Eleventh Circuit Solicitor Donnie Myers has been charged with having an open container of alcohol in his car after a Highway Patrol trooper stopped him for suspicion of driving under the influence.
Myers, 67, was given a field sobriety test, issued a ticket and allowed to drive home after the 15-minute traffic stop two weeks ago near his home in Lexington County. No action has been taken to reprimand Myers, but it is not the first time he has run into trouble for having an open container of alcohol in his car.
Myers, who was first elected chief prosecutor for Lexington, Saluda, Edgefield and McCormick counties in 1976, could not be reached for comment.
On May 25, Senior Trooper M.D. Alveshire pulled over Myers around 10 p.m. on Old Cherokee Road in Lexington County after he spotted Myers’ car swerving out of its lane.
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The Highway Patrol on Friday released video footage recorded by a camera mounted in the trooper’s car.
The 15-minute video shows Myers exit his car, approach the trooper and ask, “What did I do?”
Alveshire tells Myers that he was swerving in the middle of the road and then asks, “What’s in that cup right there?”
Myers tells the trooper that it was scotch that Sen. Jake Knotts had been drinking. He later tells the trooper that the drink belonged to his girlfriend, who was no longer in the car. Knotts could not be reached for comment.
Myers and Alveshire talk off and on throughout the stop, but most of the video shows Myers leaning against his car as the trooper works and a second trooper comes to the scene.
Myers admits to Alveshire that he had two drinks and that he had been listening to a USC baseball game on the radio. That night, the Gamecocks lost to Florida in an SEC tournament game that ended at 10:25 p.m.
When the trooper asks to administer field sobriety tests, Myers tells him that he can’t perform physical tests because of he has had back and shoulder surgery.
The trooper then gives Myers the field sobriety test known as the horizontal gaze nystagmus. In that test, a suspect must follow the movement of a pen with his eyes. If a person is drunk, his eyes would involuntarily twitch when the pen reaches a certain point in his field of vision. It is considered a reliable test and one that impaired drivers cannot evade when it’s administered correctly.
As Alveshire issues instructions for the gaze test, Myers says, “I can do that. I can do that very well. I know what’s going on.”
Alveshire repeatedly tells Myers to quit moving his head as he moves his pen back and forth.
At one point, the second trooper removes the cup of liquor from Myers’s car. He sniffs it and sets it on the trunk. Alveshire later pours the liquid contents onto the ground and walks off with the cup.
The video ends with Alveshire handing Myers a ticket and telling him he has a June 14 court date. Myers tells him, “You’re a good man.”
Sgt. Bryan McDougald, a spokesman for the S.C. Highway Patrol, said Friday that Alveshire did not find probable cause to take Myers to a police station for a Breathalyzer test.
“In the trooper’s opinion, years of experience and training, it did not rise to the level of an arrest for driving under the influence,” McDougald said.
A trooper’s decision to make an arrest is based on multiple experiences in dealing with a driver, McDougald said. The analysis begins when the trooper first notices a possible violation, continues with his interaction with a driver and includes the field sobriety testing.
When asked whether Myers received preferential treatment because he is a long-time prosecutor and well-known public official, McDougald said all troopers are highly professional and well-trained in detecting impaired drivers.
“In this case, he didn’t detect that the driver was impaired,” McDougald said.
Tim Kulp, a Charleston lawyer who has worked on nearly 2,000 DUI cases as a prosecutor and now is a defense attorney, said he could not find evidence of preferential treatment in any of the footage he reviewed.
There is no evidence that Myers asked for it or that the trooper knew who he had stopped. Plus, an open container and a driver crossing a line are not proof that a driver was impaired, Kulp said.
“The officers have a range of discretion, and I hope they apply it to others in Lexington County,” he said.
While the May traffic stop only netted Myers a traffic ticket, he previously has been convicted of drunken driving.
He pleaded guilty in 2005 in North Carolina to charges of driving while impaired and having an open container. He was stopped while driving a county-issued vehicle in the early morning hours by Asheville police on Interstate 240. According to police citations, Myers’ blood alcohol level was tested twice, registering .14 and .13. The legal level used for evidence of impairment in North Carolina is .08.
It’s unknown if Myers’ latest run-in with police will result in a reprimand or other disciplinary action.
Lesley Coggiola, disciplinary counsel for the S.C. Judicial Department, said the S.C. Supreme Court is responsible for disciplining lawyers for professional misconduct. However, she could not confirm or deny whether her office was investigating Myers.
And Gov. Nikki Haley can only suspend an elected official from office if an indictment is issued. That will not happen in this case because indictments are not issued for traffic tickets.
Myers is a Republican running unopposed for reelection this year.