Lag in filing of DWI not unusual, prosecutor says
ight weeks after her arrest, a DWI charge against Parkville Mayor Nan Johnston has officially been filed by the Platte County Prosecutor’s Office.
Court documents show Johnston is also charged with failure to drive on the right half of the roadway. Both charges are misdemeanors.
Johnston has hired attorney Mark M. Ferguson of North Kansas City to represent her, court documents indicate. A court date of Jan. 13 at 9 a.m. has been set in the courtroom of Platte County Associate Circuit Court Judge Dennis Eckold.
Johnston, age 60, was pulled over at 1:18 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 26 by a Platte County Sheriff’s Department deputy who noticed her vehicle crossing the center line and weaving within the driving lane on southbound Hwy. 9 at Eastside Drive near the edge of the city limits.
Authorities say Johnston’s blood alcohol content (BAC) was measured at .110 in a roadside portable breath test and at .098 at the Platte County Jail about an hour later. The legal limit for driving is .08.
Johnston spent a couple hours in custody at the jail before posting $1,000 bond and being released.
The DWI charge was officially filed on Friday, Nov. 20, nearly eight weeks to the day after the arrest. That time period between arrest and charges is not completely unusual in other cases The Landmark has followed in recent years. Eric Zahnd, county prosecutor, explained the reasons behind the time lag in an interview with the newspaper this week.
“Some time always passes in filing a charge issued by what is known as a Uniform Traffic Ticket. Both the Platte County Sheriff’s Department and the Missouri State Highway Patrol send UTTs to our office in large batches, and a ticket may therefore take several days to reach our office after it is written. We then match the tickets with additional investigative reports,” Zahnd said.
The prosecutor said it usually takes reports longer to reach his office because incident reports by the sheriff’s department must be reviewed and approved by a sergeant before they are forwarded to his office.
“Additional time may pass if we notice we need additional reports or video of the incident,” Zahnd said.
The dash cam video of Johnston’s arrest has been widely viewed on multiple Kansas City television stations. The Landmark was the first media outlet to obtain the dash cam video, and the TV stations ran the video with audio enhancements days later.
“Once all of the reports and video have been received, one or more assistant prosecuting attorneys carefully reviews every DWI case before it is filed,” Zahnd explained.
Things that are considered by an assistant prosecutor in that review process include probable cause for the traffic stop, administration of field sobriety tests, blood alcohol content evidence, and other facts, the prosecutor said.
In addition, the prosecutor’s staff is currently working on a rating schedule due to COVID-19.
“We are working in two rotating teams: one team working from the office, the other team working remotely from home each week. That can also cause a short delay because we do not routinely load video into our case management system so it can be viewed remotely,” Zahnd remarked.
“Some or all of these things likely contributed to the timing of the charges (in the Johnston case), and they are all part of the normal review process,” Zahnd continued.
“We want to know as many facts as possible and are very deliberate before filing a criminal case against any person–regardless of whether that person is a public figure or not–as the mere filing of a criminal charge is a very significant event. The statute of limitation is one year for misdemeanors,” he said.
“While rare, we file some misdemeanor cases on the final day before the statute of limitation runs out,” Zahnd stated.
During the car stop that led to her arrest on suspicion of DWI, after being asked to step out of her car by a Platte County Sheriff’s Department deputy, Parkville Mayor Nan Johnston grabbed her cell phone and told the deputy she was calling Kevin Chrisman, who is the chief of police for Parkville. On the dash cam video, the deputy can be heard responding: “I don’t know who that is.”
That is among the details included in the incident report by Platte County Sheriff’s Deputy Jordan DeClue about his interaction with the Parkville mayor during the incident.
The deputy reports that Johnston told him she consumed one Mike’s Hard Lemonade at 5 p.m. and half of another Mike’s Hard Lemonade shortly before driving around 1 a.m. She blew .110 after being stopped.
The police video shows after being handcuffed and placed in the back seat of the patrol car, Johnston again asks to use her phone and the request is denied. When the officer tells her he is taking her to “the station,” Johnston asks the location of the station. When the deputy answers “Platte City,” Johnston can be heard on the video saying: “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, I’m not going to Platte City. Let me have my phone.”