In the wake of his arrest this spring for DUI, Baldwin County Commissioner Chris Elliott issued a press release claiming to have been leaving the Fairhope Rotary Steak Cook-off when he was pulled over, and promising to “face the consequences” for his decisions. However, both of those statements appear to be in question.
As Lagniappe reported two weeks ago, despite indicating a willingness to suffer the consequences of refusing a breathalyzer exam after running a flashing red light shortly after midnight May 14, Elliott has sued and won a stay against the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency that prevented his license from being suspended as required by law. But now whether Elliott’s version of events that evening are true is also is question.
Elliott’s initial statement to media following his arrest was very specific as to the chain of events.
“After leaving the Fairhope Rotary Steak Cook-off on Friday evening, I inadvertently ran a flashing red traffic light near the event in downtown Fairhope. I was quickly stopped by Fairhope police and issued a citation for running a flashing red signal. Since alcohol was served at the event, I was also questioned about drinking while at the Steak Cook-off. On the advice of counsel, I declined the breathalyzer requested which automatically resulted in the issuance of a citation for driving under the influence of alcohol,” Elliott’s statement read.
The only problem with Elliott’s description of events is the cook-off ended two hours before he was arrested. Following publication of the article two weeks ago which revealed that Elliott managed to keep from having his license suspended in June by successfully arguing that losing his ability to drive would do “irreparable harm” to his position as an elected official, Lagniappe received anonymous tips that Elliott had actually been at a Fairhope bar following the cook-off and prior to his arrest. Lagniappe also located social media posts from the time in which Elliott’s version of events was publicly called into question.
While anonymous tips and social media rumblings certainly wouldn’t pass for proof the commissioner’s version of events was untrue, looking into the night’s timeline did raise questions.
Fairhope Rotary Club Executive Secretary Susan Barnhill confirmed via email that the event officially ran from 7-10 p.m. and that alcohol was cut off at 9:30 p.m., although she added that sometimes cleanup can take until nearly midnight. Asked twice if Elliott had perhaps been onsite cleaning, Barnhill did not respond. But multiple members of the club who participated in the cook-off have told Lagniappe cleanup was done by 10:30 and that Elliott is not a member of the Rotary Club anyway.
Asked if Elliott was standing by his story and, if so, why he was pulled over two hours after the cook-off ended, his attorney Rob Stankoski said the commissioner is sticking to his original statement as his only statement, but did not offer an explanation for the time discrepancy or specifically deny Elliott had been somewhere else in the hours between the cook-off and his arrest.
“The only public account provided by Mr. Elliott was his press release explaining the circumstances of his arrest, apologizing, and acknowledging he would be facing the consequences of his actions,” Stankoski wrote. “Mr. Elliott is facing the consequences of his actions and will not address any of the facts in the past. He does stand by his press release, and looks forward to moving forward and serving his constituents.”
Questioned as to exactly what consequences Elliott would face if he is successful in his legal efforts to avoid license suspension and beat the DUI charge, Stankoski did not respond. Baldwin County Circuit Court Judge Lang Floyd already awarded Elliott a stay from having his license suspended, and the commissioner will be free to continue driving until at least early January when Floyd set a DUI hearing.
According to court records, Elliott should have lost his license for 90 days beginning June 28. State law requires a 90-day suspension of driving privileges for anyone who refuses a breathalyzer exam, but the commissioner could be hit with an additional 45-day suspension after being convicted of DUI in court, according to state law. There is also the possibility of having two years of Ignition Interlock installed on his car that carries a fee of about $1,100 annually.
And Alabama does not have a hardship driver’s license that would allow for only work-related driving.
On July 1, Stankoski filed suit against ALEA on Elliott’s behalf arguing the agency did not inform his client of the results of a June 22 administrative hearing prior to the date Elliott’s license would be suspended. Stankoski also argued in the suit that losing his license for 90 days would do tremendous harm to the commissioner.
“Additionally, the Petitioner will suffer irreparable harm and damage by the suspension of his driving privileges. He will be unable to work and serve in his elected capacity as a Baldwin County Commissioner. Unless the Court enters an Order directing that the Agency reinstate the Petitioner’s driver’s license, the Petitioner will suffer the aforementioned harm and damage,” the suit reads.
Elliott was in a privately owned vehicle when he was arrested.
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