Bannister case not first mix-up for deputy

LAWRENCEVILLE -- The sheriff's deputy that arrested Gwinnett Chairman Charles Bannister for driving under the influence last month has had his fair share of trouble identifying impaired drivers in the past.

Reports of employee misconduct obtained by the Daily Post show that, while employed with the Gwinnett County Police Department from 2000 to 2006, Deputy Michael Cummings was reprimanded for two separate incidents involving the improper assessment of drivers' intoxication.

The incidents fell within one day of each other.

According to official documents obtained through open records requests, Cummings, then an officer with GCPD, responded to the scene of an accident on Feb. 6, 2004.

Conversing with another officer on scene, Cummings was told to "check out" the driver of one vehicle, which had rear-ended the other, for impairment.

From there, Cummings reportedly chatted with the driver -- he "did not have her perform any field sobriety tests or ask her to step out of her vehicle," documents read.

Less than 20 minutes and a mile later, the same driver rear-ended another vehicle on Buford Drive, and the officer responding to that accident "immediately observed that (the driver) had manifestations of an impaired driver."

"The driver failed all field sobriety tests miserably," the report states. "The driver could not walk or stand without staggering and admitted to being on prescribed medication that even she said made her dizzy."

Nobody was hurt in either incident; Cummings received verbal counseling.

A year later, he would become the impetus for a full-fledged administrative investigation involving insubordination and questions about his conduct and honesty in court.

In the early morning hours of Feb. 5, just more than 24 hours after the previous encounter, Officer K.M. Williams clocked a black Nissan pickup truck going 104 miles per hour on Interstate 85.

After completing sobriety tests, the driver asked the officer if he could call then-Officer Cummings, a friend, to pick his vehicle up.

According to a narrative from the later investigation, Cummings arrived on the scene.

The arresting officer overheard the suspected drunken driver telling Cummings "that he had consumed three beers and two shots."

Cummings reportedly encouraged his friend to submit to a breath test, "not noticing a strong odor of alcohol or red or bloodshot eyes," which Officer Williams did.

Cummings later admitted in court that he told his friend "you don't look that drunk."

Problem was, Cummings' "work out partner" was drunk -- he later blew a 0.162, twice the legal limit, on an Intoxilyzer.

Williams reported that he skipped seconds and couldn't maintain his balance during the one-leg stand. He repeatedly moved his head when asked to follow Williams' finger with only his eyes.

In March 2005, Cummings' friend appeared in court for his DUI hearing.

Cummings showed up too -- not subpoenaed, in uniform, and testifying for the defense, against his fellow officer.

As opposed to what Williams reported hearing at the scene, Cummings testified, along with the defendant, that his friend had told him at the scene that he had consumed "two beers, a glass of wine and a shot over a three-hour period."

He testified that the defendant had not appeared intoxicated.

"I believe this was done with the explicit intent to discredit my testimony," Williams wrote.

On May 2, 2005, Cummings was suspended for three days following a complete administrative investigation. Allegations of insubordination, duty regarding conduct and duty to be prompt and punctual were sustained.

He resigned from the Gwinnett County Police Department in September 2006.

A home phone listed under Cummings' name had been disconnected. Representatives from the sheriff's department could not be reached Friday evening or Saturday.

All this comes under special light after Cummings, now a sheriff's deputy, observed Gwinnett's top elected official for an hour on June 28 before pulling him over and arresting him for driving under the influence.

The charges against Board of Commissioners Chairman Charles Bannister were eventually dropped as an expedited blood test showed he had zero alcohol in his system.

Incident reports subsequently showed that a main crux of Cummings' reasoning for charging Bannister was the 71-year-old chairman's failure of a walk and turn test -- one not recommended for suspects over 55 because of diminished agility.

A breath test also came up with a zero reading.

Under the request of Sheriff Butch Conway, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is currently investigating his department's handling of Bannister's arrest.