Judge rejects Michigan Rep. Jewell Jones' attempts to get charges dismissed

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Howell — Criminal proceedings against State Rep. Jewell Jones are proceeding after a Livingston County judge on Friday rejected motions by the lawmaker's lawyer to dismiss charges because the Inkster Democrat's arrest was improper.

Jones is charged with resisting and obstructing a police officer; operating a vehicle with a high blood alcohol content; operating while intoxicated; reckless driving; and possession of a weapon while under the influence of alcohol in the April 6 incident.

Jones' lawyer Byron Nolen argued that the evidence of the defendant's blood-alcohol level and the presence of a gun in his Chevrolet Tahoe should be thrown out because it wasn't apparent that Jones was the driver when state troopers arrived on the scene. 

State Rep. Jewell Jones, D-Inkster, right, talks to his co-attorney Byron Nolen before the start of his hearing on alleged bond violations at the Livingston County Judicial Center in Howell on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. Jones faces drunk driving charges in connection with an incident in April on Interstate 96.

An unconscious woman was discovered at the scene on the shoulder of Interstate 96 by medics. Jones was accused of struggling with troopers after the crash and allegedly told officers that he'd call the governor and that he had oversight of the Michigan State Police budget.

Circuit Court Judge Michael Hatty rejected Nolen's arguments.

“It’s likely to believe the car did not get there by itself," Hatty said, adding that the search warrant wasn't defective and the gun in the center console was in "plain view."

Hatty also granted a motion by prosecutors to quash a defense subpoena seeking the personnel records for the two state troopers involved in the lawmaker's arrest. The burden is on the party seeking the information to justify why the subpoena is necessary, the judge said, which the defense didn't do.

“What I saw on tape, the snippets you showed me, doesn’t indicate anything excessive,” Hatty said. “What I saw and what I heard, the officers acted reasonably in light of circumstances.”

During the hearing, Nolen argued to have the charges dropped because two state troopers executed illegal searches.

“There is no proof my client was even driving that day,” the defense attorney said. Given this, he said an officer allegedly smelling alcohol on Jones’s breath could not have been a factor in his arrest.

Jones' blood alcohol content was 0.19, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08, according to the police report.

“The state troopers in our case responded to a dispatch about a vehicle in a ditch, not any criminal activity," Nolen said. "Any suspected criminal misdemeanor had not been committed in the officer's presence, and there was no probable cause to believe a felony had been committed.”

Livingston County Assistant Prosecutor Rolland Sizemore argued that Jones was aggressive with medics and police, and declined to identify himself. 

“He was absolutely not doing anything the police were telling him to do,” Sizemore said about Jones. “Police were not only within their authority and their rights, they were obligated to arrest him at that point. He was legally obligated (to identify himself), and chose not to.”

Prosecutors called three witnesses to rebut Nolen's arguments — a medic and the two troopers.

Michigan State Police Trooper James Gilmer said dispatchers issued “be on the lookout” advisories for a black SUV reported by other drivers before he was dispatched to investigate a report that a vehicle had crashed into a ditch. In his 21-year career, this run was the first time a “Priority 1” dispatch had been made. he said.

“I’ve never heard that before. Priority 1 means get here now,” Gilmer said.

The trooper said he arrived to find Jones “face to face with an EMS worker, where they were touching each other.” 

“When I made contact with him in the short bit of time I had with him, I could smell the strong odor of intoxicants coming from him, and his speech was slurred,” Gilmer said.

The trooper said he asked Jones for his ID seven times. Twice, Gilmer said, Jones allegedly tried to get around him, once to get into the ambulance, then to get into his vehicle.

Gilmer said that Jones flashed his badge, but only briefly, and made statements about being “off-duty,” indicating he was a law enforcement officer. Jones is a member of the Inkster police reserve. But Jones still wouldn't show his ID, he said.

Gilmer said he spoke to the woman who was in the ambulance and asked her who drove. She said “both of us,” he said.

Prosecutors then called Livingston County Medic Jack Terpstra, an eight-year veteran. A man was outside the SUV, “pulling a young woman out of the passenger seat,” when he arrived, Terpstra said. He said he never saw anyone in the driver's seat or any third person at the scene.

The woman was unconscious at the time, he said, and undressed from the waist down.

When the medics were trying to roll the woman into the ambulance, Terpstra said he saw Jones reaching into the back of the SUV. 

“When someone starts reaching into their car, and they’ve been uncooperative, that’s very serious,” the medic testified, adding that he then elevated the emergency call to “Priority 1, lights and sirens."

When Gilmer arrived, Terpstra said it freed him to look into the SUV  to see “if anything is obvious” about the woman's medical condition. He saw a gun in the center console and told police, he testified. 

The second trooper on the scene, Kenneth Harden, said he spoke to the woman in the ambulance, who by then had regained consciousness. The woman told him Jones was driving and said they had been at a Southfield bar and Jones was going to take her home to Detroit, Harden said. But several wrong turns later, they wound up on westbound I-96 in Livingston County.

Harden said he “didn’t know, but had an idea” who was driving in part because Jones had the SUV's keys in his hand.

Livingston County Circuit Court Judge Michael Hatty rejected motions to dismiss criminal charges against State Rep. Jewell Jones, D-Inkster, on Friday. Jones faces drunk driving charges stemming from an April incident on Interstate 96.

Nolen asked: “At the time you arrested my client, you didn’t know he was driving the SUV?”

“For sure, no,” Harden said.

Harden was asked why he arrested Jones. He said it was on a belief Jones was impersonating an officer, but also to help Gilmer after they used a Taser to no effect and pepper spray to subdue Jones after a confrontation.

After the testimony, Sizemore argued that Jones was aggressive with medics and police, and declined to identify himself. Gilmer was “professional and respectful” throughout the contact, he said.

Police had many questions that night, Sizemore said. Why were the woman’s pants off? Why were Jones’ pants undone? What about that smell of alcohol?

“Police had the right to investigate those questions,” Sizemore said.

Jones is due back in court Dec. 17 for a pretrial conference.

Prior to Friday's hearing, Jones rejected an offer to plead to four misdemeanors and two felony charges and have the rest of his charges dismissed. 

Under the proposed agreement, Jones would have been required to plead guilty to two counts of resisting and obstructing police, one count of operating while intoxicated, one count of possession of a weapon while intoxicated, one count of reckless driving and one count of escape of lawful custody. The prosecutor's office then would dismiss two other resisting and obstructing charges, one count of driving under the influence with a high blood alcohol content and two other higher-end escape charges. 

Part of the deal would have allowed Jones to make use of a youth sentencing program that, upon successful completion of probation, would allow for his two felony charges to show up as dismissals instead of convictions. 

Jones also faces two charges related to his alleged smuggling of a handcuff key into the jail following his third bond violation. The key is alleged to have been found taped to Jones' foot when he was being processed on entry to the jail.