Prosecutor, video offer opposing views on Lowe treatment

Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe exits his car after an Alachua County sheriff's deputy approached the scene of his traffic crash in the early morning hours of March 21. (Image from ASO dash-cam video)

Published: Tuesday, April 2, 2013 at 4:17 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, April 2, 2013 at 7:39 p.m.

Did Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe receive special treatment in regard to his DUI arrest late last month?

The answer depends on the source you consult.

One day after terms of a deferred prosecution agreement were announced, the state attorney explained that Lowe was not receiving preferential treatment.

Hundreds of people have gone through the same DUI Intervention Program to avoid prosecution, and they received the same terms of the agreement as did Lowe, State Attorney Bill Cervone said.

“I knew from the very first moment when I looked at (Lowe’s case) that he qualified. The only question would be, would he ask? And then he did,’’ Cervone said.

But on the same day the state attorney insisted that Lowe had not received special treatment, the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office released dash-cam video from a deputy’s car that appeared to imply that a deputy considered treating the mayor differently because of his position.

The video was from the car of Deputy Lance Pallett, who responded in the early hours of March 21 to the accident scene at Northeast 156th Avenue and Northeast 21st Street.

The video from Pallett’s car shows him examining the damage to Lowe’s 2005 Honda Civic, which included four blown tires.

Pallett returns to Lowe and asks him again if he is OK and if he needs medical help, which Lowe declines.

But early in the video, a deputy identified Tuesday by the Sheriff’s Office as Jessica Rowland is heard off camera telling the mayor, “OK, I can tell by your eyes that you have had a lot more than three beers.” Lowe told authorities he had consumed three beers, with the last one around 10 p.m. the night before, according to his arrest report.

“OK, it doesn’t really matter the amount that you’ve had now,” the deputy continues, “because ... you’re not operating the vehicle. You were in control of the vehicle; you were sitting in the driver seat.

“Umm, we could go a whole other route with that, but because of the job you have, we’re not going to,” the deputy is heard telling Lowe in the video.

Lowe, 55, was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of DUI with property damage and careless driving.

When asked Tuesday about the video and Rowland’s statement, sheriff’s spokesman Lt. Todd Kelley said he had not listened to the video in its entirety but would do so Wednesday. He said, though, that he didn’t know of any special treatment given to the mayor.

“FHP charged him with DUI, so I don’t know if there was any preferential treatment,” Kelly said. “It would be preferential treatment if they didn’t notify FHP or gave him a ride home. It sounds like they did everything they were supposed to do, but it sounds like they might have been a little slow in notifying FHP.

“Both of the deputies that were there are fairly new. It’s understandable they might have taken a little more time with these types of calls and how they are going to handle it,” he said.

Lowe declined comment on the video.

“Right now I’m focused on my duties as mayor and my campaign for re-election,” he said

Cervone announced Monday afternoon that Lowe had signed a deferred prosecution agreement. If Lowe violates the agreement during its 18-month period, he could be charged with DUI. If he meets the terms, he must plead to reckless driving.

The agreement enrolls Lowe in Cervone’s DUI Intervention Program, part of which requires that Lowe surrender his driver’s license for 14 days.

Cervone said Tuesday the terms of the agreement are the same given to anyone who enters the program.

Several hundred people have gone through or are currently in the program, which is nearly seven years old, Cervone said.

To qualify for the program, the accident must not have involved other vehicles or have caused damage to the property of others.

While Lowe hit a state traffic sign, Cervone said the requirement is aimed at damage to a private person’s home or personal belongings. He said others have qualified for the program despite hitting road signs.

The defendant cannot have a criminal conviction or prior deferral. A dismissal of a prior charge will be evaluated on a case by case basis. Lowe’s driving record shows citations in 1985 and 1986 for not having valid tags on his vehicle.

Also, the defendant must have no more than five prior moving traffic citations within the 10 previous years, and no more than one within the last one year.

The defendant’s blood-alcohol level must be less than .20. Lowe’s levels were .061 and .069.

Finally, the defendant must not have used inappropriate behavior to law enforcement, must not have had a child in the car, must request entry into the program within 30 days of arrest without substantive court action such as the filing of motions, and must not have had controlled substances in the car or on himself.

The conditions to be met are: payment of a $500 charitable contribution and $50 for prosecution costs; 50 hours of community service, including five hours with a victim impact panel; surrendering the license for 14 days if it had not been suspended by the state; alcohol evaluation and treatment if required; completion of DUI school; resolution of any related citations independent of deferral agreement; and, at the end of the 18-month deferral, pleading to reckless driving.

On the morning of the accident, neighbors called 911 at 2:22 a.m., reporting a suspicious vehicle, sheriff’s spokesman Art Forgey said. A deputy arrived at 3:08 a.m.

Under Sheriff’s Office protocol, accident investigations are handled by the Florida Highway Patrol. Deputies waiting with Lowe for a trooper can be heard on the newly released videotape chatting with Lowe about his role as mayor, his education and the weather.

An FHP trooper who gave Lowe a field sobriety test arrested him and took him to the jail, where he was given a breath test.

Cervone said the machine is highly calibrated and frequently tested and recertified. Portable breathalyzers are often inaccurate and are not admissible in court, he said.

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