RI federal prosecutor refuses breath test in stop

AP News
Posted: Dec 02, 2009 5:31 PM

Police are investigating whether a high-profile federal prosecutor used his position to get out of a DUI charge after he failed field sobriety tests and refused a breathalyzer, Warwick police Chief Stephen McCartney said Wednesday.

A lawyer for Assistant U.S. Attorney Gerard Sullivan said his client made a mistake and is embarrassed, but never tried to use his job to influence the police.

McCartney said Sullivan was stopped early Thanksgiving morning for driving erratically and smelled of alcohol. He said Sullivan told the officer he had just left a tavern and had been drinking. When asked how much, he replied "too much."

Sullivan then failed a series of field sobriety tests and was taken into custody. He later refused to take a chemical breath test, McCartney said.

According to officers who dealt with him, Sullivan said several times that he is a prosecutor and knows the chief. Sullivan, the former head of the criminal division in the U.S. attorney's office in Rhode Island, has been deeply involved in prosecuting Statehouse corruption.

McCartney said there is a department policy to charge people who refuse a breath test with DUI "if the circumstances are corroborated," but Sullivan was only charged with refusing the breath test. McCartney said the decision is under two separate police reviews, one by the professional standards unit and one by a so-called prosecution officer, who is working with the city solicitor's office.

McCartney said he has known Sullivan for about 20 years because of their work in law enforcement, but he didn't know about Sullivan's arrest until Tuesday when a reporter for The Providence Journal called to ask him about it.

"The fact that he did even mention my name casts questions here," McCartney said.

He said it was "human nature" for people to try to use their connections when they are stopped by police, but the question for him was whether the three officers involved in Sullivan's case were swayed by what he said.

Kevin Bristow, Sullivan's lawyer, said Sullivan has a stellar professional reputation in the state's tight legal community and that Sullivan had a natural reaction when sitting in the back of a police car in handcuffs, which was to worry about his job and wonder if anything could be done.

He said it didn't make sense to say he got special treatment, because the officers wrote in their report that Sullivan mentioned his relationship to the chief and his job as a prosecutor.

"I just don't see those people writing what they wrote if they were trying to do Gerry a favor," he said.

"Does he regret driving the vehicle? Yeah, very much so. It's a mistake that he made, and you know, he's paying an extraordinary price," Bristow said, referring to the news coverage the arrest has received in Rhode Island. "You can read the paper, listen to the airwaves. It could take a professional toll, and certainly it's taking a personal toll."

Sullivan reported the stop first thing Friday to his superiors, who alerted the U.S. Justice Department, Bristow said. The Justice Department is also investigating the incident.

Bristow said Sullivan does not plan to contest the charge of refusing to submit to a chemical breath test. He was scheduled to appear at the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal in Cranston on that charge Dec. 18.

U.S. Attorney spokesman Tom Connell would not comment on the specifics of the case.