UPDATED: Michigan State Police to investigate breathalyzer supplier
Michigan State Police (MSP) 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.
"It's the questioning of some irregularities that were seen in the documents, the certifications of these, whether it was the maintenance checks or the calibration checks," said Lieutenant Brian Oleksyk, public information office of Michigan State Police's first district.
Intoximeters has taken 203 of the instruments in use statewide out of service until it can be determined the instruments are properly calibrated. The devices are not the ones used in traffic stops, however. The devices are kept in police stations and are used to test a person's blood-alcohol level after they've been taken to jail.
During the period the instruments are out of service, state police officials are recommending police departments stop using the devices if they have them and conduct blood draws rather than breath tests to establish evidence of drunk driving, but that is putting an added responsibility onto police.
"Some of them (police departments) can say no, which is their right, but then the police officer at that time would go in and have to draft up a search warrant, get that signed by a judge, and then execute that at the hospital so a little bit of added time onto it," Lt. Oleksyk said.
"Your blood-alcohol level could actually rise afterward, but at some point in time it's going to start dropping," said Anthony Flores, a Cooley Law School professor.
There's also the question of what happens to those who have been charged based on their results from the DataMaster.
"The plea, many times, based on that reading and the indication that it is accurate so that's a question as to whether they had accurate readings," Flores said.
"Those cases will be matched up with these Datamasters and then it'll be kind of a case by case basis on the prosecutor's office on how they're going to handle that," Lt. Oleksyk said.
MSP has worked with Intoximeters since 2018. Now MSP will have to inspect all 203 machines located in jails across the state.
"The State Police called it out on themselves which means that they're really attempting to be transparent. However, the transparency is caused because of a lack of oversight to a private company," Flores said.
A telephone call Monday to Intoximeters Inc. for comment on the state police's 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 bore 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 will also take over the contractor’s duties of certifying and serving the breathalyzer units.
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.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer's office released a statement expressing their support for the MSP's actions. “The MSP did the right thing to protect the integrity of the criminal justice process by taking immediate action to proactively suspend use of the instruments and aggressively investigate potential fraud to hold the vendor accountable for the actions of its employees."
The governor added, “The contract with Intoximeters for use of its Datamaster DMT instruments, used by law enforcement agencies across the state, is one of many contracts executed under the previous administration that has proven to be inefficient, costly to taxpayers, and further sheds light on the problems with the privatization of public services.”