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Lompoc Settles Lawsuit with New Jersey Man Arrested for DUI While Sober

A New Jersey attorney arrested for alleged drunken driving in Santa Barbara despite being sober has received $100,000 and a letter of apology from the City of Lompoc and the police officer as the settlement for a federal lawsuit.

In September 2013, Joseph D. Muskett Jr. of Absecon, N.J., filed a federal lawsuit against Lompoc and Lompoc police Officer David Lamar after being arrested during a DUI and driver’s license checkpoint on the 400 block of Chapala Street in Santa Barbara. The checkpoint reportedly involved officers from multiple jurisdictions.

Returning to a vacation residence after dinner with his wife and three children on Aug. 31, 2012, Muskett encountered the DUI checkpoint where Lamar asked to see his driver’s license.

The officer also inquired whether the driver had consumed alcohol. 

Muskett confirmed he had, so Lamar ordered the driver to park the rented Cadillac and the officer performed field sobriety tests.

The driver asked the officer to administer a preliminary alcohol screening breath test, expecting it would “immediately resolve Lamar’s suspicions,” said Muskett’s attorney, Thomas Beck of Los Alamitos. 

While waiting the required 15-minute observation period because the suspect burped — which can lead to a false reading — the officer administered a field sobriety test that Muskett passed.

Judging from Lamar’s persistence despite the successfully completed sobriety tests, Muskett became suspicious of the officer’s intentions.

“However, as plaintiff spoke to his wife to make arrangements to get her and the children transportation from the scene, Lamar incorrectly assumed Plaintiff was admitting guilt for being under the influence and arrested him,” the lawsuit said.

Musket was handcuffed in the presence of his children, who were emotionally distraught at what was happening to their father, Beck added.

Tests of the attorney’s blood, drawn at the county jail, showed “no measurable alcohol on board” with plaintiff’s results being 0.00 both times.

The lawsuit claimed the officer falsified aspects of his report.

“To justify his seizure of the plaintiff in the absence of probable cause to arrest or reasonable suspicion to detain, Lamar wrote a crime and arrest report in which he falsified his claims of probable cause based on Plaintiff’s alleged objective symptoms, including a preposterous assertion that he tested Mr. Muskett for horizontal gaze nystagmus while seated inside his car. Everyone in the car at that time refutes the claim as well as Lamar's claim Joe's eyes were bloodshot and watery,” Muskett’s attorney said.

Additionally, Muskett contended in the lawsuit that Lamar demonstrated further malice when he prohibited his wife from driving the rental car away from the scene.

The Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office never filed criminal charges against Muskett, his attorney said.

Muskett, who is a corporate counsel for Tropicana Entertainment and former criminal prosecutor in New Jersey’s Atlantic County, hired a defense attorney to obtain a declaration of factual innocence from the Santa Barbara County Superior Court, according to Beck.

The lawsuit specifically claimed violation of civil rights with unreasonable search and seizure, false arrest and imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress and violation of California Civil Rights Act.

The settlement does not include an admission of wrongdoing by Lamar or the city, Muskett's attorney noted.

The city’s attorney for this case did not return a call for comment.

Beck said his client chose to settle the lawsuit after weighing the likely award from a jury plus the cost of a Los Angeles-based trial since Muskett and his witnesses live in New Jersey.

A federal jury trial had been scheduled for July, but both sides entered into the agreement Jan. 22, according to court documents filed the next day. Last week, the court formally dismissed the case.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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