Steamboat Springs Routt County Sheriff Gary Wall was found guilty of driving while ability impaired, failure to dim his headlights and prohibited use of a weapon today in Routt County Court, where a six-member jury rendered its verdict after a three-day trial.
DWAI is a lesser charge than driving under the influence of alcohol, a charge Wall faced after an incident on Oct. 27, 2007, when a Colorado State Patrol trooper pulled Wall over at U.S. Highway 40 and Walton Creek Road for failure to dim his headlights. The sheriff was subsequently charged with that traffic violation, suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol and prohibited use of a weapon.
For the DWAI conviction, Wall faces maximum penalties of up to 180 days imprisonment, a fine of up to $500 and as many as 48 hours of community service, according to state law.
Had Wall been convicted of DUI he would have faced a one-year suspension of his driver's license - on top of the yearlong revocation he received for refusing any tests of his blood alcohol level that night. He also would have faced penalties of up to a year imprisonment, a fine of up to $1,000 and as many as 96 hours of community service.
About halfway through deliberations today, the jury came into the courtroom to request clarification from Senior Judge Cecil Wayne Williams on the differences between DUI and DWAI.
The DWAI and failure to dim headlights convictions are traffic misdemeanors. Failure to dim carries a maximum fine of up to $100. The prohibited use of a weapon conviction is a class 2 misdemeanor and carries maximum penalties of 18 months imprisonment, $5,000, or both.
A hearing to determine Wall's penalties has not been set. Williams said he wants Wall to complete an alcohol evaluation prior to that hearing.
Days after the traffic stop in October 2007, a state official said Wall's citations would not hinder the sheriff's peace officer certification, which then was pending completion.
John Kammerzell, director of the state's Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, said only felonies and a few select misdemeanors can jeopardize an officer's POST certification.
Wall cannot be removed from office except through a recall election.
Following today's verdict, delivered shortly after 6 p.m., Wall embraced his wife Jenny, and the two solemnly left the courtroom with Wall's lawyer, Ron Smith. Both had taken the witness stand earlier today. Wall's trial began Monday.
Wall did not return a message left on his cell phone seeking comment after the verdict.
Sheriff's Office Deputy Lance Eldridge, who on Tuesday delivered some of the most damaging testimony against Wall, resigned from the Sheriff's Office at about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday. Eldridge drove the Walls home after the traffic stop. He testified that Wall appeared to be drunk that night and that, based on his observations of the sheriff, he would have arrested Wall for DUI.
While on the stand today, Wall recounted the evening, said he drank only one glass of red wine and conveyed his belief that there was a "bounty on his head" and a calculated effort to frame him for DUI.
"I knew that I was a target," said Wall, who said many people have told him this even before he was elected in 2006. "It was common knowledge among my officers that I needed to be careful. : My officers told me, 'Gary, you better be careful.'"