Faulty Breathalyzer Leads To Dropped Charges For Councilwoman

By Keri Blakinger 11/15/17

The breathalyzer had already been flagged by a technician as unreliable and shouldn’t have been in use in the field.

Long Beach city councilwoman Jeannine Pearce
Long Beach city councilwoman Jeannine Pearce Photo via YouTube

Prosecutors in California decided not to charge a Long Beach councilwoman suspected of drunk driving after realizing they’d used a faulty breathalyzer in her roadside sobriety test, according to local reports.

Jeannine Pearce was initially investigated for boozy behavior after she said she called police during a domestic violence incident on the way back from a concert with a former chief of staff she was dating.

Long Beach Police Department responded to a call in the early hours of June 3 along the shoulder of 710 Freeway, according to the Los Angeles Times

Police smelled alcohol on Pearce, who turned up mildly impaired in field sobriety tests. But it wasn’t until more than an hour later that officers administrated a breathalyzer, which showed that Pearce was under the limit.

Afterward, police realized the device had already been flagged by a technician as unreliable and shouldn’t have been in use. 

“It was just simply that, a mistake,” Long Beach Police Deputy Chief Rich Conant told the Long Beach Press-Telegram. “And based on that mistake, some issues in our process were identified, and we’ve made corrective actions toward that. So we don’t expect to see that again.”

Initially police investigated Pearce in a roadside domestic violence altercation, after former staffer Devin Cotter showed officers the cuts on his hand and said Pearce had pushed him. Ultimately prosecutors decided the shove could have been in self defense and opted not to press charges. 

Pearce later told the Los Angeles paper that she’d summoned police after Cotter drunkenly tossed her keys and iPad off the side of the road during an argument after a concert where they’d both been drinking. Before pulling over, Pearce had hit Cotter because he was making the car swerve dangerously.

Although Cotter accused Pearce of domestic violence and the pair offered conflicting statements, investigators ultimately sided with Pearce’s version of events after seeing a text Pearce sent to her current chief of staff asking for help and a video she recorded of Cotter hurling threats.

After the highway dust-up, the lovers parted ways and went home separately, though Cotter was arrested hours later for public intoxication after he drunkenly showed up at Pearce’s home to confront her, the councilwoman said.

"I find it frustrating that as the one that called [police], that was trapped, and was faced with fear, that I was listed as the only suspect in the matter. This is one example of the challenges for women (and even men) in speaking up about psychological abuse," Pearce later told the Times in an email. "The burden of proof is not a bruise on the outside, ones easily seen."

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.