Steamboat Springs Former Deputy Lance Eldridge said Thursday that he felt "he had no choice" but to resign from the Routt County Sheriff's Office late Tuesday night.
"It was a discrete event, and I just felt I was in a position where I had to," Eldridge said. "Ultimately, all of this is going to blow over, and it needs to."
He delivered damaging testimony Tuesday in Routt County Court against Sheriff Gary Wall, who was convicted by a jury Wednesday of driving while ability impaired and two related charges.
Eldridge said his decision to resign was "related" to his testimony. He would not be more specific and said he does not know what his plans are in the wake of his resignation.
Hours after Wednesday's verdict, Wall said he will not consider resigning under any circumstances. When asked whether he would appeal or take any other action in response to the conviction, Wall said, "I have some issues that we're going to address."
On Thursday, Wall said he was not ready to be more specific.
"I haven't talked to my attorney about anything," Wall said. "I'm not prepared to do that right now."
While on the witness stand Wednesday, Wall recounted the evening of Oct. 27, 2007, when he was pulled over by Trooper Melissa Fowler of the Colorado State Patrol for a failure to dim his headlights. Wall was subsequently charged with that traffic violation, driving under the influence of alcohol and prohibited use of a weapon. The DWAI that Wall was convicted of Wednesday is a lesser charge than DUI.
Wall said he drank only one glass of red wine at the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association centennial celebration he was returning home from that night, and he conveyed his belief that there was a "bounty on his head" and a calculated effort to frame him for DUI.
Wall testified Wednesday that he became suspicious of the traffic stop from its very beginning.
Wall confirmed that he did not answer questions from Fowler or Trooper Brett Hilling - who was called to the scene and took over the investigation - about how much he had had to drink. He said Fowler came to his window and, in very quick succession, pointed out that his bright lights were on, said she smelled alcohol and asked him how much he had had to drink.
"I immediately thought to myself, 'Uh oh, this is not a normal stop,'" Wall said on the stand. "I decided I wasn't going to talk to her."
Wall said he refused any tests of his blood alcohol level for similar reasons, after Trooper Hilling read to him what he immediately wrote on an impairment form - that night, as Wall sat in a patrol car - including eight signs of impairment Hilling claimed to observe, such as Wall being unsteady on his feet and having red, watery eyes.
"I was very disturbed about what he had wrote," Wall said. "I said, Brett, that is not true. You know that is just not true. : I felt violated, and I was not going to do anything for Trooper Hilling because of that."
Wall lost his license for a year because of his refusal of tests. He said Wednesday that he regretted that decision.
Hilling was called to the stand to rebut Wall's testimony. He denied that the sheriff was a target and said he treated the traffic stop like any other.
The day before, Eldridge was the prosecution's last witness before it rested its case. Eldridge drove Wall and his wife, Jenny - who was then his girlfriend and using the surname Wilson - home that night. Eldridge said under oath Tuesday that, had the decision been his, he would have arrested the sheriff for DUI. Eldridge's testimony differed from that of Deputy Mark Mackey, who also saw Wall that night and said the sheriff "looked sober to me."
Wall's lawyer, Ron Smith, kicked off Wednesday's proceedings by playing a short segment of a recorded interview of Eldridge conducted by Trooper Brett Hilling on Nov. 5, 2007. Eldridge made a comment in the recording that appears to contradict his courtroom testimony.
In the recording, Eldridge answered, "No, I did not," when Hilling asked whether he observed any signs of intoxication or impairment in the sheriff. After the defense rested, special prosecutor Karen Romeo said Eldridge's answer was taken out of context and was "misleading to the jury." She asked to play a longer segment of the recorded interview.
Smith objected and said it would be inappropriate to allow Romeo to re-emphasize Eldridge's testimony. Smith said he was justified in playing the portion of the recording he did because it contradicted the testimony. Out of the presence of the jury, Senior Judge Cecil Wayne Williams listened to a longer portion of the recording, in which Eldridge's conversation with Hilling continued, and the former deputy made comments similar to his testimony Tuesday.
Williams sustained Smith's objection, and the jury did not hear this part of the recording.
Jenny Wall also testified Wednesday. She said Gary Wall was "absolutely sober," and claimed he danced "quickly," "smoothly" and "expressively" with her at the Chamber celebration.
During closing arguments, special prosecutor Anne Francis dismissed Wall's claim that he had been framed.
"It's a DUI trial," Francis said. "This case is not about conspiracies or about targets or about bounties."
In his closing statement, Smith emphatically repeated to the jury, "it's about the driving," and noted that no one disputed Wall had safely and properly operated his vehicle, except for his failure to dim.
"This case is not about the driving," special prosecutor Karen Romeo replied in the prosecution's final statement. "We don't have to prove bad driving. We have to prove that while he was driving that vehicle he was under the influence of alcohol."
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