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Jacksonville Attorney zeroing in on officer's DUI case...

Attorney zeroing in on officer's DUI cases

By Jim Schoettler
Times-Union staff writer

Saturday, August 30, 1997

Story last updated at 11:34 p.m. on Friday, August 29, 1997

In hopes of using cop against cop to defend his client in a drunken driving case, a Jacksonville lawyer began taking sworn testimony yesterday from city police officers.

Yesterday's depositions were prompted by an internal memo written by a high-ranking police official in March that describes criticism of two officers by judges, prosecutors and fellow officers.

The officers have been removed from a squad that specializes in drunken driving arrests. And prosecutors are reviewing cases involving one of them.

The memo said:

Several Duval County judges were concerned about Officer Eugene R. Baker's and Officer D.J. Makauskas' testimony in court. When questioned by fellow judges, three of the judges said Baker and Makauskas were ''overzealous'' and made ''bad cases,'' while two called them eager and dedicated.

Prosecutors were concerned about ''too many'' arrests by the two officers involving people who had blood alcohol levels below the state limit for intoxication.

Prosecutors said videotapes of traffic stops made by the officers weren't consistent with the reasons the officers gave for making stops.

Fellow DUI squad officers said Baker set goals for making DUI arrests, and both officers muscled in on colleagues' arrests. One officer said Baker set a goal to arrest 240 people in 1996 and arrested 246. He had a goal for 300 this year, another officer said.

''It is our objective to get impaired drivers off the street, but we must complete the second half of that objective by getting a conviction,'' Lt. Randy Wilson wrote in the memo to Chief Micheal Edwards. ''It is for this reason that Officers Baker and Makauskas have been taken off the DUI squads.''

Baker and Makauskas, who couldn't be reached for comment yesterday, haven't been disciplined and remain police officers. Authorities said they aren't planning any further action against the officers beyond their removal from the DUI squad.

Ten officers, including four supervisors, are set to be queried by lawyer David Robbins about the arrest of one of his clients.

Among those questioned yesterday were the memo's author.

Robbins said he is focusing on Baker because he arrested four of his clients.

''These are not defense attorneys or criminals accusing police officers [of wrongdoing]. These are police officers and the State Attorney's Office,'' Robbins said. ''Talk about a smoking gun, this is smoking artillery.''

The State Attorney's Office is reviewing about 10 open DUI arrests made by Baker to determine whether to prosecute or drop the cases, a prosecutor said.

''We're looking to make sure that the facts in all of the surrounding circumstances, which obviously include the credibility of the witnesses, have a good-faith basis for believing that we have a reasonable probability of conviction,'' said Assistant State Attorney Mark Borello.

Prosecutors said they would also consider reviewing convictions involving Baker if motions to overturn them are made in court. Prosecutors said they know of no closed cases where the evidence has been tainted by Baker. Breath alcohol tests and other factors also are used to prosecute DUI cases.

In the case where yesterday's depositions were ordered, other evidence against Robbins' client includes a breath alcohol test more than twice the limit at which a motorist is considered drunk in Florida.

Robbins faults prosecutors for not providing information they had about Baker to defense lawyers before trials.

Yesterday's testimony came from Edwards and Wilson. Other testimony is scheduled next week. Several prosecutors attended yesterday's depositions, which were closed to the public.

Edwards said yesterday Baker was removed from the DUI squad because of questions about his credibility. He said Robbins made efforts during the depositions to draw that information out and enhance his case against Baker.

''He's got four clients and he represents those clients and he wants to come up with some evidence against the credibility of Officer Baker,'' Edwards said. ''We looked into whatever information was brought to our attention and I feel we made the right decision.''

''If I was in Robbins' place, I would probably be doing the same thing,'' Edwards said. ''As a defense attorney, all you want to do is raise some reasonable doubt.''

Police union officials said they support Baker. Union officials accused Robbins of using the cases to get publicity for more business.

''Our position is that Baker's credibility is above reproach, and the union is prepared to stand with him,'' said John Pialorsi, business agent for the Fraternal Order of Police. ''I think David Robbins would like to be known as the Johnny Cochran of Jacksonville.''

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