LOCKPORT, N.Y. (WIVB) — The circumstances surrounding the dismissal of a DWI charge for the daughter of a well-known attorney has garnered the interest of the state of New York.
The state said they’re not looking at the judge who last week threw out the DWI charge against Rachel Winter.
However, the state’s investigation is expected to be based heavily on the video taken from the body camera of the arresting Niagara County Sheriff’s deputy.
In the video, a Niagara County Sheriff’s deputy pulls over the then-21-year-old Winter.
She admitted to the deputy that she drank “a few beers” but said she waited long enough before getting behind the wheel.
The deputy asked her to perform several field sobriety tests, on which — according a later cell phone conversation between the deputy and his supervisor, Lt. Steve Broderick — she performed poorly. Broderick says he knows Rachel’s father, Ron Winter “very well.”
Ron Winter is a long-time member of the Niagara County District Attorney’s Office and current law clerk for State Supreme Court Justice Richard Kloch Sr.
Winter refused to take a breathalyzer — well within her rights — and was taken into custody. At that point, there’s typically no turning back.
Rachel Winter was given the opportunity to call her father at the scene — since he’s an attorney — to ask for advice about whether she should submit to a chemical test that would determine whether she was intoxicated.
After informing her father of her arrest, Ron Winter asked to speak directly to the deputy. The body camera video picks up the sound because the cell phone is on speaker.
The father’s request began the usual way: “Do you … do you recognize my name at all?” Winter asks.
The deputy responded that he did not.
Then he was more direct.
“Is there, is there any way to, uh, to, to … not have this happen?” he asked. “Is there anything we can do?”
Winter declined to comment, but later asked, “How is that news?” referring to his request to the deputy.
Rachel Winter was charged with a DWI. But when she and the deputy got back to the sheriff’s office for booking, Lt. Broderick intervened, asking the deputy whether he felt comfortable with downgrading the DWI charge to something less serious. The deputy complied.
Months later, when the body camera video was viewed by the Niagara County District Attorney’s Office, something didn’t add up. They believed there was something more to the arrest and questioned the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office about why the charges fell short of DWI.
The sheriff’s office investigated and determined Broderick improperly intervened, and he was disciplined.
Eventually, Winter was charged again with DWI.
But just last week, Niagara Falls City Court Judge Robert Merino dismissed the DWI charge and issued an apology to Winter. Merino said he agreed with Orleans County District Attorney Joseph Cardone.
Cardone was asked to be a special prosecutor in the case because he worked outside Niagara County. Cardone said Wednesday he didn’t believe what he saw on the body camera video proved Winter was drunk. As a result, he agreed with the request by the defense to dismiss the charge.
Winter instead pleaded guilty to failure to maintain her lane and driving without headlights.
That decision drew harsh criticism from Niagara County Sheriff James Voutour.
“The people in this county expect us to do our job. They don’t expect people to get off because of their connections,” Voutour said. “You look at this, there’s a long history of this going on. We said no today.”
The response has been called political, but Voutour disagrees.
“It has zero to do with politics,” he said. “It has to do with someone who interfered with an arrest, an officer of the court who interfered in an arrest.”