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Michigan State Police to investigate breathalyzer supplier
DETROIT — Michigan State Police has launched a fraud investigation into the company that supplies the state's breathalyzer devices after evidence indicated the company falsified records and misrepresented the devices' accuracy, state officials announced Monday.
State police officials last week suspended the contract with St. Louis-based Intoximeters Inc., supplier of the Datamaster DMT breath alcohol testing devices amid concerns the results could be flawed. The agency has taken 203 of the instruments in use statewide out of service until it can be determined the instruments are properly calibrated.
During the period the instruments are out of service, state police officials are recommending police departments conduct blood draws rather than breathe tests to establish evidence of drunk driving.
A telephone call Monday to Intoximeters Inc. for comment on the state police decision to investigate the company wasn't immediately returned.
Intoximeters employs three people to service all of Michigan's Datamaster DMTs, and it is the records of those service sessions that are in question, state officials said.
“The MSP will conduct a thorough and complete investigation and if we find criminal acts occurred, we will pursue criminal charges against those responsible,” Col. Joseph Gasper, director of the Michigan State Police, said in a statement. “We will also pursue any remediation available to the department, including possible legal action, in order to recoup costs borne by the state.”
State police Lt. Michael Shaw said a stop order was immediately issued as soon as they “noticed some issues with the vendor that was responsible for maintenance and auditing the DataMasters around the state.”
“We will be (setting) up a unit in order to assume the responsibilities of that vendor,” Shaw said. “Authorities will keep using the devices, but Michigan State Police, not the vendor, will calibrate them,” Shaw said.
State police also will take over the contractor’s duties of certifying and serving the breathalyzer units.
Oakland University criminal justice professor Daniel Kennedy said such issues with the breathalyzer devices could be troublesome for drunken driving cases in Michigan.
“This could open the floodgates for appeals,” Kennedy said. “In drunk-driving cases, one of the first questions any defense attorney asks is, ‘When was the last time the device was calibrated?’ So, if they found problems with how these things were being calibrated, that could wind up being one big mess.”
Maj. Greg Zarotney of the Michigan State Police Office of Professional Development wrote in the letter that prosecutors with any cases that could have been impacted by the company’s errors have already been notified and if any additional errors are found, a report will be immediately forwarded to the affected prosecutor.
East Lansing attorney Michael J. Nichols, who specializes in drunken driving cases, said he doesn't know quite what to make of the situation.
He said the DataMaster is only part of the evaluation of a person's sobriety, but it cannot be fully relied on as proof of how much alcohol is in someone's system.
“Depending on exactly what the errors were and how pervasive they were, I think this could have a huge potential impact,” he said. “I’m a little suspicious about why they sent out this letter. The state is being transparent, and they never do that unless there’s more to it.”