DENVER — Denver police apologized to a Colorado lawmaker Tuesday, saying they were "impugning her character" by mischaracterizing a traffic stop that made it appear she used her position to get out of a drunken driving arrest.
Police Lt. Matt Murray said a police supervisor asked Rep. Laura Bradford whether she was a member of the Legislature, and that Bradford did not bring the topic up first, as city officials said earlier. Murray said the supervisor told Bradford she could face a DUI charge.
"At that point she said, 'I want to be treated like everyone else,'" Murray said.
Murray said the police supervisor told the officer who pulled Bradford over not to give the full account of the stop, but the officer came forward after the extensive media attention that followed because the officer wanted to set the record straight. Murray said an internal investigation has begun into the supervisor's actions.
Bradford's case gained steam because questions were raised about whether she invoked "legislative privilege" under a provision in the state constitution aimed at protecting lawmaker's from being detained during session and prevented from doing their job. The provision, which most states have, has roots in the days when English monarchs feuded with lawmakers.
"So we're apologizing because we have misconstrued what she said and what she did and basically we're impugning her character unnecessarily and wrongfully," Murray said.
Although the police's revelations vindicate Bradford's assertions that she never invoked legislative privilege, she still faces the scrutiny of her colleagues. House leadership convened an ethics committee to investigate Bradford's actions on Jan. 25, when police pulled her over and smelled alcohol on her breath.
Bradford apologized to her colleagues in the House, saying she is not "above the law," and never used her position to influence police.
"In response to the officer's inquiries, I stated that I was leaving a legislative function and needed to be at the Capitol the next day," she said during a short speech on the House floor Monday. It was about 10 p.m. when Bradford was stopped and the Legislature had long adjourned for the day so it's unclear what legislative function she was referring to.
Murray said that after officer initiated the stop, Bradford continued driving for a couple of blocks and almost hit a car before parking. The supervisor was called to the scene after the officer saw Bradford's license plates identifying her as a lawmaker. Neither the supervisor nor the officer has been identified.
Bradford can also still face a criminal charge because she had a gun in her car — information that she volunteered to officers before her car was towed — and it's illegal to have a firearm while intoxicated, Murray said. He said prosecutors will determine whether to charge Bradford with the violation, a misdemeanor.
Bradford, a Republican from Grand Junction, was cited with making an illegal lane change and improper turn, and she took a cab to her destination the night she was stopped. She did not immediately return a call Tuesday evening.
Her case has prompted criticism from academics and some lawmakers who say Denver police let her off too easy and has brought attention to the legislative privilege clause in the state constitution. Lawmakers in Arizona are considering changes to their legislative immunity rule after a former state senator was accused last year of getting out of domestic violence allegations by citing legislative privilege.
Police have defended the way they handled the stop, even as they apologized Tuesday, insisting they were following constitutional guidelines they say prevented them from detaining Bradford to take her to the police station for a breathalyzer or blood test.
The provision on legislative privilege allows exemptions for treason and felonies. Police said they would've arrested Bradford if she was suspected of drunken driving after an accident with injuries, a felony.
Murray said police would like lawmakers to clarify the provision.
"If a police officer somewhere in the state of Colorado stops a legislator at 3 o'clock in the morning in the middle of nowhere, there's not a hotline they can call to see if the Legislature is in session," he said.
Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty agreed that the constitutional provision needs to be clarified.
"It was never intended to be applied to a situation like this," he said. McNulty said lawmakers are exploring options on how to clarify the law.
Regardless of police's apology, McNulty said the allegations against Bradford are serious and that lawmakers on the ethics panel can decide on a punishment ranging from censure to expulsion depending on their findings.
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