A Baton Rouge police officer falsely claimed he was not “DWI certified” when asked why he failed to investigate a man for possibly driving drunk and causing a crash, the department said Monday.
“Our records indicate he is certified,” a department spokesman said.
The officer, Zachary Prejean, responded to a relatively minor wreck at 2:19 a.m. this past Memorial Day weekend along Burbank Drive at Lee Drive. The driver of one car had just rear-ended another. Zoe Kurtz, a passenger in the car that was hit, says the driver of the other car begged them for mercy.
“He was begging us, 'Please don’t call the police, please,'” Kurtz, a passenger in the car, recalled. “And we said, ‘Well, are you drunk’ and he said, 'Well, if I was to get breathalyzed right now, I'm above the legal limit, but I can drive.'"
When contacted by 9News by phone, the man who caused the wreck declined to comment on whether he had been drinking that night. The 9News Investigators, through a public records request, obtained a copy of the responding officer’s body camera footage. Baton Rouge Police Officer Zachary Prejean, the responding officer, did not at any point during his exchanges with the parties involved ask if anyone had been drinking, the body cam review revealed. Prejean made everyone at the scene complete a witness form, but told them it would be up to their insurance companies to sort out the rest.
“At this time I'm not putting anyone at fault,” Prejean said. “I'm putting what you said and what you said and letting insurance deal with it.”
After the man who caused the crash completed his witness statement, he told the officer to “have a good night” and then got into his car and drove off. The officer, who apparently did not hear him, saw the man drive off and yelled at him to stop. When the driver did not stop, the officer told the people from the other vehicle that he was going to chase after the man and would be right back. At that point, Kurtz, the passenger in the other vehicle, tells the officer something that suddenly made the relatively minor wreck seem a lot more serious.
“He’s drunk, just letting you know,” Kurtz told the officer about the man who had just left. “That’s fine, I’ll be right back,” Prejean responded.
With his siren now on, Officer Prejean chases after the man and catches up with him few blocks away. “I didn't say you were free yet,” the officer tells him. “I've still got to get your information." The man apologized and agreed to return to the scene of the accident.
A few minutes later, the officer hands the man back his driver’s license and tells him that he is now free to go. After he is gone, the driver of the other vehicle asks the officer why no tickets were issued. The officer told her that his ticket book was empty.
“Normally, I'd have another officer bring me a ticket book, but seeing that nobody is in dire need of medical assistance, I don't feel the need to go that far,” Prejean said. “Besides, we would be waiting a good hour."
Kurtz then told the officer her mother was on the phone and wanted to speak to him. The mother asked him why he did not test the male driver for a DWI.
“I am not DWI certified and all my DWI units are actually tied up at the moment,” he can be heard telling her. “I didn't smell any alcohol on his breath when he talked to me,” the officer said.
The Baton Rouge Police Department said Monday, according to their records, Prejean actually is certified to test drivers suspected of driving while intoxicated. BRPD says Prejean was given a written warning due to the incident.
WAFB is not identifying the male driver who caused the wreck because he was not charged in the incident. There were no serious injuries from the crash.
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