FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4)– A second Fort Collins man, Harris Elias, 50, said Thursday he plans to sue Fort Collins police after he was arrested for DUI, spent three days in jail, but his blood test later showed no traces of alcohol or drugs. The move comes as the local district attorney
is now questioning a pattern of arrests by Officer Jason Haferman, who arrested Elias, and the DA is threatening to stop prosecuting Haferman’s cases
unless his conduct “dramatically” improves.
“I thought it was a grotesque and terrifying abuse of power,” Elias said, referring to his 2021 DUI arrest by Haferman.
“There is a pattern of abuse of citizens,” said Elias.
A CBS4 Investigation had earlier reported that the Larimer County District Attorney had dismissed three 2021 DUI cases filed by Officer Haferman after lab tests showed those three drivers had no alcohol or illegal substances in their system. The DA dismissed a fourth DUI case filed by Haferman after a Judge questioned Haferman’s credibility and said the officer exaggerated his testimony.
Earlier this week, Derrick Groves of Fort Collins told CBS4 he planned to sue Haferman and Fort Collins police over his April 2022 DUI arrest. In that case, Groves’ car went off the road and down an embankment. He was not hurt. But Haferman arrested him for Driving Under the Influence of Drugs. A blood test performed by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation later showed no drugs or alcohol in Groves’ system.
Groves said he was jailed for about 18 hours.
“They just treated me like a complete criminal,” said Groves.
Prosecutors dropped the DUID charge against Groves this month after seeing the blood test. And in a written statement on Thursday, District Attorney Gordon McLaughlin took issue with some of Haferman’s arrests.
“We have communicated our disappointment to FCPS with the specific cases here where some arrests may have been unwarranted and our concern about the impact to the community. We expressed our expectations to FCPS that Officer Haferman’s conduct dramatically improves if we are to prosecute cases he submits.”
Responding to CBS4 and other media inquiries, the Fort Collins Police department on Thursday confirmed that of Haferman’s 191 DUI arrests in 2021, eight cases had blood results with no drugs or alcohol detected. The department as a whole only had three other cases in 2021 filed by other officers that had blood tests with no drugs or alcohol detected. In 2022, the Groves case also showed no drugs or alcohol involved, making nine DUI cases from Haferman where lab reports detected no drugs or alcohol. It is the only case so far in 2022 out of 227 DUI arrests with no drug/alcohol detection according to Fort Collins police.
In a written statement, Fort Collins police Chief Jeff Swoboda said, “We are conducting thorough reviews to ensure this and all arrests with non-detected results were conducted appropriately.”
District Attorney Gordon McLaughlin said in his written statement, “We also became aware of several recent cases in which Officer Haferman was the primary officer where the toxicology results did not support charges of Driving Under the Influence of alcohol or drugs and began immediate review of those cases.”
The DA said his office has been in touch with Fort Collins police about the cases in question.’It is our duty to dismiss charges not supported by the evidence in order to protect the innocent’, wrote the DA.
Notably, the DA said in some of Haferman’s cases, “We did find concerning judgment and decision making leading to some of the arrests, we did not uncover any specific instances of dishonesty… We are confident that FCPS is taking this issue seriously and will conduct a thorough internal review.”
Both Fort Collins police and the DA’s office noted that the blood tests administered to DUI suspects may potentially be missing other drugs.
“For example, aerosol inhalants, which are often abused by people trying to get high, get metabolized extremely quickly and may not show up on a DUI blood test. The illicit drug industry has also evolved to produce synthetic street drugs, many of which aren’t detected by the standard ELISA panel,” wrote a Fort Collins police spokesperson.
Sarah Schielke, a criminal defense attorney representing Elias, said what happened to the construction manager was a “wrongful arrest.”
Schielke noted that Haferman said during the Elias arrest that he smelled alcohol, which was at odds with the later blood test showing no alcohol.
“He’s making it up’, said Schielke. She said ‘DUI arrests are a cash cow” for police departments, which obtain grants for their DUI programs, and incentivize DUI arrests. She contends officers and departments compete with each other for the most DUI arrests.
“It’s completely perverse, it’s insane. There should never be an incentive to arrest someone for a specific type of crime.”
As for Officer Haferman, he served on his department’s DUI unit from May 2020 until May 2022 when he returned to patrol duties. Fort Collins police say the most was standard and the officer has not been placed on any kind of leave as his cases are investigated.