A video shows Mesa City Councilman Ryan Winkle and his wife, Ericka Varela, after they were pulled over by Tempe police May 7, 2017 on suspicion of DUI. The Tempe Police Department blurred this video before releasing it. Hannah Gaber/azcentral.com
Prior to Mesa Councilman Ryan Winkle’s arrest on suspicion of DUI, the first-time councilman struggled to perform basic sobriety tests and his wife asked officers for special treatment, according to Tempe police body-camera footage.
Winkle, 38, was arrested early Sunday morning. He and his wife were driving back to their west Mesa home after an event hosted by the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce at the Arizona Grand Hotel when an officer pulled them over.
In body-camera video released Thursday, a Tempe police officer explained to Winkle that he watched him nearly hit three pedestrians who were crossing the street near Baseline and Kyrene roads.
Winkle blamed his poor driving on an argument he was having with his wife.
“You know how couples yell at each other,” Winkle told an officer, his speech slurred.
Winkle denied drinking throughout his encounter with police, at one point responding “yes,” when an officer asked if he thought he should have been driving his vehicle.
Winkle was cooperative with officers but struggled to comprehend and complete three field sobriety tests.
When an officer asked Winkle to follow a light with his eyes, he was unable to.
“I can see that your eyes aren’t tracking with the light right now. Are you looking at the light?” the officer asked Winkle.
“Yes, I am,” Winkle responded.
The officer then asked Winkle to walk in a straight, imaginary line. Winkle told the officer he was “confused by the directions.”
For the final test, the officer asked Winkle to balance one of his legs six inches above the ground. When he was unable to complete the task for more than about 10 seconds, the officer placed him under arrest.
According to the police report, Winkle declined a breath test but later allowed officers to take his blood. Results from that test are not yet available.
Wife protests husband’s arrest
While Winkle performed the sobriety tests, his wife, Ericka Varela, pleaded with officers to let the couple go and several times mentioned Winkle’s political support for public-safety workers.
“You guys are literally arresting and towing (the car of) the only City Council person who is supporting you guys and the union? Like, seriously?” Varela said.
She told officers Winkle was “the only Democrat guy” on the Mesa City Council and that his arrest would be damaging to his political career.
“You guys know how hard it is to, like, get any kind of Democrats in Mesa?” she said. “You know what I mean?”
She acknowledged that Winkle was “obviously intoxicated,” but recounted Winkle’s history of support for police and fire unions. She said her husband probably wouldn’t tell the officers about his politics because “he doesn’t think he should.”
“He didn’t say anything to me at all,” the officer told Varela.
When Varela continued to protest her husband’s arrest, an officer told her he was just doing his job.
“That’s fine. Whatever. But (Winkle) is the only guy who is putting his -ss on the fire for all of you guys,” she said.
In a statement to The Arizona Republic Thursday, Varela said, “In the recently released information on my conversation with the Tempe Police during the event of Saturday night/Sunday morning, I made some statements to the officers that I should not have made.
“I was trying to be a protective wife and instead put the officers in an awkward position as they discharged their sworn duties as well as my husband. I deeply regret my comments and apologize to the officers and to my husband for making them.”
Previous extreme DUI conviction
Arizona has some of the toughest DUI laws in the U.S. Learn about the laws and how to steer clear of the penalties.
Winkle served 45 days in jail in 2009 after pleading guilty to an extreme DUI charge, according to Scottsdale court records. He also paid nearly $7,000 in fines and fees.
According to a December 2008 police report, an officer observed Winkle drive recklessly and nearly cause a collision near Scottsdale and Indian School roads
His blood-alcohol level was 0.23 percent — nearly three times the legal limit, according to the report.
If convicted of the latest DUI charge, Winkle could spend up to four months in jail.
At least a half-dozen Mesa residents sent emails to the Mesa mayor and City Council calling on Winkle to resign his post, according to public records.
The city of Mesa declined comment on Winkle’s arrest and the calls for his resignation. Winkle did not respond to questions about constituent demands for him to resign.
He previously gave this statement: “During a traffic stop early Sunday morning in Tempe, I was processed and cited for Driving Under the Influence. I understand that this is a very serious matter, and I am cooperating fully with the Tempe Police Department in every way possible.
“Since this is an ongoing legal matter, I will not be making any further statements at this time.”
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