CCN reporter arrested on DUI charge for .06 blood alcohol level
August 21, 2013
By JOSH FRIEDMAN and DANIEL BLACKBURN
CalCoastNews reporter and co-founder Karen Velie was taken into custody on Aug. 13 after a San Luis Obispo police officer arrested her on suspicion of driving under the influence. Officer Josh Walsh placed Velie under arrest after her blood alcohol test showed a .06. California’s drunk driving laws require an arrest if a driver has a .08 alcohol level.
The arrest comes during CalCoastNews investigations into activities at CAPSLO, the county’s nonprofit that serves homeless persons as well as wrongdoing over the handling of hazardous wastes.
Walsh said at the time of the arrest that he would have arrested her even if she had a blood alcohol level of as little as .01, Velie said. California law prohibits driving while intoxicated no matter what the blood alcohol level.
At the time of the arrest, Velie had just finished teaching a bridge class at a San Luis Obispo restaurant.
Twenty-four people attended the class, several of whom saw Velie minutes before the traffic stop. After the arrest, Velie spoke to the majority of the class members, all of whom said she was clearly not intoxicated.
“I only saw her have one glass of wine and she looked fine,” said San Luis Obispo attorney Stew Jenkins. “She did not appear to be under the influence at all.”
Medical doctor Gary Foresman agreed.
“I witnessed her. She was coherent,” Foresman said. “She was teaching bridge to myself and my wife and she was unequivocally not drunk when I left that night.”
Foresman left the restaurant shortly before Velie did.
Former San Luis Obispo police officer Mike Brennler said the arrest of Velie was out of the ordinary.
“In my 33-year law enforcement career, the standard procedure was to release someone who submitted to a breath test that demonstrated they were under the state limit,” Brennler said.
“Bookings in such misdemeanor cases were very rare.”
The arrest and its aftermath appeared to be directly connected to the news agency’s recent reporting on county homeless issues. It came following a months-long series of articles by CalCoastNews detailing activities of Dee Torres, CAPSLO homeless services director. Torres is the fiancé of County Supervisor Adam Hill.
Since the arrest, CalCoastNews opponents have used the alleged DUI as the focal point of a smear campaign targeting CalCoastNews and its advertisers.
Hill sent text messages to CalCoastNews advertisers Tuesday morning informing them of Velie’s arrest.
The text message and email campaign targeting advertisers followed directly in the wake of CalCoastNews reporting on a slander suit filed by Torres against Brennler, who is represented by Jenkins.
CalCoastNews reported on Aug. 19 that Brennler had challenged a sworn statement that Torres filed in her suit. Torres was not truthful in her statement, Brennler said. A hearing on a motion to dismiss the suit is scheduled for Thursday morning.
CalCoastNews also recently published text messages sent by Hill to a key witness in the case, in which the supervisor attempted to get the witness to change his story. That story, which appeared on Aug. 16 showed exchanges between Hill and Ralph Almirol, a former boyfriend of Torres. In the texts, Hill tried to get Almirol to withdraw his statement that he and Torres used gift cards that were intended for the homeless for themselves.