A Colorado district attorney expressed frustration Thursday at not being able to prosecute an Aurora police officer who was found passed out drunk in his car last year, calling the department’s failure to launch a DUI investigation a double standard meant to protect one of its own.
Officer Nathan Meier was found unresponsive in his city-owned police car parked in the middle of an Aurora street on March 29, 2019. Meier was armed and in uniform. Officers, including Deputy Chief Paul O'Keefe who was the first police official on the scene, reported smelling a faint smell of alcohol on Meier and in his vehicle.
“He’s a little intoxicated,” one lieutenant tells another in a conversation captured on body-worn camera footage.
Despite the apparent signs that the officer was intoxicated, District Attorney George Brauchler says O’Keefe later told internal affairs investigators that he felt he didn’t have enough evidence for a DUI investigation and that he “erred on the side of protecting [Meier].”
“I am incredibly frustrated,” Brauchler said. “Bottom line is if one of us had been in that car, and not officer Nathan Meier, do I think it would it have been treated differently? I do.”
Brauchler stopped short of calling the incident a cover-up, saying it appears to be an anomaly and praising the Aurora police department overall.
“I think this became an 'ignorance is bliss' moment,” Brauchler said. “I don’t think it’s a cover-up, but it’s a couple blocks from it.”
The Aurora Police Department has not yet offered a formal response, but told ABC News that Meier remains employed in a “non-enforcement capacity”.
Brauchler said none of the eight Aurora police officers on scene told firefighters or EMS personnel that they had smelled alcohol. As a result, paramedics suspected Meier might have been experiencing a stroke or suffering from opioid exposure. A DUI specialist dispatched to the hospital where Meier was taken was told to stand down, Brauchler added.
Brauchler said "there was no attempt, ever, to seek Meier's" blood or begin a DUI investigation by Aurora police.
Medical staff at the hospital he was taken to had drawn Meier's blood and results indicated his blood-alcohol level was five times over the legal limit. However, Brauchler said he couldn't use the hospital's test results to prosecute Meier for a DUI because of medical privacy and a law that prevents information compelled as part of an internal affairs report from being used by prosecutors.
Brauchler said that if Aurora police had handled the investigation properly, Meier could have faced several charges, including driving under the influence and being intoxicated while carrying a firearm.
“I do not believe I had a reasonable probability of success at trial on these charges,” Brauchler said.
O’Keefe, who at one time was supposed to serve as interim chief of the department, instead announced he will retire in March.