LOVELAND, Colo. — Harris Elias says he was driving home from his girlfriend’s house in early 2020 when his life was changed forever.
Elias was driving in Fort Collins and was pulled over by a Loveland police officer.
“I was deliberate in my turn signal, trying to get out of the way of a person and not causing any conflict or any road rage or anything like that. I was just simply trying to get out of his way,” Elias said. “When [the officer] mentioned the overwhelming odor of alcohol, I knew that he was dishonest. I knew outright that it was a lie, and I was in trouble.”
Elias was arrested by the officer for drunk driving. However, blood test results showed Elias had no alcohol or other substances in his system at the time of the arrest.
“I just didn’t understand how someone who was completely sober could be led away to the jail, and embarrassed and humiliated,” said Elias.
Elias says he has been dealing with the fallout from the arrest since it happened. It has created challenges on both personal and professional levels. For instance, he is a private pilot.
“I faced an immense challenge with the FAA. The Federal Aviation Administration takes drinking and driving at the most extreme seriousness, as it should be,” Elias said. “Every time I fill out the medical form for the FAA to get cleared to fly, I will have to disclose that I was arrested for drunk driving.”
Two years later, Elias and his attorney, Sarah Schielke, filed a lawsuit against the City of Loveland and two police officers related to his arrest. On Thursday, they filed an amended complaint with the court. The complaint claims there are more than a dozen other instances where people have been arrested for drunk driving by Loveland officers, but blood tests do not back up the charges.
“It undermines the entire criminal justice system and undermines our ability to trust anything,” Schielke said. “Drunk driving is indefensible. It’s destroyed countless lives. But wrongfully charging somebody with a DUI also destroys their life.”
Schielke says there have been incentives within the Loveland Police Department encouraging officers to make DUI arrests. She believes that has led to wrongful arrests.
The City of Loveland will file an answer to the complaint, according to Schielke. After that, a court date for a status conference could be set. Schielke does not believe the City will want to settle the lawsuit.
“In the monetary damages, we’re looking for a number that sends a message to this police department, to other police departments, not to incentivize arresting human beings, especially innocent ones,” said Schielke. “$1.5 million is what we’re looking for.”
Elias says he also wants to see systemic change as a result of the lawsuit.
“I don’t think that any amount of money will change any portion of the pain and suffering,” Elias said. “Someone needs to be willing to stand and have a fight with them.”
Earlier this week, the Loveland Police Department announced a professional review of their policies and procedures involving DUI enforcement.
“It is important for me to stress the professional review is not an acknowledgment to the validity or accuracy of the specific complaints made by certain individuals about our DUI program,” said Deputy Chief Eric Stewart.
Chief Robert Ticer, who is leaving the department soon, says officers go through rigorous DUI training and are tested on it every few years.
“The officers in this organization receive the highest level of impaired driving training so that they can do the best job possible within limitations of being a human being,” said Ticer. “Every day in America, district attorney’s dismiss cases. That happens. That does not mean that the person arrested was falsely arrested or unlawfully arrested.”
Those with the Loveland Police Department say they cannot comment on specific cases, especially those involving civil litigation.
The officer involved in Elias’ case remains with the department, working in the same role.
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