Thursday, July 18, 2019
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Vick's intoxication raises questions for defense
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Tests show that St. Paul Police Sgt. Gerald Vick was legally drunk when he was shot and killed last Friday morning while doing undercover work. (Photo courtesy of the St. Paul Police Department)
St. Paul police officials say they are reviewing their department's alcohol policy, in light of tests that determined Sgt. Gerald Vick had a blood alcohol level of more than twice the legal limit when he was gunned down one week ago. Lawyers with the Ramsey County Public Defenders Office say the blood alcohol information will have a significant impact on the defense, and that the St. Paul Police may not be suited to objectively handle the investigation.

St. Paul, Minn. — Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner says her office knew about Sgt. Gerald Vick's high blood alcohol concentration the day he was shot.

She concedes the blood alcohol part of the case is not positive, but she insists the evidence backs up the murder of a peace officer charge leveled against Harry Evans -- the man accused of gunning down Vick in East St. Paul.

"We knew about the .20 (blood alchol level). It is a fact. It is a fact that I believe will be taken into consideration, first by the grand jury next Wednesday, and possibly ultimately by a jury, in deciding whether or not Sgt. Vick was in fact acting in the course of his duties when he was murdered," said Gaertner. "There are many other facts that will be considered, and we believe the totality of those facts lead us to the conclusion that he was acting in the course of his duties."

St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington says regardless of the drinking, Vick was "on the clock" when he was killed.

"Sgt. Vick was on duty at the time of his death. There have been questions about that and I want to clear that up right now," said Harrington. "Sgt. Vick started at 11:00. Earlier in the afternoon he began tracking down a lead on some prostitution issues he was working on. He called to his unit commander to ask for permission to continue after the end of his shift, and was granted permission to continue the investigation on an overtime basis."

Harrington says it appears Sgt. Vick was in violation of the department's alcohol policy, which allows undercover vice officers to drink alcohol while conducting investigations. But that the policy expressly prohibits drinking to the point of intoxication.

Harrington told reporters he does not believe alcohol played a role in the altercation Vick and his partner, Sgt. Joe Strong, had with the suspect and another man being held as a witness. Harrington says Strong's blood showed just a trace of alcohol, about 90 percent below the legal level of intoxication.

Asked if Vick used good judgment in confronting anyone given the amount of alcohol in his system, Harrington responded this way.

"I know officers are confronted with situations, and they make the best judgment they can at the time. I don't know whether it was prudent or not," said Harrington. "I know that it would not have fit within what we would say department policy allows. Acting while you're intoxicated -- even in vice -- is not something that the policy permits, and there is a good reason for that."

While St. Paul police and the Ramsey County Attorney contend Vick's alcohol level does not call into question whether the charge of murder of a peace officer is appropriate, officials with the Ramsey County Public Defender's Office say Vick's intoxication will likely be a big issue for the defense.

"I think it is fair to say that it is a very significant fact," said Davd Gill, managing attorney in the public defender's office. "I think it will turn out to be a significant fact. But exactly how it plays out in the defense of this case, it's premature to decide that at this point."

Gill says neither the police department nor the county attorney' office informed the public defender's office of Vick's high blood alcohol concentration. He says he's concerned that the information was not shared earlier.

Gill says he thinks the St. Paul Police Department may not be able to objectively investigate the shooting, and that the Ramsey County attorney should possibly be pulled off the case as well.

"The fact that the police officer was as intoxicated as he appears to have been, raises questions about what the original confrontation was all about, and the appropriateness of chasing these two individuals down," said Gill. "Those are things that we have to get to once we get further into the investigation."

Gill says he's also concerned that a formal statement from Vick's partner was not taken immediately after the shooting, which he says complicates efforts to determine exactly what happened early that morning.