Fort Collins police officer's DUI arrests under scrutiny after man says he was wrongly arrested

·7 min read

A Loveland man says a Fort Collins police officer wrongly arrested him for driving under the influence in April while he was sober.

Derrick Groves, 36, was driving to his Loveland home from a friend’s house in Fort Collins about 9:30 p.m. April 7 when he drove off the road down a steep embankment just south of the intersection of Taft Hill and Trilby roads, according to the arrest affidavit in the case.

The arresting officer, Jason Haferman, wrote in the arrest affidavit that “Groves had blood shot, glassy eyes, and his pupils appeared to be different sizes.” Haferman said Groves also pointed in the wrong direction when asked where he was coming from.

Groves denied consuming any drugs or alcohol prior to driving. He said he was driving his Tesla with autosteer activated, and when he looked down at his phone, he took one hand off the wheel, which caused the car to overcorrect and sent him into the ditch, Groves' attorney Matthew Haltzman said in an interview with the Coloradoan.

"It was an overcorrection, that's all it was," Haltzman said. "... The minute Jason Haferman got on scene, it was a DUI investigation."

Groves participated in the eye portion of the roadside test, according to the arrest documents, and Haferman claimed he did not complete them as a sober person would. Groves was arrested and consented to a blood test.

Two months later, the results backed up what Groves said he repeatedly told Haferman the night of his arrest: He was sober. There were no drugs or alcohol found in his bloodstream.

The district attorney’s office dismissed the DUI charge in this case June 14, according to court documents. Groves still faces a traffic offense charge of careless driving.

"He has been extremely traumatized by this," Haltzman said of Groves. "There's a real weight that he carried from this that I think he'll live with for the rest of his life."

'An alarming pattern'

Now Groves intends to sue Fort Collins Police Services and Haferman for wrongfully arresting him for DUI, claiming that Haferman had no evidence Groves was under the influence that night and that Haferman has a history of embellishing facts when making DUI arrests, Haltzman said.

A lawsuit hasn't been filed yet because they are still gathering information, Haltzman said. Since he was made aware of Groves' case, Haltzman said several other similar incidents involving Haferman have come to light.

The 8th Judicial District Attorney's Office and Fort Collins Police Services both say they are investigating other cases in which Haferman's credibility has been questioned.

The police department has identified nine other cases involving Haferman with blood tests that came back with no alcohol or drugs present in the suspect's blood, according to a social media post from Fort Collins police. Five of those cases involved crashes with injuries and/or property damage, according to police.

Fort Collins Police Services officers made 504 DUI arrests in 2021, and 11 of those cases — 2.2% — had blood test results come back with no drugs or alcohol found, spokesperson Kate Kimble said. Haferman was involved with 191 of the DUI arrests last year, either as the primary arresting officer or supporting the DUI investigation.

Of the 11 Fort Collins police cases where blood test results came back with no alcohol or drugs detected, Haferman was involved in eight, Kimble said.

"This is not the first case, and it probably isn't the last case if Haferman is allowed to continue," Haltzman said, adding that Groves' case is part of "an alarming pattern."

The 8th Judicial District Attorney's Office said in a statement they are reviewing several recent DUI cases Haferman was involved with where no alcohol or drugs were detected in blood tests.

In a ruling in a separate DUI case made by Judge Sarah Cure in March, Cure determined Haferman "lacks credibility" because "his testimony was inconsistent" and was "not supported by the evidence."

While this ruling did not meet the criteria for issuance of a Brady notification — which is required when a law enforcement official has a sustained record for knowingly lying in an official capacity — spokesperson Jodi Lacey shared in a statement that the district attorney's office did notify all defense attorneys of Cure's finding.

"We also became aware of several recent cases in which Officer Haferman was the primary officer where the toxicology results did not support charges of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and began immediate review of those cases," the statement said.

Fort Collins Police Services was made aware of these cases, and Kimble confirmed that an internal investigation is ongoing.

"We look at each and every one of those cases (where the blood test comes back negative for drugs and alcohol) to make sure we're out there operating appropriately," Chief Jeff Swoboda said in a video statement posted on the department's Facebook page June 15.

The district attorney's office stated that Haferman's conduct must improve in order for their office to continue filing charges in cases he is involved in.

"An unnecessary arrest is simply unacceptable," the district attorney's office said in its statement. "The District Attorney’s office will closely scrutinize every case in which Officer Haferman was involved to provide a check on his investigations. While we do not believe these cases are reflective of FCPS as a whole, we have communicated our disappointment to FCPS with the specific cases here where some arrests may have been unwarranted and our concern about the impact to the community."

The challenges with DUI testing

Both the district attorney's office and Fort Collins police stated that it is still possible someone may have been under the influence of some substance even if the blood test comes back negative.

Blood tests taken in DUI cases are analyzed by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, but that test does not screen for every impairing substance, police say. The test, which screens 14 categories of common drugs, can't screen for — for example — aerosol inhalants, which are metabolized quickly. Some synthetic street drugs may also not appear on these tests, according to police.

Over-the-counter and prescription drugs also aren't detected in the basic blood tests, Swoboda said in a video statement shared on social media.

A more in-depth drug and alcohol screen is done in the most serious suspected DUI cases — like vehicular assault or vehicular homicide investigations — but this specialized testing is too expensive to do in every DUI investigation, police said in a social media post. Each of these tests costs $400 to $700, which would mean up to $250,000 annually, depending on the number of drugs being tested in each case, police say.

Blood test results from CBI can take weeks or months to come back, police said.

Breath or blood tests aren't done until after someone is arrested on suspicion of DUI, which means officers have to determine probable cause for a DUI-related arrest before those tests are done. Fort Collins Police Services said their officers are trained to identify other indications someone is impaired based on their driving behaviors, physical indications of impairment and field sobriety test completion — if the driver chooses to participate because the test is voluntary.

Swoboda said in a video statement that just because a blood test result in a suspected DUI case comes back negative for drugs or alcohol, that doesn't mean it was "bad policing."

"Our officers are routinely interacting with people that are on drugs or misusing drugs that don't show up on those panels," Swoboda said.

The district attorney's office stated that — despite the possibility of someone being under the influence of an undetectable substance — they dismiss the charges because, without a positive blood test result, the case would unlikely result in a conviction. Dismissing charges that lack evidence is also important to protect innocent individuals, the statement read.

Kimble said it is possible for someone to be convicted of DUI or driving while ability impaired if their blood test result comes back negative because some substances aren't screened in that test.

But Haltzman said it's not the test that's the problem and the department should take accountability.

"The first thing they're doing is to blame the test," Haltzman said. "... That's not the accountability we've been promised in this community."

All suspects are innocent until proven guilty in court. Arrests and charges are merely accusations by law enforcement until, and unless, a suspect is convicted of a crime. All individuals accused of misconduct are considered innocent until the conclusion of any internal investigations.

Sady Swanson covers public safety, criminal justice, Larimer County government and more throughout Northern Colorado. You can send your story ideas to her at sswanson@coloradoan.com or on Twitter at @sadyswan. Support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.

This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: Fort Collins police officer accused of false DUI arrest