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Red Bank (TN)'s DUI king arrests hundreds; but some are innocent

  1. Rob Cypher
    Even though Matt McQuiddy hadn't taken a drink or had a smoke in 24 hours, he got a little nervous when a Red Bank police officer asked him to step out of his car during a late-night traffic stop in April 2013.

    McQuiddy had just driven under a bridge on Signal Mountain Road -- the lanes shifted and he had to swerve to stay in the lines -- when Officer Mark Kaylor pulled behind him and flipped on his blue lights. McQuiddy stopped at a gas station across from the entrance to Baylor School around 1:30 a.m.

    Kaylor put McQuiddy through a battery of sobriety tests -- walk the line, stand on one foot, put your head back, close your eyes and count to 30. When it was over, McQuiddy felt good. He was sober, so he had to pass, he thought.

    Then Kaylor told him to turn around.

    "I was like, 'No way,'" McQuiddy said.

    Kaylor told the 23-year-old that he was under arrest for driving while under the influence of marijuana.

    How much weed have you smoked tonight? he asked McQuiddy.

    "I told him I hadn't done that," McQuiddy said. "And he just gave me this look like, 'Come on. I don't believe you.'"

    McQuiddy spent the next 12 hours in jail. When he got out, he fought the charge. He had to make multiple trips from his home in Nashville to court in Red Bank. He missed work on those days, and his parents missed work, too, to come to court for support and take care of things if he went to jail.

    About six months later -- with help from a family member who is a lawyer -- the charge was dropped.

    McQuiddy's experience is not unusual. During the past two years, Kaylor has arrested more than 300 people on suspicion of DUI in Red Bank. Of the 229 cases that have been decided thus far in court, 27.9 percent have been dismissed.

    That's 64 people like McQuiddy who were arrested, fought the charges and won for one reason or another. Some of those drivers blew below the legal limit of .08 blood alcohol content -- but Kaylor still arrested them. Other drivers weren't within the 6.4 square miles of Red Bank's city limits -- but Kaylor still arrested them.

    The three-year Red Bank police officer has a robust reputation for cracking down hard on DUI suspects. Too hard, some attorneys and citizens say.

    "He picks the apples when they're green," lawyer Jerry Summers said. "I think he claims people are intoxicated when they really aren't. [My firm] has been watching Officer Kaylor for a long time."

    Kaylor, it seems, has made DUI arrests a personal crusade.

    It's a crusade born of a single night in 2001.

    ••••

    There's no national standard for what an officer's conviction rate should be as arrestees work their way through the court system, but Kaylor's percentage of dismissed cases is high compared to that of a Chattanooga officer who does a similar job.

    The CPD officer works in the traffic unit and is considered one of the department's more vigorous enforcers of DUI laws. He has arrested 247 people for DUI since 2012. Of the 209 cases that have been decided in court, 41 -- or 19.6 percent -- have been dismissed, his court records shows.

    "Over the years you kind of sense when there is a guy like Kaylor who is really gung-ho," Summers said. "And there is nothing wrong with enforcing the law. The question is, does he go over the line?"

    The arresting officer is a key part of any DUI case, said attorney Rich Heinsman. The officer must make accurate observations, administer the sobriety tests by the letter of the law and score those tests correctly to determine whether a driver is intoxicated.

    "In a run-of-the -mill theft case, the officer just takes a report," Heinsman said. "But in the case of a DUI, the officer's actions are everything."

    And sobriety tests aren't bulletproof, he added. The tests are full of technical rules -- the suspect can't raise her arms above a certain point while walking the line, can't start before the officer tells her to, must stand in one position -- and every time the suspect messes up, points are taken off.

    Lose enough points and the person fails the test. Sober people can fail the test, Heinsman said.

    "Officers have to use common sense as well as the rules to make arrests. I think that's where Kaylor was arresting too many people -- there were technical failures that should not have been prosecuted as DUIs."

    Thirty-year-old Aaron Limon thinks he was one of those cases. Kaylor arrested him in January 2013 for DUI but the case was dismissed after Limon blew a .05 -- below the legal limit. Limon said it was freezing when he performed the sobriety tests around 2 a.m. and he wasn't dressed for the weather.

    "I was in a long-sleeved T-shirt and I was shaking," Limon said. "My body wouldn't respond. He was wearing gloves and a jacket and a hat and he was shaking, too."

    Despite the chill and Limon's insistence that he wasn't drunk, Kaylor took him to jail. The officer initially told Limon he had been pulled over because he switched lanes too quickly.

    "I had the feeling he was looking for an excuse to take someone to jail," Limon said.

    ••••

    Local attorneys describe Kaylor as zealous, gung-ho and especially interested in DUI enforcement. They also call him patient, honest and cooperative.

    "I've never found his conduct to be questionable in cases," said lawyer Lee Davis, who has defended clients whom Kaylor arrested for DUI. "Although there are cases when he's made arrests that are below the legal limit, that's been true for the vast majority of officers who work DUI."

    Kaylor did not respond to requests for comment on this story. But months ago, he did speak out on a local anti-drunken driving organization's website. In the post he sent to the organization, Kaylor describes a night in 2001 when he was a young officer in Rhea County.

    He was transporting a man to jail when he pulled behind a small black car that he quickly realized was his 19-year-old cousin's car, he wrote in the post. His cousin wasn't speeding or playing loud music. He wasn't swerving. But Kaylor felt like something was wrong.

    However, Kaylor convinced himself it was fine and let his cousin go, he wrote. Later that night, he was called to a single-car accident -- his cousin, Justin Kaylor, had been speeding, crashed and died.

    "He had been drinking and lost control of his vehicle," Kaylor wrote. "His neck was broke. He would die. I beat myself up pretty good for not stopping him. For months, I replayed that night over and over looking for an indicator of his impairment. I never found it."

    What he did find, Kaylor wrote, was what he "was born to do."

    "The death of my cousin drives me to prevent other families from knowing that pain, and it's been an ability I was blessed with," he wrote. "I would be foolish to ignore it."

    Tina Finlayson, co-founder of the anti-drunken driving organization 1N3, confirmed that Kaylor emailed the post to 1N3. She said she'd rather have an officer arrest too many people for DUI than too few. Her son was killed in 2011 by a drunken driver who had been arrested before the night of the wreck and given a pass, she added.

    "The officer said because she wasn't too much over the limit, just to be careful getting home," Finlayson said. "She said if she'd been arrested at that point, that probably would have been her wake-up call and she wouldn't have been drinking and driving the night of my son's death."

    ••••

    Kaylor's prolific DUI arrests are not the only controversial part of his career. In late September and early October, two men accused Kaylor of beating them and using excessive force during their arrests.

    After video of the first man's arrest was made public, District Attorney Neal Pinkston asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to investigate Kaylor's actions even though an internal investigation by Red Bank police concluded Kaylor did nothing wrong.

    And in 2011, Kaylor and a sergeant were accused of pulling over a 911 dispatcher for DUI and showing preferential treatment by letting her go after calling her father to pick her up. An internal investigation into those allegations also concluded the officers did nothing wrong.

    Red Bank Police Chief Tim Christol did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

    That TBI investigation into the excessive force allegations is ongoing. But some Red Bank residents are demanding that Kaylor be fired. A Facebook group called "Fire Officer Kaylor," formed before the alleged beatings became public, now has 225 members.

    McQuiddy said Kaylor was never violent or rude when arresting him. Initially, he thought Kaylor had just been too quick to arrest him. But after he was arrested, he said, several people told him about their own experiences with Kaylor.

    "As more and more things come out, it makes me think he doesn't need to be on the force," McQuiddy said. "My initial reaction wasn't to fire him. It was that he'd jumped the gun a little bit. But the more I see, the more I think maybe this is more than that."

    Shelly Bradbury
    Chattanooga Times Free Press
    November 9, 2014

    http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/...g-arrests-hundreds-Attorneys-sa/?breakingnews

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