2010-05-27 / Features

Bar Owner Says Trooper Fudged Traffic Stop

By JOE MANDAK ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

PITTSBURGH (AP) – A tavern owner who has spoken out against police tactics filed a federal lawsuit accusing a state police trooper of lying about whether she appeared to be driving drunk and citing a hospital blood test that showed she was stone cold sober.

Dianne Thompson, 56, of Bradford, said the trooper – one of the most prolific in the state when it comes to drunken-driving arrests – falsely claimed she smelled of alcohol and had glassy eyes when he stopped her vehicle last year.

She contends she was really stopped because she and her brothers have publicly complained that troopers have been stopping people for drunken driving and other offenses without justification.

“This is about the honesty of the state police, about them lying about the condition of motorists when they pull them over, and it’s about the trumped up charges they make against people,” Thompson said Thursday.

State police did not immediately comment on the lawsuit, which names only Trooper Matthew Petrof as a defendant. Petrof is based at the Kane barracks, near the Allegheny National Forest, about 120 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.

The suit stems from a traffic stop at about 1 a.m. on Oct. 31 at the intersection in front of Thompson’s bar in Bradford.

The suit said Petrof made Thompson submit to a blood-alcohol test and then ticketed her for littering and sitting too long at a flashing yellow light. Thompson’s suit said Petrof claimed she failed field sobriety tests, smelled of alcohol and was glassy-eyed – and he repeated those claims under oath at a hearing on the tickets.

“The results of the blood alcohol testing confirmed that plaintiff had ‘0’ (zero) blood alcohol content in her system,” the lawsuit said.

A judge later dismissed the tickets.

Thompson acknowledged throwing a cigarette out her car window and said her dog had knocked her purse over so she stopped extra long at the light to pick up items that fell at her feet.

“I tried to explain that to officer Petrof and he didn’t want to hear it,” Thompson said.

She claims in her lawsuit that her brothers have written commentaries for, or been quoted in, the Bradford Era newspaper in which they complained about state police tactics and that she’s echoed those complaints in public.

Thompson’s lawsuit seeks $1 million in damages and comes a week after state police reported making a record number of drunken driving arrests last year, 16,900, up from 16,156 in 2008.

State police statistics show troopers at the Kane barracks made 204 DUI arrests last year, after making 108, 102, and 103 in three prior years. Petrof made 54 DUI arrests and was one of just 23 troopers statewide with at least 50 drunken driving arrests last year, according to the agency.

Petrof is the second trooper from the Kane barracks to be accused in recent months of fudging details about a traffic stop.

Mount Jewett police Chief Nataliya Miroslavna contends Trooper Dale Vukovich fabricated claims when he ticketed her for driving 51 mph in a 45 mph zone in November, while she was in full uniform on her way to work. Miroslavna lost in court and on appeal and paid a $128.50 fine.

Miroslavna, 26, claims the trooper ticketed her because she had rejected his advances and had complained about his bullying.

State police spokeswoman Lt. Myra Taylor has acknowledged the chief’s complaints prompted an internal investigation, but said Vukovich clocked the chief at 60 mph and “used his discretion” to ticket her for the lesser speed.

Thompson said her dispute is about more than tickets and drunken driving arrests.

“I’m all for getting every drunk off the road, and I own a bar,” Thompson said. “These troopers, they take the respect you have for the police and they’re ruining it.”

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