Nathan Meier, a Colorado police officer, was found passed out cold in the driver's seat of a still-running patrol vehicle. While some officers on the scene said they smelled alcohol, the Aurora Police Department (APD) ultimately failed to investigate Meier for driving under the influence. In addition to announcing this week that he could not ethically bring charges against Meier, District Attorney George Brauchler of the 18th Judicial District is expressing his frustrations with APD's failure to investigate their own officer.
A Wednesday decision letter from Brauchler details the incident, which occurred March 29, 2019. Two witnesses contacted authorities after seeing Meier passed out behind the wheel of a patrol vehicle. The vehicle was still running, the gear was shifted in drive, and an unresponsive Meier's foot was on the brake. Meier was also clothed in his uniform and was carrying his gun.
APD Chief Paul O'Keefe was the first officer on the scene. O'Keefe smelled alcohol, but later told Internal Affairs that he was unsure of whether or not it came from Meier or the vehicle. He also said Meier's unresponsiveness was unlike his other experiences with intoxicated persons. Some of the officers on the scene also said they smelled alcohol, while others said they did not. Emergency medical personnel suggested that Meier had a stroke or was exposed to an opioid.
Body camera footage from the scene captured one officer telling another that Meier was "a little intoxicated."
Meier was transported to the hospital, where staff was also unusually tight-lipped about Meier's condition. An APD officer said he overheard talk about an unidentified patient's drunkenness and blood-alcohol concentration.
Rather than choose to rule out the possibility, APD failed to obtain hospital records of Meier's blood sample or investigate the matter as a possible DUI.
"Media reports suggest that Officer Meier had a significant level of alcohol in his system," Brauchler explains. "It is our opinion that there was probable cause to seek a sample of blood from Meier."
Brauchler is referring to reporting done by CBS 4's Brian Maass. Maass found in an internal affairs summary where Meier admitted to going home to drink vodka, even though he was still on the clock. He also admitted to be impaired. The investigation went so far as to sustain "charges against Meier for alcohol impairment, neglect of duty, conduct unbecoming and 'conformance to law.'"
Yet, Meier merely faced a demotion for his behavior and remains on the force.
Because of APD's inaction at the crime scene, Brauchler's office concluded that it would not be able to obtain enough evidence to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" to a court that Meier drove under the influence.
Brauchler further spoke of the incident in a Thursday press conference.
"I am incredibly frustrated with an agency that I put a great deal of trust in," he told reporters. "Bottom line is if one of us had been in that car and not officer Nate Meier, you ask me if I think it would have been treated differently, I do."
Brauchler further clarified that he didn't believe the department was involved in something as intentional as a coverup. Rather, the department treated it as an "ignorance is bliss moment."
"That case in my opinion should have been handled as a DUI," said Interim Chief Vanessa Wilson, via CBS 4. "If that was a regular citizen, a DUI investigation would have occurred, in my opinion."
Wilson added that the incident has "destroyed" the department's reputation.