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“It’s about clarity and public perception,” Zerwas said in an interview. “We could very easily simply handle this like adults. I was pretty shocked to see grown men throw temper tantrums [at the hearing] over this.”
To those legislators who deny anyone has used the immunity card, let me introduce you to Bill Chaplin, a former cop who was so mad he had to let a drunk legislator go that he kept the case file.
For 40 years.
In 1969, Chaplin stopped a former representative (now dead), who seemed drunk. The man waved his immunity card, saying, “you can’t arrest us, we have immunity.” Chaplin called his supervisor, who took the legislator and his passenger to a cafe to sober up.
Chaplin was angry, and after the session got a prosecutor to charge him with DWI and careless driving. But because police hadn’t done blood tests, the DWI was dropped. The judge in the case, however, said that the card should not prevent officers from arresting legislators who violate the law.
It appears, however, many officers don’t know that. Two other readers contacted me through anonymous e-mail accounts and said they were current or former officers who had let drunk legislators go under order of their supervisors. I was unable to get them to return follow-up questions, but Chaplin said their stories sounded credible.
“They should get rid of this card, period,” Chaplin said. “Any officer who thinks their career couldn’t be in jeopardy if they arrested a legislator is crazy. Outstate, it’s even worse.”
So we don’t know if there have been three such situations in 40 years, or one, or many more.
Does it matter?
Because of Chaplin, we do know legislators’ claims that abuse of the card has never happened are “inaccurate.” Failing to clarify the law to make sure it doesn’t happen again is worse. You might even call it lazy.
firstname.lastname@example.org • 612-673-1702 Follow Jon on Twitter: @jontevlin