LOVELAND, Colo. (KDVR) — A pilot claims in a new lawsuit against the Loveland Police Department that he was wrongfully arrested for drunk driving by an officer with a history of unjustified arrests.
The breath and blood tests Harris Elias took on the night of Jan. 4, 2020, showed zero intoxicants in his system, according to the lawsuit, filed Monday in Larimer County. But based on his take on the events of that night, a Loveland police officer was intent on proving otherwise.
The incident happened Jan. 4, 2020. Elias was driving home from north Fort Collins when Officer William Gates, who was on an impaired driving task force, pulled him over, claiming that he did not signal his lane change and that he was driving under the speed limit. The officer eventually said he smelled alcohol.
“I immediately knew when he said ‘the overwhelming odor of alcohol’ that he was lying,” Elias said.
“Being lied to by a police officer when your freedom is at stake is truly terrifying,” he said.
Elias decided to invoke his right to remain silent, refusing to answer the officer’s questions about whether he had consumed any alcohol that night. But he was ultimately taken to the police department, where he registered 0% blood-alcohol content in a breath test.
In what the lawsuit claims was a “fishing expedition,” the officer had Elias undergo a blood test. When the results came in a couple of months later, they showed nothing in Elias’ system. The case was dismissed.
The incident is now part of an internal affairs investigation, according to a Loveland Police Department statement.
Officer’s history of wrongful arrests
The lawsuit claims Officer Gates “prides himself on having some of the highest DUI arrest rates” in Colorado and earns extra income by working overtime on DUI enforcement shifts.
It also claims Gates has logged at least four wrongful DUI arrests in the last year, where he made the same claims as he did against Elias — an overwhelming odor of alcohol in the vehicle and bloodshot, watery eyes — “only to see test results indicating zeroes.”
In a statement, Sarah Schielke, the attorney for Elias, said that her office knows about at least dozen wrongful DUI arrests in Loveland.
“Hardly anyone realizes what a cash cow DUI arrests are for police,” Schielke said. “The more arrests they make for this one type of crime, the more money they get, and the more awards they receive. Meanwhile, there are zero consequences for wrongful arrests of innocent people. Zero. It’s perverse.”
The lawsuit claims that the police department knew about Gates’ wrongful arrests, but it took no action against him and “continued to reward him for the quantity of DUI arrests he made over all else.”
Arrest impacts pilot’s licensing
“It’s cliche to say that it’s the worst thing that I have ever experienced, but my God, it’s been two years of extreme stress,” Elias said.
Elias is pilot licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration. He claims in the lawsuit that because of the heightened scrutiny pilots face, he’ll be forced to explain the arrest for the rest of his life.
“The consequences of this are innumerable, to include foreclosure of career paths, jobs, increases to insurance rates, embarrassment and heightened scrutiny,” the lawsuit claims. “This particular component of the damages caused by the defendants continues to, and will forever, cause Mr. Elias humiliation, sadness and distress.”
The lawsuit makes Fourth Amendment claims against Gates of unlawful arrest and malicious prosecution, along with a claim of arrest without probable cause under the Colorado Constitution. It also makes a Fourth Amendment claim against the Loveland Police Department of failure to supervise and train.
“The implications of an officer who would lie don’t just affect one case, they affect everything and everyone,” Elias said.
The police department said Gates remains on full duty and released this statement on Wednesday:
This afternoon, the Loveland Police Department was made aware of a lawsuit filed regarding a traffic stop made by one of our officers in 2020. Any complaint leveled against our personnel is taken seriously. Chief Bob Ticer has authorized an internal investigation. Once that investigation is complete, we will share the findings with the public.Loveland Police Department