A Brooklyn, N.Y., man is asking Edgartown District Court to dismiss a charge of operating under the influence of alcohol, saying that a Tisbury police officer had no probable cause that he had been operating a car, and withheld exculpatory evidence in bringing the charge.
Justin Kuruvilla, 35, was arrested Thursday, Sept. 7, by Tisbury Police Officer Mark Santon and charged with OUI. He was arraigned Sept. 8 in Edgartown District Court, and released on his personal recognizance.
But since that original court date, Officer Santon filed a supplemental police report contradicting his earlier report, which prompted Mr. Kuruvilla’s attorney, Charles Morano, to file a motion asking for the case to be tossed.
“Because the evidence in the complaint was insufficient to establish probable cause that the defendant committed the offense of operating under the influence of liquor, this honorable court should dismiss the case against him,” the motion, filed Monday, states. A hearing is scheduled Dec. 14.
The original court record included two police reports, one from Officer Santon and the other from Officer Noah Stobie, who were called to the scene by Special Police Officer Pierce Harrer. Officer Harrer was alerted to Mr. Kuruvilla’s vehicle on Main Street, near Owen Park, and was the first to respond. Because he is not trained to investigate drunk driving, he called in backup.
“Harrer reached into the car, shut it off and took the keys and awaited other officers,” Officer Santon wrote in his initial report.
That’s not what Officer Harrer reported.
In a supplemental report filed after he saw what Officer Santon wrote, Officer Harrer gave his account. “I observed the vehicle’s headlights were on and the hood of the vehicle was cool to the touch,” he wrote.
After a detailed description of what he observed, Officer Harrer disputed Officer Santon’s account of how he got the keys. “I requested the male party give me his keys for both his and my safety,” he wrote. “He reached to his right near the passenger seat and retrieved the keys from a location I was unable to observe.”
Within 16 minutes, Officer Santon had filed a supplemental report changing his account, but it took three weeks for them to be filed with the court, Mr. Morano wrote in his motion to dismiss.
“Officer Harrer stated he read my report narrative of the arrest and found an inaccuracy,” Officer Santon wrote. “Officer Harrer stated that when he arrived first at the vehicle the headlights were on but the car was not running. Officer Harrer stated that he took the keys out of a cup holder near the ignition and shifter.”
Mr. Morano, in his motion to dismiss, points out that even Officer Santon’s second report is not accurate. “The explanation still does not comport with Officer Harrer’s firsthand knowledge and report that he obtained the keys from the defendant, who had to reach somewhere Officer Harrer could not see near the passenger area to grab the keys and surrender them to police,” the motion states.
In his supplemental report, Officer Santon seems to excuse his incorrect account on a miscommunication. “When I asked where the car keys were Traffic Officer Harrer produced them from where they were tucked in his belt and said that he took them out for safety,” the report states. “I took that statement to mean he took them out of the ignition because the car was reported as running with an unconscious man at the wheel.”
Police initially had a report of erratic operator driving a car that fit the description of Mr. Kuruvilla’s car on State Road. An hour later, police found the vehicle parked on Edgartown Road, near Skiff Avenue, with no one inside. The description given was of a white male driving.
Mr. Kuruvilla, who was approached on Main Street by Officer Harrer nearly an hour later, is described in the report as a black male.
If the charge isn’t dismissed, Mr. Kuruvilla is likely to take the case to trial, where Officer Santon would have to take the stand, and Mr. Kuruvilla’s attorney would be able to use his past against him.
Officer Santon, a 25-year veteran of the Tisbury Police, was suspended for five days earlier this year after an independent investigation found he lied several times. The officer was investigated after the prisoner he was dropping off at Dukes County jail wiggled out of her handcuffs and attempted suicide while he was in the jail booking room. Officer Santon was also suspended in 2015 for two days, after an investigation showed he spread a fabricated story about a department supervisor and tampered with a department laptop.
Police Chief Daniel Hanavan told The Times he is aware of the conflicting reports. He’s not sure why the supplemental reports had not been shared with the court immediately, but said he would make sure that happened after being alerted that they were missing by The Times.
Based on the evidence in the supplemental reports, Chief Hanavan said Mr. Kuruvilla should have been taken into protective custody. Records show he was legally drunk at the time of the arrest. He blew a 0.18 on the breath test administered at the Dukes County jail, according to records.
The mvtimes crusade against officer Santon continues
Reporting court documents relating to a law enforcement officer, is good reporting. A staple of local newspapers is covering the court, they all do it, it is important and insures transparency.
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