DPS: State legislator tried to use position to escape DUI charge

December 22, 2018 GMT

PHOENIX — A state lawmaker just elected to his second term was arrested on charges of extreme drunk driving after trying to escape it by identifying himself as a legislator.

Reports from the state Department of Public Safety said David Cook, R-Globe, was pulled over late Wednesday night on a stretch of freeway in southeast Maricopa County after the officer saw the pickup truck drifting between lanes.

Officer Christian Williams said Cook who had bloodshot and watery eyes, explained that he was trying to pick up his cell phone that was on the floor board.

Asked for his license, registration and proof of insurance, Williams said Cook handed over the last two along with his Arizona House of Representatives identification card. Only after a follow-up request did Cook did the 50-year-old Cook product the license.

Williams said when he asked Cook to get out of his vehicle, the lawmaker responded ``No, I’m not getting out,” and that there wasn’t any need for this. He also said Cook said he was safe to drive, followed by, ``Do you know what you’re doing son? You’re making a mistake.’’

The officer also said that after Cook failed field sobriety tests and was taken to the DPS substation he told the lawmaker to watch his head as he got out of the patrol car.

``Cook stated, ‘I’m fine, don’t worry, you’ll get yours,’ ‘’ Williams wrote.

Subsequent breath blood-alcohol level tests came in at 0.158 and 0.152.

The presumed level for drunk driving is 0.8; anything over 0.15 is considered extreme driving under the influence of alcohol and carries a mandatory 30-day jail term and fine of at least $250.

Arizona law also says that anyone convicted of extreme DUI is required to install an ignition interlock device on any vehicle driven. It prevents a vehicle from starting until the motorist provides a ``clean” breath sample and also requires random checks while the vehicle is in operation.

Cook did not return calls and text messages.

First elected in 2017, his district stretches from northeast of Globe through Kearny and Hayden down to San Manuel and Mammoth and then west to take in Coolidge, Florence and portions of Casa Grande and Eloy.

He had no opposition in the Republican primary when he ran as a team with House seatmate T.J. Shope of Coolidge. The pair defeated Democrats Carmen Casillas and Linda Gross in the general election.

The arrest -- and the apparent attempt by Cook to avoid it by flashing his House ID -- is going to resurrect the question of whether it is time to review the concept of ``legislative immunity.”

That constitutional provision says members of the legislature ``shall be privileged from arrest in all cases except treason, felony, and breach of the peace.”

There is no definition in Arizona law of what that last provision entails. But it’s generally considered to fall into the category of disorderly conduct.

What’s behind the protection has been to preclude law enforcement from arresting or detaining lawmakers from going to the Capitol or casting a vote. But the privilege, while prohibiting actual ``arrest,” does not preclude a legislator from being cited and ordered to appear in court at a later time.

What it also does not protect, according to Gov. Doug Ducey, is drunk driving or speeding.

The governor issued a directive earlier this year after Rep. Paul Mosley, R-Lake Havasu City, was pulled over by a La Paz County sheriff’s deputy for driving 97 in a 55 mph zone. When stopped, the deputy recorded Mosley boasting about driving up to 140 miles per hour, saying that he could do that because he had legislative immunity.

That incident resulted in Ducey directing police officers under his control, notably DPS, to cite and, if necessary, arrest lawmakers whose bad driving is more than simple speeding.

He did this by telling officers that they ``shall consider any criminal violation that endangers the safety of another ... as a breach of the peace.” The governor said that specifically includes drunken driving, reckless driving and criminal speeding, which means driving at least 20 miles per hour over the posted limit.

Williams, in arresting Cook and holding him until he was released to his wife, was clearly following the governor’s directive.

In a statement Thursday, gubernatorial press aide Patrick Ptak said the governor was alerted to the arrest and is ``alarmed by the allegations.”

After the incident with Mosley, Ducey raised the possibility of abolishing the privilege entirely. But it would take a public vote to repeal that provision in the state constitution.

Incoming House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, said in his own statement that he is ``disappointed and saddened by Rep. Cook for failing to meet the standard expected of all Arizonans, much less an elected official.”

Bowers said he wants to ``learn all the facts” and speak with Cook and other lawmakers before deciding what action the House will take against the lawmaker.