Former Oxford Township officer's drunk driving case reveals Middletown OVI charges often reduced

MIDDLETOWN, Ohio – A Middletown prosecutor said Thursday she didn't do anything out of the ordinary when she reduced drunk driving charges facing a former Oxford Township police officer who admitted he had been drinking when he was pulled over last weekend.  

Ashley Bretland agreed to lower the operating a vehicle under the influence (OVI) charge facing 30-year-old Joseph Suttles to reckless operation —and a judge signed off on her recommendation to give him his license back—despite the fact that the former police officer refused to take a Breathalyzer test. 

Bretland said she made her decision to reduce Suttles’ charge not because he was a cop, but because he hadn’t been pulled over for driving drunk before. It's a decision she said she often makes.

“With no priors and no egregious circumstances, I didn’t do anything differently on this case than I would on any similar case. There was no consideration that he was a police officer. He didn’t get preferential treatment,” Bretland said.

In Ohio, an OVI charge is a first-degree misdemeanor that occurs when someone is driving with a blood alcohol content over the legal limit of .08 percent. A reckless operation charge is a minor misdemeanor and does not carry the same mandatory penalties as an OVI charge, like jail time or a driver's license suspension.

Bretland said she commonly reduces drunk driving charges to reckless operation when a person is pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving for the first time—a philosophy that she declined to discuss.

She said she makes her decision on a case-by-case basis, but always considers the blood alcohol content level in each circumstance.

But in the Suttles' case there was no record of his blood alcohol content level because he refused to take the Breathalyzer test.

Bretland would not comment on the factors she considered when reducing Suttles charge, other than the fact that he had no prior offenses. 

Trenton police officer Steven Helton arrested Suttles Saturday after Suttles tried to avoid being pulled over near West Roger Road, according to the police report. The officer spotted Suttles’ vehicle because it was missing a light near the license plate. Helton followed the car.

The report details the arrest:

Once pulled over, Suttles got out and had to steady himself on his car.

“While dealing with the driver, I observed the strong odor of an intoxicating beverage coming from his person. The driver…had bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and advised me that he was coming from Mutts Brewery Lounge,” Helton wrote.

Suttles was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving and taken to Middletown Jail, where he was released without bond. 

While jailed, Suttles refused again to take a Breathalyzer test. He also refused to sign Helton's OVI ticket.

Under Ohio law, a driver's license is automatically suspended for a year when a driver refuses to submit to tests that indicate blood-alcohol level. The law states that if a first-time offender fails the test, they’ll lose their right to drive anywhere for a minimum of 90 days, spend between three days and six months in jail, and must pay a minimum of $250 in fines.

But Suttles, who pled guilty to the reduced charge and resigned from the police department on Monday, only lost his license for about two days.

And his 30-day jail sentence was also suspended.

“He’s paying a $250 fine, he’s going to an alcohol intervention program and he’s going to be locked up over a weekend. How is suspending his license going to do anything else?” said Mark Wall, the Middletown judge who heard Suttles’ case in court.

WCPO Insiders can read what else the judge had to say about his decision in the case.