LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A Louisville judge’s 2015 finding that a Metro Police Officer provided "false" testimony during a drunk driving case was “wholly unsupported,” according to a ruling Friday by the Kentucky Court of Appeals.
In a July 31, 2015 ruling, Jefferson District Court Judge Stephanie Burke wrote that Officer Jeff Eberenz's "false" testimony about whether his radar gun was properly certified was "extremely troublesome," and she ruled the traffic stop was not proper, effectively throwing out all evidence in a DUI case.
A Louisville Metro Police internal investigation has already cleared Eberenz of any wrongdoing, but accusations of untruthfulness -- especially from a judge -- can heavily damage an officer's career because their credibility could become an issue in every court case.
In an appeal by prosecutors, Jefferson Circuit Court Judge James Shake had agreed with Burke’s finding that Eberenz' testimony regarding his radar and observations about the driver's actions were incorrect.
But while there was "clearly some initial confusion” regarding Eberenz’s testimony about his radar gun, the higher appellate court ruled he was not intentionally dishonest and did not lie under oath. The appeals court ruled the traffic stop was proper and sent the case back to circuit court, finding prosecutors had enough evidence for the case to continue.
"…Officer Eberenz’s testimony was neither intended to be nor was misleading or erroneous," according to the ruling.
Over the last two years, LMPD and prosecutors vigorously fought the allegation, repeatedly coming to Eberenz' defense and criticizing Burke.
“I am heartened that my office could help Louisville Metro Police Officer Jeff Eberenz clear his name and receive the justice he deserves," County Attorney Mike O'Connell said in a statement. "Officer Eberenz, like so many others in law enforcement, serves our community with honor."
In a press-conference on Monday, Eberenz said the ordeal has been difficult for him and his family. Eberenz said the issue would come up during his testimony in other cases, causing him to have to continually defend himself against the accusations.
"It's been extremely frustrating the last few years," he said. "I'm extremely happy the record has been set straight."
Burke declined to comment, saying the DUI case may come back before her.
But O'Connell said he would ask that Burke be recused from handling the DUI case, calling her previous ruling a "malicious attack" on Eberenz' character.
"It was such a travesty," he said.
Burke's ruling stems from a Jan. 21, 2015, court hearing to determine whether Eberenz had probable cause to stop Justin Wagner for speeding -- which led to the DUI charge. Eberenz testified that he had properly certified his radar gun and maintained it each shift.
However, in May of that year, maintenance records for the radar gun showed that it had not been properly certified since April 2011, nearly three years before Eberenz stopped Wagner.
"It is almost without question that Officer Eberenz knew his statements were false," Burke wrote in July 2015. "It would be difficult to imagine that Officer Eberenz would be unfamiliar with the maintenance history of the machine which he relies upon on a regular, if not daily basis, particularly when he was so emphatic in his testimony to the contrary."
However, the court of appeals noted that Eberenz testified "he could not recall the exact date on the certificate of calibration for his privately-owned radar unit, giving clear indication that he was not attempting to hold himself out as performing calibrations on his radar unit."
The appeals court found Burke acted “erroneously” and Shake “erred” in adopting the “District Court’s flawed factual determinations and resulting analysis.”
Attorney Steve Romines, who represents Wagner, said he will appeal the ruling.
Eberenz "specifically testified that the machine had been calibrated," Romines said in a statement. "It had not been calibrated in over 3 years. The judge who heard him testify and reviewed the calibration records determined that he testified falsely. Because he did. The circuit judge who heard the county's writ found he testified falsely. Because he did. Now two judges on court of appeals found that even though Eberenz gave misleading testimony, he didn't really "intend" to testify falsely, so all is forgiven. We'll keep fighting."
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