Berrien County cases could be impacted by MSP breathalyzer problems

Published 3:11 pm Thursday, January 16, 2020

NILES — A breathalyzer at a Niles Michigan State Police post has been identified as one of eight in the state with potential performance-related problems, involving seven cases where the breathalyzer was used to determine intoxication over a one-month period, according to an MSP investigation.

Last week, MSP issued a stop-work order with Intoximeters, the vendor that maintains MSP’s Datamaster DMT breathalyzers, after irregularities were discovered as the result of a technician fabricating the paperwork for a required test that was not performed on an instrument in Alpena County, according to a notice released by MSP Thursday.

Monday, the MSP took all 203 Datamaster DMT breathalyzers in the state out of service until the instruments could be inspected and verified by MSP personnel. Until the issue can be resolved, MSP has recommended that police agencies utilize blood tests rather than breath tests to determine evidence in drunk driving cases.

The Niles Law Enforcement Center is one of eight locations where discrepancies were identified in breathalyzers following the investigation. Other areas identified include: Alpena County Sheriff’s Department, Beverly Hills Police Department, Detroit Detention Center, Montcalm County Sheriff’s Department, Pittsfield Township Police Department, Tecumseh Police Department and Van Buren County Sheriff’s Department. In total, more than 50 cases — primarily drunk driving cases — were involved.

According to MSP, prosecutors in affected jurisdictions will review each case on a case-by-case basis to determine what actions to take.

Of the seven discrepancies identified at the Niles Law Enforcement Center between Jan. 15, 2019 and Feb. 18, 2019, Berrien County Prosecutor Michael Sepic said four impacted cases in Berrien County.

Despite the discrepancies found in those cases, Sepic said he did not believe the results were necessarily incorrect in determining intoxication, as other factors in those cases — such as driving and field sobriety tests — also indicated intoxication.

All four defendants in those cases resolved their cases by entering into a guilty plea, according to the prosecutor’s office.

Sepic said he reached out to the defense attorneys in each of the impacted cases, but as of 1 p.m. Thursday had not heard back.

“If they chose to reopen those cases, I would be happy to discuss it,” he said.

As of 7 a.m. Thursday, 37 of the 203 breathalyzers have been returned to service following verification that the instruments are properly calibrated.

MSP personnel are re-certifying the most frequently used instruments and those in areas with limited access to obtaining blood samples first, with hopes of returning all devices to service by the end of February.

A criminal investigation by MSP into potential fraud committed by contract employees of Datamaster vendor, Intoximeters, is ongoing.