Disgraced AZ officer ruins DUI case for city prosecutors - WFSB 3 Connecticut

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Disgraced AZ officer ruins DUI case for city prosecutors

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Justin LaClere Justin LaClere
PHOENIX (CBS5) -

Seven-year Phoenix Police Department veteran Officer Justin LaClere resigned from the force earlier this month after admitting he struck up an online chat with a 17-year-old Scottsdale girl that led to a sexual encounter between the two.

CBS 5 News learned that same day LaClere initiated that chat, he was the main witness in a DUI case, where the jury apparently did not believe any of his testimony.

The case involved a woman named Michelle Thomas, who was cited for DUI in May of 2013.

Thomas is a married mother of two who was in the back seat of the vehicle when her husband was pulled over by LaClere for allegedly not driving within his lane.

LaClere left the vehicle running while performing tests on Thomas' husband to determine if he was driving impaired.

Thomas repeatedly told LaClere she needed to use the restroom but could not open the back doors of her vehicle because the child safety locks were engaged.

She told a jury she crawled into the front seat of the car and attempted to get out of the driver's side door, but because she engaged herself in the driver's seat while doing so,  LaClere initiated DUI charges against her.

A number of Phoenix attorneys have come forward to CBS 5 News claiming that LaClere was not credible as a court witness.

Criminal defense lawyer Kristina Sitton represents Thomas' husband.

"I really thought the judge was gonna come across the bench and throw him out of the courtroom," said Sitton when describing LaClere's attitude in court while testifying. "Just rude and condescending conversation."

CBS 5 News exclusively obtained audio recordings from that DUI trial and they reveal LaClere's interaction with defense attorney Gerald Gavin.

[NOTE NATURE OF LANGUAGE]

Gavin: "When you asked her if she was driving, she denied driving the vehicle, correct?"

LaClere: "She indicated she wanted to piss."

Gavin: "When you talked to her in the front seat did she say she wanted to drive away?"

LaClere: "She indicated she wanted to piss." 

Gavin: "Did you ask her why she was in the front seat?" 

LaClere: "For the reason I just gave." 

Gavin: "Did you ask her why she was in the front seat?"

LaClere: "She indicated she had to piss. I asked her what she was doing." 

Attorney Kristina Sitton was in the courtroom gathering information for her upcoming trial involving Thomas' husband. CBS 5 News has learned Phoenix city prosecutors have dismissed the case against him.

"I can tell you I have never seen an officer be so disrespectful. It was very clear," said Sitton.

The audio recording also includes Thomas' testimony on the stand.

"I thought I fully explained myself," she told the jury. "I told him I just needed to go across the street to use the restroom and I attempted to walk off. That's when he grabbed my left arm and he slammed me up against the back door on the driver's side."

LaClere testified he saw the vehicle roll 10 feet with Thomas engaged in the driver's seat and claims to have seen her put the car from drive into park.

Thomas denied those claims and the jury believed her. In fact, they returned three not guilty verdicts against her in under 10 minutes. Attorney Gerald Gavin said it was the second fastest jury he has had in his legal career.

This also was not the first time LaClere had been an issue for city prosecutors.

One prosecutor brought a formal complaint against him in 2012, saying LaClere was the most difficult officer she had ever worked with.

She also indicated she settled a case rather than going to trial because she didn't believe LaCere would be a "positive representation of the police department" and that a jury "would have hated him," according to the complaint in LaClere's disciplinary file obtained by CBS 5 News.

Copyright 2014 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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