The Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office has dismissed the driving under the influence case against Tony Denunzio, though it planned to retry him after the first trial resulted in a hung jury.
Denunzio, of Santa Barbara, was arrested in October 2011 in a traffic stop that was caught on video in the arresting officer’s patrol car.
The Santa Maria Superior Court jury was deadlocked in the DUI trial in March, and defense attorney Darryl Genis successfully argued to get the second count — driving with a blood-alcohol level of .08 or higher — thrown out.
Denunzio was later found guilty on the remaining charge of driving with a suspended license, which was separated from the DUI case and was related to past DUI convictions.
Since Judge James Rigali “ruled that evidence that Mr. Denunzio’s blood alcohol content of .09 percent at the time his blood was drawn was irrelevant to a determination of whether he was driving under the influence of alcohol, this office has determined that we have insufficient admissible evidence to retry this case,” District Attorney Joyce Dudley wrote.“A Department of Justice expert testified in the first trial that Denunzio’s BAC was 0.09 percent at the time of his blood draw after his arrest.”
That evidence was the basis for any opinion that Denunzio was driving under the influence, and without it, the prosecutors cannot prove the charge without a reasonable doubt, according to her statement.
“This office will continue to work with our esteemed colleagues in law enforcement to support public safety, uphold the law, and prosecute offenses whenever we have admissible evidence that we can present to a jury which we believe proves each charge to the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt,” chief trial deputy Kelly Scott said.
After the trial, Dudley said her office would retry Denunzio “given the present state of evidence in this case.”
“Although members of our community disagree regarding the events that occurred during the arrest of Mr. Denunzio — some believing he unlawfully resisted arrest, while others believing he was the victim of excessive force — that issue, although significant in its own right, does not control the issue of whether Mr. Denunzio was driving under the influence,” Dudley said. “Clearly, the crime of driving under the influence can destroy lives and those who do drive under the influence should be held accountable.”
In a statement released Thursday, Genis accused prosecutors, during the trial, of using a state Department of Justice witness “to mislead a jury with junk science and academically dishonest testimony” about Denunzio’s blood-alcohol content the night he was arrested.
He also assailed Dudley for what he called her “waste of tax dollars on continued prosecution.”
Denunzio was pulled over in October 2011 by Santa Barbara police Officer Aaron Tudor on suspicion of DUI after allegedly changing lanes without signaling on Las Positas. He has been spotted earlier leaving Arroyo Burro Beach, where he had a cocktail at the Boathouse Restaurant.
Statements released by the police said Tudor couldn’t get Denunzio to get on the ground and put his arms behind his back to be handcuffed and was resisting arrest, so the contact escalated from a hand on the arm to a trip, hand and knee strikes, and using a Taser multiple times.
Some of the confrontation was captured by a dashboard video camera in Tudor’s patrol car.
Tudor and police officials say Denunzio was resisting arrest, while Denunzio and a number of eyewitnesses say he was not resisting, and have alleged that Tudor used excessive force.
An investigation by the District Attorney’s Office did not find sufficient admissible evidence to file either resisting-arrest charges against Denunzio or excessive-force charges against Tudor.
An internal investigation was initiated against Tudor, although Police Chief Cam Sanchez has said his officer did nothing wrong.
“The citizens of Santa Barbara must demand to know how much more than a half a million dollars will their DA spend to protect corrupt and violent members of law enforcement,” Genis said in his statement. “If Aaron Tudor had beat a dog the way he beat Mr. Denunzio, he might just now 18 monts later be getting out of prison on parole.”