't this funny, how can I beat Security? … I just think that some of the things that are being raised in the community are a mask for wanting to say we can do whatever we want behind these gates, and I don't think that's true."
Hobbs said the proposed DUI stop policy "doesn't change state law. Even with or without this policy, your officers, myself, yourself, can still stop someone and make a citizen's arrest. And you can use reasonable force under the circumstances. ... But I guess when you look at what this policy really does, it's not that much of an extension as to what you already do. Or what you can do, at least. It just gives the officers the opportunity if they see a dangerous situation to make contact with the individual, and if they believe that they are driving under the influence to effectuate a citizen's arrest. Frankly, you could do that right now. But this just puts it into a policy so that it gives your officers some guidance.”
“...With respect to liability, … so long as your officers act reasonably under the circumstances and that's the standard and believe that a crime has been committed, you won't have civil liability,” Hobbs said. “I can't promise no one will sue you. As my first year law professor said, anyone can sue you for anything. But you've got defenses to it, and you've got good defenses to it as long as your officers act reasonable under the circumstances with the reasonable belief that the person violated the law, you won't have civil liability."
“We really have not changed anything except to put a policy in black and white and the amber lights. Is that correct?" Belton asked.
"Yes. … We make DUI contacts routinely on a voluntary basis, typically at the ... gate or as the result of an accident,” Crouse answered. “The most recent incident, however, my understanding was the officer who was following the driver because of an HOA (rule) violation, and our policy is, at the request of RMA, if you can't make contact with the driver so they know they had a violation, they're going to get a notice in the mail the next couple days. ... They don't like getting this notice of violation after the fact. So that's what prompted the following of the person to the home. That's when they knocked on the doors to inform them of a possible HOA violation. But in the resulting interaction, it was clear that the individual had been drinking and driving, and that's when the CHP was called."
"And he started to try to get back in the car. And that wasn't going to happen," Security Chief Greg Remson added.
Earlier in the meeting, Remson related details of the DUI incident, saying an officer went to Bass Lake about a noise complaint the night of Sept. 11. A group was leaving as the officer arrived. The officer checked the first vehicle and informed them they weren’t supposed to be back there. The second car "drove a little close to the officer but didn't stop, so he went to follow him home,” Remson said. After the driver pulled into the driveway, the officer made contact and CHP was notified after the officer noted slurred speech, the smell of alcohol, and other signs of intoxication.
"Now, how can you legally do that? Before we said the guy goes home, parks in his garage and there was nothing you could do about it," Pasek asked.
"No, we didn't go in his house and drag him out," Remson said.
"What the hell's the difference between that and what you were trying to do with the policy?" Pasek asked.
"The light. The whole stopping. That's the whole difference,” Mobley said. “It's almost nothing. That's why I don't see why there's so much opposition."
"I think there is a gross, gross misunderstanding then in the community as to how things can work, and do work,” Pasek said. “And that's why you're getting the objection from RMA. … They may want you to cease and desist as a matter of fact.”
"The contact is the same,” Remson replied. “The contact is the same whether we pull them over, whether they run into a tree or whether we follow them for a stop."
"You're making a citizen's arrest on the individual's driveway or house," Pasek said.
"Correct, and we can do that," Remson said.
"Any citizen can," Mobley agreed. "You don't have to be a security officer…."
At the RMA meeting the night before, Director Scott Adams reported on a discussion with Remson about the proposed policy at the Compliance Committee earlier in the month.
“I think CSD understands that there are constitutional rights and there's probably going to be an increased amount of litigation over CSD pulling somebody over and the resident having to wait for a long time, it could be hours, standing in front of other residents where people can see that he's been pulled over and he's being detained,” Adams said. “I think Chief Remson understood that, and I think he understands that there's going to be increased litigation and the officers' conduct is going to be called to question if the person is cited for DUI. It's going to create a lot of variables. ... I was surprised about ‘it depends on the circumstances’ as I gave Chief Remson a scenario of what if somebody pulls up on their front driveway, on their property, in their residence and they try to get from that golf cart to their front door, could the officer go onto that property and detain the person and he said it depends on the circumstances, and I thought that was going to be a 'no.' So there were a lot of ‘depends on the circumstances.’"
Remson provided specific examples of DUI arrests and procedures at the Compliance Committee meeting in response to questions Adams asked. He said whether handcuffs are used on someone who’s detained for DUI “depends on their attitude,” and used two recent DUI arrests at the gate as examples. Remson said, "The first one was very cooperative, stood by the car, wasn't any issue at all. The other was a little bit more uncooperative, loud, belligerent. She ended up being handcuffed and sat down in the grass until CHP got there. And CHP just traded handcuffs, and she stayed in handcuffs. That's how it normally is. We don't have a lot of knock-down, drag-out fights. We have resistance. The gentleman that crashed into the trees and rocks down here on Guadalupe and the parkway, he wanted to get in the car and drive home. … We ended up what I would term wrassling around with him and he was handcuffed also. But there weren't any fists thrown or pepper spray sprayed or batons swung or anything like that." He added that the CSD has a use of force policy in place.
Adams had a number of scenarios he asked Remson about at the Compliance meeting, and several involved golf carts. Remson said most DUIs involve cars and Security patrol officers aren’t looking for open containers on golf carts. "We're looking for driving. And you've got to be pretty doggone drunk to drive a golf cart to the point where we're going to concerned about it," he said.
Remson provided the committee with three pages of discussion points and information about DUI vehicle stops that included statistics on 26 DUI-related incidents in the community since 2008 and a summary of DUI enforcement information from four area homeowner’s associations. Remson declined to provide the names of the HOAs when Adams asked for them, saying, “It's background information. They're private organizations and they'd rather not have their procedures and policies on the World Wide Web." As a public agency, CSD makes documents and information available on its web site.
At various times during the discussion at Compliance, Remson noted, "We're not looking for someone who's had a beer. We're looking for dangerous drivers. … These are DUI drivers that are clearly DUI, erratic, like the one who crashed.”
The CSD Security Committee will hold an hour-long session to continue discussion of the DUI policy 10 a.m. Oct. 2 at the CSD Building. The meeting is open to the public.