Judge Jason Walker said Tuesday that he struggled with a decision on how to sentence Sun Valley Assistant Police Chief Michael Crawford for a misdemeanor DUI conviction, noting that as a police officer, Crawford should be held to a higher standard than the average citizen. However, in the end, Walker concluded that Crawford’s sentence should be the same as for any citizen who has no prior criminal record, has recognized the wrongness of his action and has taken steps to remediate an alcohol problem.
Following a lengthy discussion on the subject, Walker finally gave Crawford a withheld judgment, a court provision that could allow the conviction to be removed from his criminal record.
Sentence was pronounced Tuesday in Blaine County Magistrate Court, following Crawford’s plea of guilty to the crime. The guilty plea allowed both sides to avert a jury trial that had been scheduled to start before Walker that morning.
Walker, who normally presides in Camas County but frequently helps handle the larger magistrate court caseload in Blaine County, was assigned to the Crawford case after Judge R. Ted Israel disqualified himself because of frequent past associations with the Sun Valley assistant police chief.
“You are a public figure and what you do is going to be observed in the community,” Walker told Crawford. “One of my fears in granting you a withheld judgment is the public might perceive I’m treating you differently. Giving you a withheld judgment might depreciate the seriousness of the crime.”
But Walker granted the withheld judgment anyway. The withheld judgment is dependent upon Crawford’s successful completion of probation, which was ordered to last 18 months.
No jail time was imposed, though Walker ordered Crawford to spend 40 hours in community service on “DUI prevention activities.” He fined Crawford $600 and suspended his driver’s license for 120 days, with the first 30 days, effective Tuesday, to be an absolute ban on driving. Following the 30-day period, Crawford will be allowed only to drive to and from work and to drive while at work.
The DUI case against Crawford started the evening of Aug. 11 when Hailey police say he backed his pickup three times into a parked vehicle on Main Street in downtown Hailey. Hailey Patrolman Jeremiah Jones observed the accident and initiated field sobriety tests. He reported that Crawford failed the tests. Crawford was issued a citation for misdemeanor DUI when he registered about .18 in a blood-alcohol test. The legal blood-alcohol limit for driving in Idaho is .08.
Crawford initially fought against the conviction but acknowledged in court Tuesday that he was intoxicated when the accident occurred.
“I just want to say that I accept complete responsibility and the consequences of the poor decision I made that evening,” he said. “I don’t have the ability to change that, but I do have the ability to change what I do in the future.”
Crawford has served with the Sun Valley Police Department since 1991 and has been assistant police chief for 10 years.
He remains assistant police chief, “at least for now,” Crawford said in a brief interview after sentencing.
Ketchum attorney Brian Elkins, representing Crawford, told the court prior to sentencing that his client deserves a second chance.
“This case has weighed on me personally,” Elkins told the court. “I’ve known Mike for a long time. I didn’t get much sleep last night.
“He wishes in hindsight that he had pleaded guilty earlier. This case did go on for a long time.
“People have come up to me on the street and said, ‘Too bad for Mike Crawford; he’s such a nice guy.’ And yes, he is a nice guy and he’s here now to get this settled and put it behind him.
“Michael’s done well in his life. He’s a solid person. People like him. He’s a good cop. Michael as a police officer is held to a higher standard and he is holding himself to a higher standard by being here today.”
Hailey Police Chief Jeff Gunter said in an interview later Tuesday that he’s glad the case is over.
“I’ve known Mike for 25 years-plus and I wish him nothing but the best in the future,” Gunter said.
Terry Smith: email@example.com