Visiting vet says APD mistook his MS for drunkenness
On Nov. 7, at approximately 10:45pm, Austin Police Department Officer Jason Jones arrested a husband and wife for public intoxication, after they had walked into the APD's temporary detention facility on Neches Street Downtown, asking for the whereabouts of their rental car. The couple, Don and Jackie Timmerman, were visiting from New Jersey, here to watch that weekend's UT Longhorn football game against West Virginia and take part in Veterans Recognition Day. Don's a retired lieutenant colonel, with 28 years in the Army.
According to the arrest report, Officer Jones' first interaction with the couple came when he escorted the two outside the facility and explained to them that their vehicle had been towed because it was parked in a no-parking zone; there were signs posted that "showed the times when you could not park." The news didn't jibe with Jackie, the affidavit notes, who "became very upset and started complaining that [the police] should not have towed their car because their son had just passed away" (at the age of 17, in a July car accident). Jones wrote that Don also started to get argumentative.
It was during this spat that Jones "observed the strong odor of alcohol coming from Donald's breath," the affidavit notes, and judged that Timmerman's speech was slurred. Jones said Timmerman also swayed from side to side throughout the interaction. Jones then concluded Jackie was intoxicated as well. "I observed that her speech was highly slurred and that she smelled strongly of alcohol," he wrote. "She swayed from side to side while standing and walking." Both their eyes were reported to be "bloodshot and glassy."
Jones arrested Timmerman after sensing that he'd "lost the normal use of his physical and mental facilities due to the introduction of alcohol into his system." Jones was worried, he wrote, that Timmerman would take a cab to his car and try to drive it back to their hotel. A few minutes later, after she yelled at him for arresting her husband, Jones arrested Jackie for public intoxication as well. She was "so intoxicated that I feared that if she was not arrested that she would get lost looking for her hotel and that she would become a victim of crime," wrote Jones. "I feared that she would be robbed or sexually assaulted. Jacquelin [sic] was arrested and charged with PI for her own safety."
The problem with all this, Timmerman maintains from his home in New Jersey – where he's preparing to pay whatever fine comes as a result of two Class C Misdemeanor charges – is that he and his wife weren't drunk at all.
Timmerman, who weighs 193 pounds, admitted to drinking three beers over a four-hour span that night. But his apparent "intoxication," he insists, was the result of his multiple sclerosis, diagnosed nearly 20 years ago – a disease that progressively deteriorates mobility and muscular coordination. And his wife? Timmerman says she might have been crying because she wasn't pleased her husband was getting arrested for what they believe is a phony charge on the one weekend they chose to get away from home after a summer spent grieving.
"How did they know?" he asked. "There was no Breathalyzer administered. There was no blood-alcohol testing. There was nothing. It was basically just the judgment of the police officer. I said to the cop: 'Are you a doctor?' He ignored me. I said 'How are you deciding whether or not we're drunk?'"
Turns out being "drunk" in Texas means that you're potentially suffering from the same afflictions an individual with MS may struggle with every day. According to the Texas penal code, a person commits a public intoxication offense "if the person appears in a public place while intoxicated to the degree that the person may endanger the person or another." No testing is needed, no blowing into a tube, just the discretion of a police officer to determine whether or not the individual could create a hazard. The APD treats thousands of PI arrests each year, with the largest percentage in the Downtown entertainment district, where the Timmermans were both busted. APD did not respond to a request for comment in this instance, but in 2011 a former APD officer confided to the Chronicle that upwards of 25% of those arrests could reasonably be considered questionable (see "Proof of Nothing," June 24, 2011).
In addition to disputing his arrest, Don says the affidavit fails to mention that Officer Jones "took me to the ground when I was asking him where the car was impounded." He has concerns about the way APD handled his wife – if Jones was so concerned about her safety, Timmerman said, why did he temporarily leave her alone on Neches when taking Timmerman inside for booking? He also couldn't understand the hard time he had explaining to police why he needed to keep his MS medicine (Gabapentin and Synthroid, along with one sleeping pill) in an Advil container in his pocket.
Timmerman says the kicker came the next evening at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
"They have a flyover for the military, and everybody's standing up and clapping for me," he says. "Only in America! We're getting arrested one night and recognized by a full stadium for being a veteran the next. What a joke."