DENVER (CBS4) – District Attorney George Brauchler says after a lengthy investigation, he has concluded he cannot file DUI charges against Aurora Police Officer Nate Meier, who was found drunk, in uniform, and on duty, passed out at the wheel of an Aurora police vehicle last March.
“At the end of the day, I think this guy beats the system and part of the system helped him do it,” said Brauchler in an exclusive interview Wednesday afternoon with CBS4.
Brauchler accused the Aurora Police Department of intentionally tilting their investigation away from a DUI charge and giving Meier preferential treatment due to his badge.
“I think if instead of a uniformed police officer in a marked patrol vehicle in the middle of the street, it had been Jane Q. Lunchpail, I think this thing is handled differently,” Brauchler said. “Did they treat this incident and this person the way they would have treated anyone else? The answer that I have come to is no they did not.”
Meier was found at the wheel of an Aurora police vehicle March 29, 2019, near Buckley Air Force Base. He was passed out with the car in gear and Meier’s foot was on the brake. But as CBS4 first reported in December, APD higher ups said they weren’t sure Meier was drunk, so they categorized the situation as being a medical event and had him transported to a hospital.
Meier was never charged with DUI and commanders never ordered any alcohol testing of the officer. However, Meier later admitted during an internal affairs investigation he had been drinking vodka at home before hitting the road, and multiple sources have told CBS4 that while at the hospital, a blood test showed Meier was five times the legal limit for DUI.
But Brauchler said he is unable to legally use the blood test results due to HIPAA privacy rules and he is also legally barred from using Meier’s admissions during the internal affairs investigation, which led to a demotion, but allowed Meier to keep his job.
“Yes there is damning evidence that convinces me that this guy was drunk behind the wheel, but it’s evidence I don’t get to use in a criminal case against him because it was compelled or protected by physician-patient privilege,” Brauchler concluded.
The prosecutor said after learning of the questionable case from media reports, he launched his own investigation in December to see if he could still file a criminal charge. But after conducting interviews with police officers, paramedics and reviewing reports, Brauchler concluded he could not file a case “because of the decisions the Aurora Police Department made at the scene.”
“It is really frustrating,” said Brauchler.
He said he does not believe what happened was a police cover up, but “I think this was in the zip code of that though. I don’t believe it was handled properly.”
Brauchler said based on his investigation, he believes the Aurora Police Department intentionally failed to gather evidence that could have led to a DUI charge. He pointed to the following facts to support that conclusion:
- Although a bottle was spotted in Meier’s department vehicle, Brauchler said no search of the vehicle was ever done and the bottle was not tested for alcohol, or put in to evidence, which is what typically happens in DUI cases.
- Five officers had body cameras, said Brauchler, but he said they only collected 16 minutes of footage as officers kept turning their cameras on and off. “When you get that kind of action, in a case that involves these kinds of questions about a colleague, it begins to look and feel like something else,” Brauchler explained.
- APD failed to collect evidence that is typically collected in other DUI cases.
- Deputy Chief Paul O’Keefe did not seek a warrant to obtain Meier’s blood alcohol level after the officer was hospitalized. “I think the decisions that were made,” Brauchler said, “were made to protect him (Meier).”
Brauchler went on to say that he looked into charging O’Keefe with official misconduct for his actions, but the prosecutor said there was not enough evidence.
Following the Meier controversy, O’Keefe announced he was retiring from APD at the end of March. O’Keefe previously declined a request for an interview.
Brauchler praised the rank and file at the Aurora Police Department, saying the vast majority are excellent officers working for a top-shelf department.
“This incident has got to embarrass the hell out of those men and women,” Brauchler said. “That they have to wear that skepticism from the public because of how this incident was handled.”
He said the unusual way the Meier case was handled undermines confidence in the Aurora Police Department, and law enforcement in general, emphasizing this case shows the pitfalls of an agency investigating itself.
“If you’re a hater out there and you don’t think these men and women can police themselves, this is exhibit one,” Brauchler said.
Officer Meier remains with the Aurora Police Department but has declined to discuss what happened.
Brauchler said he informed Interim Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson of his decision and she indicated to him cases like this would be handled differently going forward. Brauchler has also scheduled a news conference for 9 a.m. Thursday to elaborate on his decision.
The city of Aurora commissioned a second independent investigation to examine the police department’s conduct in this case. The results of that investigation have not yet been released.
View the unedited interview with District Attorney George Brauchler here:
Watch Brauchler’s Thursday news conference below.