HOUSTON – An Okolona deputy police chief went on trial today in Chickasaw County Justice Court accused of violations allegedly discovered during a traffic stop months ago.
Judge Judge Ernest Cunningham of Marshall County presides in the Houston courthouse for a proceeding expected to occupy all of Monday.
Ramona Robertson was arrested last February after Circuit Judge Andrew Howorth agreed enough evidence existed to charge her with DUI, speeding, failure to comply and possession of a controlled substance without a prescription.
Robertson appeared in court with her attorney Edward Lancaster.
The state is represented by District Attorney Ben Creekmore and County Attorney Elizabeth Ausburn.
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(Below is a running account of today's proceeding. Please excuse the typos or other glitches likely as I type rapidly. Some testimony is paraphrased.)
Creekmore declines opening statements. Defense says defendant will testify.
CREEKMORE - Calls Sgt. Chaney Burrow. MHP officer. (Difficult to hear, even in small courtroom.) Officer tells about his training, responsibilities. Primarily on patrol. DUI, seat-belt violations.
OFFICER – On duty Dec. 7, 2012, about 4 p.m. (Asks him about information about defendant, if he received any?) Got a call claiming “state” the defendant was in. Alerted me to her condition. I don’t know... hour or so later ... (Creekmore - we have some subpoenaed officers for rebuttal. But ask that they leave the courtroom. Two men exit.)
(Received a call? Alerted to?) Uh... OBJECTION - He’s entered a hearsay statement. Can only use that to explain why he did what he did. (Asking simply what information he received to explain why he conducted his investigation as he did. JUDGE - OVERRULED.) Information that Ramona was in pretty bad shape supposedly. I was headed to Houston, call from Chickasaw #4 about 10-50 on a county road... that’s an accident involving a DUI driver... around 9:00 p.m.
I went to that location and took control of a DUI subject, back to jail. Run him on Intoxilizer. Call prior to going to accident was ... different. (When he called, time?) Was about 4 p.m. OBJECTION - Still hearsay. JUDGE - OVERRULED. (After phone call, alerted about Chief Deputy, what wer eyou looking for?) I knew at that time of day, she wouldn’t be leaving Okolona that early more than likely. Got call, finished up with accident. Got another call, said condition ... I knew it wouldn’t be long before she headed home. When I left jail, went down Hwy 32 to grocery store ...asked backup to come. Met at that store. vEry short time and Ramona came by. At that point, I got behind her, turned camera on to get her on DVD.
(Where were you when first encountered Robertson?) When I saw her come by grocery store. In Chickasaw County. (Did you know about districts?) I was still in District 2. (Type of investigation?) DUI. (Did it cross district lines?) Not knowing where they are now, I understand they changed but the judgeship didn’t. Stop made about 1/2 mile east of Wesley Chapel. (Prior to seeing her driving, what were you concerns about her?) Safety of people on the road that she was going to be meeting and hers. After I followed her ... it was quite obvious ... (Prior to following her?) Yes, from reports I was getting.
(About her ability to drive?) yes. (Later .... OBJECTION - He’s testifying, needs to ask a question. JUDGE - I would agree.) (Concerns about her driving? Observe?) Yes I did. (What manner was she driving?) Starting ... near CR 430, turned camera on. She went around curve, she crossed yellow line, all around curve straddling or crossing double yellow line. At that point I started to try to figure where a safe place to stop. Gor around the curve, she went across and up the rise. I was thinking that the work station would be good stop. After the rise, she nailed it... mashed the gas and passed two cars. (After that?) She came back with yellow line. I knew I couldn’t pass at that time, didn’t want her to know I was behind. She accellerated away from me. When she topped hill and I flipped on my lights, got around cars. As coming behind her, clocked her at 77 mph. Limit 55 on Hwy 32 Extended.
(When turn blue lights on?) I was catching up and figured about stop. A wide spot just east of Hwy 32-15. Had already called the backup. She said she was passing. I said I was going to make the stop. Initiated blue lights, when she started pulling over.. Robertson ... she left the road, running too fast. Side of road is wider than usual, kind of a pull-off. It had a good bank on it. She pulled off right there. I really thought she would go off side of bank. (How did she pull off?) Very abruptly. Left highway too fast. She hit fog line 3-4 times.
(Your observations ... mean anything?) I indicated from my call.. possible of hre being under influence. NEW OBJECTION.
(After that?) Came to rolling stop... 30 seconds, backup pulled up to my side. I got out and approached vehicle, She hung license out and pulled back. I asked her what’s wrong. She was thick-tongued, slurred speech, got to telling me about problems with chief that day, he and she had been in to it, rambling on about problems. I asked about weapons. She said in her purse. Proceeded to get her out of the vehicle. (Her demeanor as she got out?) very unstable. Well, the way she walked.. her speech. She was very moody... from talking like you and I were, then crying episodes, then anger episode, like a big circle. Told her we’d do sobriety. She said she’d take any test. I put her on a machine .... knew it wasn’t alcohol. She blew Triple-Os. Knew it wasn’t going to show.
(How long after you started questions until you left the roadside scene?) Probably an hour. I called substation, to call master sergeant. He headed in my direction. (During that hour, was her demeanor consistent with how you described mood ranges?) Yes. Moody, thick-tongued. (Before field sobriety test, what observed?) Speech. Dark, couldn’t see her eyes. Then checked them, her pupils were not constricted, not dilated. Between. Light was having no effect on her. I got kind of concerned. When eyes are unstable, you know two drugs that are combatting one another - one wants to restrict the eyes, the other doing opposite. OBJECTION - He is no expert. JUDGE - Sustained.
(Asking about indicators of impairment. Do eyes... was that normal for you to look at their eyes? Did you pay attention to that factor as an indicator of impairment?) Yes, speech going to hear that. Mood swings, see that, then you become more cautious. That’s why I asked where her guns were. Backup found gun in pocket of her jacket. She said she didn’t know it was in there. A little hostile at that point. After search, we started to do field sobriety after we got her settled down. (But paid attention to her eyes? Like any other?) Yes. (What about eyes?) Like I said, pupils were between normal and constricted. (Observed her driving?) Yes. (Crossed how many times?) Four or five times. On tape.
(Before field sobriety test, could you determine under influence?) Yes sir. Way she was acting. First check eyes. Flashing lights and flashlight ... pupils looked like they were locked in position. (Did you ask her about that?) I did. First she said nothing. Then later on she said she was taking Synthroid, Soma, water pills, Zyrtez, Augmentum and Lexapro. (Did you find any medication on her person?) Yes, we found a blue prescription bottle with no label in driver’s side door. Had 18 hydracodone in it. They were sent to the lab.
(Can you tell by looking at them?) They had a number on them. (On scene. You see types of drugs on the street. Some from hospital or pharmacy, other type may be leafy substance?) These were pills. (Could you tell they were off street or made by pharmaceutical?) Pharmaceutical, they had a number of them. (Indicated?) Pharmaceutical company made. (Controlled or what?) I did not write the number down on pill. At time, ran it and stated it was hydracodone and Ibuprofen. (Controlled?) Yes.
(Took those into custody?) Yes. (Crime lab?) Yes, hydracodone and Ibuprofen. (What did he mean to you... to see 18 pills in container?) That they were illegally obtained narcotics. (Why?) Bottle had no label. Later on no prescription for that dosage. (If someone had prescription... OBJECTION - If they want to charge her with this or any other felony, we had right to know it. JUDGE - Any response? CREEKMORE - I believe... affidavit was entered, charing Ms. Robertson with possession of a controlled substance without a prescription. Proof of other crimes, other than DUI. But proof of what she’s been charged with. Testimony is relevant.
JUDGE - Part of file defendant has been charged with. Misdemeanor possession, I believe, rather than felony. Other charge. (Creekmore - Tell court why unusual for those pills in that container?) If you have a prescription for that substance, have it in a prescription bottle, don’t transfer it to another bottle. Prescription should be issued to you. (Did she say she had taken other pills?) She said she had prescription for hydracodone. Said she took in morning and when she got home. Her prescription for 10 milligram. The ones she had were 7.5x200. Her prescription was for ... not dosage I found in that bottle. Bottle found in driver’s side door, compartment. Backup found it.
(Did she say had other medication on her or in vehicle?) NO. Said hyrdracodone she took was at home. (Other meds found?) One other tablet ... right shirt pocket. Tablet, uncontrolled med, methylcarbonal? Not sure how to say that. Didn’t look for that on reference manual. Earlier. (Did you do field sobriety test?) Yes. Observation, vehicle clues, weaving, across lane lines, drifting, speeding, stopp She was having problems. Very abrupt when left side of road. Initial observation. No alcoholic beverage odor. (Go to test. What do you usually do?) Asked her about any impairment. She said she did not. It’s protocol, ask about physical impairments. (How have impact?) Depend on what it is. If have artificial knees or hips ... she stated no. I asked about glasses. She stated yes. Removed them. No contacts. Looked a her pupils. Concerned by size of them.
(If you’re going to do this test generally, how many different tests do you put subject through?) Six or seven categories to horizontal gauge. Then do vertical, walk and turn. One-legged stand. (Last one?) Sometimes do, lack of conversion. (What is that?) Where hold a finger in front of eyes. I make two circles and come into face to see what pupils do. Then do test... subject standing feet together, hands by side. Instruct them when to start counting, then raise your head up. Will know if they’re running fast or not. They don’t know you’re walking around them.
Horizontal gauge ... looking for pupil size. [Describes what he looks for in all these tests. Tells how symptoms relate to various drugs.] Indicated she was impaired. Looks for involuntary jerking of the eyes. (What does it mean? Is it normal?) It’s not. An indication of impairment. She couldn’t keep her balance. Another test, had to start her on three or four times. Never completed walk and turn test successfully. She would try. Dealt with it 7 or 10 minutes. (Concerns about her then?) Absolutely, that she was under the influence of something, wasn’t alcohol.
(Next test?) Yes. Couldn’t get her balance .... one-foot standing test. She was totally not able to do that test. (Ever successfully complete anything?) No sir. We stopped. (Asks about other tests.) Says she said, “S#$%, I can’t do that.” She said ... said she took various pills... listed them. Romberg test ... stand with head tilted back, count to 30 seconds. She went under 20 seconds.
(What happened after tests?) I notified Agent Todd, told him what I had, mentioned pupils to him. (Why contact drug recognition expert?) To help me sort out what’s going on with this individual, as far as drugs in her system. (Does MHP rely on DRE to assist with these?) I do. STandard, up to officer’s call. (What else do?) Contact my master sergeant. He arrived right after talked to Todd. We started getting ready to transport her to hospital. She kept stating that she wanted us to draw blood. (Ask her or volunteer?) First, she offered... carry me to the hospital. She said would submit to blood test. Transport to Houston hospital. We were in process of placing her in car. She became very irate.
(Behavior when got to hospital?) We put her in the vehicle... would not comply. But same thing at vehicle at hospital. (Could you have ended DUI investigation, left and allowed her back into her vehicle?) No, she was impaired. Asked female officer to transport her. (Did she comply?) No sir. We had to force her into the vehicle. (At hospital, how long until you left?) When we left the hospital, we went to 911. She refused any test. Told him to we were going to 0-911 from the hospital. At hospital approximately 30-45 minutes. (Observe her there?) It got worse. She was not going to cooperate. Wanted chief to take her home. Wouldn’t do anything unless Chief Ivy told her to do it.
(Did you have probable cause to get blood tested?) Yes, already talked to the judge. (Did you get test?) Talked to master sergeant, talked to Judge Turner, said he would sign it. Would have been a totally restrained draw. We decided not to do it. She would have to be strapped down and forced. (Did Ivy asked her to volunteer?) I don’t think so. Never let him talk to her. (Were you afraid she was a danger to herself?) Not at that time. (Was she unsteady on her feet at hospital?) Yes, sir. There’s video of her, almost sat in a garbage can.
(How far to 0-911 from hospital? Was she transported there?) Yes sir. (Did she submit to exam by drug recognition expert?) Only two people allowed during that testing - Todd and female officer. I wasn’t there. (Creekmore asks to enter into evidence some reports. OBJECT. JUDGE Will allow them.)
10:45 - Tender witness to defense.
CREEKMORE - One piece of evidence, need court’s instruction on how to proceed. We have video about officer’s report. Ask it to be received. Would you like to view that now or later? JUDGE - We could do it later, but we’ll review it later. CREEKMORE - Ask it be accepted into evidence. (Creekmore to trooper - Hands him CD. Have you reviewed this?) Yes. Contains footage from vehicle camera that night. JUDGE - IS THAT THE CD? CREEKMORE - Yes sir.
DEFENSE - Do you intend to play it? CREEKMORE - IT has been provided. Ask to play it in its entirety. I now defense counsel has reviewed it. JUDGE - This is justice court, discovery is limited. But this was made available to defense? (Yes) We will accept it. DEFENSE - How to mark it? JUDGE - THIS will be Exhibit B.
(You made out arrest warrants on four different charges?) Yes. (What were they?) DUI, possession of controlled substance, speeding and failure to comply with police officer. (After probable cause hearing?) Right after.
DEFENSE - Can we take a break?
JUDGE - NEED TO? DEFENSE - NO.
10:51 - Defense to cross-examine MHP trooper.
(Aware when you came on duty that defendant had been on duty how long?) I didn’t know who was on duty when I came. (Participated in an arrest before you apprehended her?) Not an arrest, no. (Did I know she had been on duty when you apprehended?) I didn’t now about that day. She was in a patrol car. I didn’t know anything until I got a call, that was later on that evening. (During this stop, how long on side of road?) About an hour. (First saw her, where?) At store coming out of Okolona, just east of CR 430. Pulled her over at Hwy 15, about 1/4 mile prior to that. (Followed her without blue lights until she passed two other cars?) As I said, about to initiate blue lights ... then she whooped out and passed them. (Did you turn lights on before she passed those cars?) No I did not. (Did you pass cars?) Not right then. (During this period, you pulled her over... did she have a towel or something over her mouth?) Not around mouth, maybe around her neck. Later told me she had some teeth pulled earlier that day. (Did she say pills in bottle given to her by the dentist?) No. Dentist isn’t going to give you 18 hydracodone in an unmarked bottle. (Didn’t she tell you that?) No. (Say she had a bad back?) Not until later.
(Was she verbally and emotionally upset when you pulled her over?) Circling, calm go to upset. (Say she’d been crying about the loss of family members?) No. She cried and said she lost some. (On tape, wasn’t she saying she couldn’t do things because of her bad physical condition?) Not steadily. It was mentioned, not every breath out of her mouth about her disability. (Time you pulled her over?) About 8:35 p.m. (To hospital?) I didn’t keep up with that time frame. (During this hour, if she had controlled substance, her body would continue to ingest it?) Ingest it? Hospital would have revealed that she was potent at stop than at hospital. Like a drunk, on a stop, unless he’s going up ... after peak... he will be reading less. (No breath test or blood test at this point?) Correct, she refused. (You say she failed sobriety tests?) Yes. (Eye test? Any of it, did she fail?) Not first. She did OK on lack of conversion. Not concerned about alcohol.
(Called DRE because it was a close call?) NO sir, not close at all. (Did Berthay say where he saw her?) Berthay called me about a call to him. That person saw her. (Was that you?) No, I was at jail locking up a drunk.
11:01 - That’s all
CREEKMORE – (You were asked where officer was who observed her behavior. What about site she responded to?) Officer showed up ... on side of the road. He called us. (Why you were on Hwy 32?) Yes sir. (Is that uncommon?) No. (Usually comes into 911 about erratic driver?) Deal with it like any others. (She said had no physical problems?) She said none, at first. (No blood test to support conviction on DUI?) No, she refused. We have field sobriety and video. (What was other evidence for DUI?) A video. In evidence. (Does video corroborates your testimony about that night?) Very much so. (Evidence for speeding?) Yes. (Possession of pills without prescription?) Absolutely. If I had someone else on side of road with hydracodone without prescription, they would have gone straight to jail. OBJECTION - Calls for a conclusion.
JUDGE - May witness be excused? CREEKMORE - Retain him. 11:05 a.m.