Drunk DA Francesca Estevez Dodges A DUI
July 1, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Drunk driving is terrible, heinous, a blight on society. Sometimes. Other times, not so much.
KOB has obtained shocking […] video of what appears to be a drunk driver dangerously swerving across narrow county roads near Silver City. When police arrived, they soon realized that driver is a popular elected official.
She is Francesca Estevez, the district attorney for Grant, Luna and Hidalgo counties.
KOB, a New Mexico TV network, released cell phone video and a body cam recording of the June 14 incident.
It all started when a concerned driver, Rick Ritter, placed a 911 call about the Dodge Charger in front of him. He’d been following it for a while, recording it on his cell phone as it swerved into oncoming traffic and onto the shoulder of the road. The driver was clearly drunk, and Ritter told the 911 dispatcher he was afraid there was going to be a crash any minute.
Ritter followed the car to Silver City, where it came to a halt after the driver swerved onto the sidewalk and nearly crashed into a utility pole. Two Silver City police officers, Leticia Lopez and Kyle Spurgeon, were the first on the scene. Lopez took point, walking up to the driver’s side window.
Cue the body cam video. Weirdly, it doesn’t seem to surprise Lopez that the person behind the wheel is the local DA. Estevez, for her part, launches into a poorly rehearsed story about a flat tire, mixing up the names of towns and punctuating her slurred speech with strange, birdlike swoops in the direction of the camera.
Neither Lopez nor Spurgeon buy her story. Spurgeon can clearly be heard telling Lopez she’s “loaded” and about to fall down. So do the cops perform a DUI test? Arrest her for her driving shenanigans? Ask her pointed questions?
Yeah, right. Instead, the cops stall for time, making polite conversation with the DA while trying to think of a way to get rid of this mess.
It’s really pretty startling. While Spurgeon fiddles with a car jack, Lopez compliments the DA on getting reelected. Lopez tells Estevez, adoringly, that she voted for her, which Estevez takes as a cue to launch into a rant about the Department of Justice. It only ends when Estevez literally falls off her feet and collapses into the passenger seat. She tries to get back up, without success.
It’s not common knowledge, but as Fault Lines contributor Ken Womble reported back in November, cops have the power to hand out Get Out of Speeding Tickets Free cards to anyone they want. This is part of the phenomenon known as “professional courtesy,” where police officers grant each other immunity to the laws they enforce on normal people.
Some of the most egregious abuses at the hands of the police are justified by the mythology of the War on Cops. When the police rush to the defense of one of their own after he beats an unarmed teen into a coma, it’s because outsiders don’t understand the threats cops have to deal with. When a police department ostracizes two cops and leaves them to die for blowing the whistle on the kind of abuse that sounds like it came from a Scorsese film, same story. An officer willing to side with thugs, activists or the biased media over his fellow cops is no officer at all.
But when there’s no external threat, however improbable and absurd to point to, the cops’ hypocrisy gets really obvious. What justification is there for enforcing drunk driving laws on Team Red but not Team Blue, except that the officer likes Team Blue better?
It’s hard to say Estevez was driving drunk for the greater good. Law enforcement apologists might excuse her conduct by pointing to Estevez’s history of good deeds, like her track record of securing DUI convictions. But as the Playpen cases show, this sort of thing is a slippery slope. If nominally being on the side of the angels is enough to excuse misconduct, it gets hard to distinguish between righteous folk and evildoers.
Prosecutors are law enforcement too, and they benefit from the same “professional courtesy” as cops. After all, they’re co-dependent: prosecutors rely on cops to investigate and supply testimony and cops rely on prosecutors to wrap up their busts. Really, the only thing shocking about the Estevez case is the incredible servility of the cops.
In an effort to wash their hands of the affair, Lopez and Spurgeon called in their immediate superior, a state trooper and even the Silver City chief of police. Nobody was willing to do what had to be done, so the cops let Estevez, who at that point was drunkenly practicing field sobriety tests, drive away. Of course, she was still completely wasted, so she crashed her the taxpayers’ car into the curb after driving a couple of feet. The police got on their hands and knees to change her tire and let her drive away again.
A couple of days ago, Fault Lines’ resident prosecutor, Andrew King, wrote a post about misconduct. According to Andrew, prosecutors mix a defense attorney–esque responsibility to their client, the State, with a healthy respect for incentives. He uses the example of federal prosecutors going after ordinary people for making false statements but tolerating lies from the FBI. Andrew says that the State willed it this way, and who are prosecutors, its loyal servants, to judge it?
What the Estevez case proves is that there are other incentives, and another, less savory kind of co-dependency, between cops and prosecutors. At a town hall in May, Estevez said very clearly that she had no interest in investigating police misconduct. In exchange, it seems the cops have no interest in investigating Estevez misconduct.
As with most things, it all depends on what team you play on.