State trooper found guilty, appeals

Published 1:37 pm Friday, July 15, 2016

A Virginia state trooper is appealing his conviction on a charge of public intoxication in connection with a June 16 incident in the parking lot of Buffalo Wild Wings in Lynchburg.

Derrick A. Thompson, 30, of Drakes Branch, was convicted Thursday by a Lynchburg General District Court judge, who fined him $25. Thompson, who had pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor, remains suspended without pay pending the outcome of a State Police investigation, agency spokeswoman Corinne Geller said following the outcome of the hearing.

Thompson and Lynchburg Police Officer R.N. Ball, the arresting officer, were among nine witnesses who testified. The defense presented five witnesses, and the prosecution presented two.

Among Thompson’s witnesses were Charlotte County Sheriff’s Deputies Jarrod Tuck, Logan Moon and Dustin Brown. Moon and Brown work in the Charlotte County Jail.

According to witness Elizabeth Wilmouth, a friend of Thompson’s whose mother works for the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office, Thompson and five friends — Tuck, Moon, Brown, Wilmouth and Wilmouth’s boyfriend Scott Garden — drove to the restaurant for drinks to celebrate her birthday, arriving around 7:30 p.m.

A struggle between an allegedly intoxicated and armed Thompson and three Buffalo Wild Wings bouncers led to Lynchburg police being called by the restaurant’s on-duty manager, according to bouncers Andre Canegata and Christian Booth, who testified on behalf of the prosecution.

The incident occurred between 12:30 a.m. and 1 a.m., according to Thompson and four of his witnesses.

Thompson, Wilmouth, Moon, Tuck and Brown testified that a verbal disagreement occurred between Brown and Tuck, resulting in Brown’s exit through the restaurant’s rear door around 12:30 a.m. Brown said the argument was typical of his friendship with Tuck.

Thompson followed Brown outside the restaurant to check on him, according to Brown and other witnesses. Once outside, Thompson said, “three or four guys came out of nowhere” and pushed him against the wall.

“I didn’t know what was going on or who they were,” said Thompson, adding that, because it was dark, he didn’t know they were Buffalo Wild Wings bouncers. Thompson said the men didn’t identify themselves.

According to Canegata, who was the first bouncer to respond to a report of a fight on his walkie-talkie, Thompson was “aggressive” in the tone of his voice and “his hands in the air.”

Canegata said he attempted to verbally calm Thompson until the trooper allegedly touched the bouncer. Then, Canegata testified, he grabbed Thompson’s wrist and “restrained him against the wall.” Two other bouncers came to assist him.

Canegata said Thompson told the bouncer he was a trooper and “can’t put his hands on him.”

“Then, he started flashing his badge,” said Canegata.

Booth — one of the bouncers who assisted Canegata — said he walked out of the restaurant and saw the struggle between Canegata and Thompson. Booth said he didn’t see what led to the struggle, but he helped restrain Thompson.

Booth testified that after he and Canegata released Thompson, the trooper yelled profanities while walking away from the bouncers.

Canegata and Booth said they suspected Thompson was armed, resulting in the restaurant calling police.

Thompson testified he was carrying his state firearm while off duty “out of habit.”

Lynchburg Police arrived at about 1:15 a.m., according to Ball, after a call reporting “a fight in progress” and “disorderly conduct.”

Ball said he told Thompson to place his hands on his head, alleging Thompson smelled heavily of alcohol, had glassy, bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and walked unsteadily.

Ball testified that he handcuffed Thompson for his own safety “because he was drunk.”

Thompson testified that he drank almost three 12-ounce Michelob Ultra beers, not finishing the last one he ordered close to 11:30 p.m. The beers were consumed in addition to one lemon drop — a shot consisting of half an ounce of lemon juice and half an ounce of vodka — over the course of five hours. Thompson said he didn’t feel unusual or notice a change in his speech or coordination.

Wilmouth, Brown, Tuck and Moon each said they didn’t notice anything unusual about Thompson’s behavior or walk.

The defense attorney presented Roanoke-based toxicologist Richard McGarry as an expert witness explaining the rates at which the body metabolizes alcohol. McGarry said based on the typical way a 5-foot-11, 191- to 195-pound man metabolizes alcohol, Thompson’s blood-alcohol level would have been a maximum .072 at the time police arrived.

According to the Code of Virginia, a person over 21 with a blood alcohol level of .09 or greater can be charged with driving under the influence.

Thompson was detained in handcuffs for an hour on the Buffalo Wild Wings property prior to his arrest, both the trooper and Ball testified.

Ball said no preliminary breath or field-sobriety tests were performed prior to Thompson’s detainment and arrest. According to Ball, officers aren’t required to conduct the tests to arrest someone for public intoxication.

“I did what was required by the Code of Virginia,” Ball told the judge.

According to Booth, Buffalo Wild Wings didn’t have a camera behind the restaurant able to capture the incident. Canegata said there was film of the interior of the restaurant during the incident. The footage was reviewed by Buffalo Wild Wings personnel. Canegata said he didn’t view the footage, which was not presented as evidence in court.

The Code of Virginia defines public intoxication as a Class 4 misdemeanor, punishable with a fine up to $250. As a misdemeanor, the court must be able to prove guilt “beyond reasonable doubt,” according to the code.

Overbay, Hawkins & Wright attorney David Hawkins, Thompson’s lawyer, argued that all evidence presented to prove Thompson’s intoxication was circumstantial due to the lack of sobriety tests or video footage. He said Thompson had done “absolutely nothing wrong.”

Lynchburg Senior Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jennifer Bennett accused Thompson’s witnesses of bias due to their friendship with the defendant.

“As truthseekers, we try to give the court as much information as possible,” said Bennett. “There is no doubt he was belligerent, no doubt he was intoxicated, no doubt he was armed.”

According to the Virginia General District Court Online System, Thompson’s appeal hearing date has not been set.