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Published: Wednesday, 1/17/2007

Pitts eyes court challenge of his drunken-driving test

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The Rev. Michael Pitts attends the hearing with his attorney, Stephen Hartman, right. The Rev. Michael Pitts attends the hearing with his attorney, Stephen Hartman, right.
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The Rev. Michael Pitts might file a motion to suppress evidence in the drunken-driving case against him, his attorney said.

Mr. Pitts, 42, senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Maumee, appeared yesterday in Maumee Municipal Court for a pretrial hearing, stemming from a charge of operating a vehicle while intoxicated filed against him Dec. 6.

Judge Gary Byers scheduled an evidence-suppression hearing for Feb. 20. Mr. Pitts' occupational driving privileges were also restored, pending proof of insurance and completion of proper paperwork.

The minister's attorney, Stephen Hartman, said his client might challenge the legality of the stop and search conducted by the Ohio Highway Patrol as well as the validity of the urine test given to measure Mr. Pitts' sobriety when he was arrested.

Mr. Hartman said he is conducting research to confirm whether police have the right to stop someone's vehicle when it appears the driver isn't doing anything wrong in order to check for safety violations.

Lt. Robin Schmutz, commander of the patrol's Toledo post, said last month that Mr. Pitts was stopped randomly at 3:54 p.m. Dec. 6 on U.S. 20A by a trooper who was pulling over motorists for routine vehicle inspections.

During the stop, the trooper suspected Mr. Pitts was impaired and put him through a field sobriety test.

The trooper arrested Mr. Pitts and took him to the Toledo post, where a urine sample was taken after a Breathalyzer malfunctioned.

It was determined that Mr. Pitts had a concentration of 0.13 of one gram by weight of alcohol per 100 milliliters of urine, which is more than the legal limit of a 0.11 concentration.

Mr. Hartman said he is exploring whether to ask that the results of the test not be admissible in court.

"Tests on urine are inherently inaccurate for measuring what is going on in the body," Mr. Hartman said.

When a reporter told Mr. Hartman that challenging the urine test would be a challenge of state law, he said: "Yes, it is. [Mr. Pitts] is considering how he wants to handle that."

Mr. Hartman said if his client chooses to file a motion to suppress evidence, it must be filed by Feb. 1.

Mr. Pitts declined to comment on the case, but the pastor was friendly with other people present in court yesterday.

Two men sitting next to Mr. Pitts recognized him and asked him who he was, and the three engaged in conversation for over 20 minutes.

One of the men, who was in court facing several charges, disclosed to the pastor why he was in the courtroom.

Switching from defendant to counselor and preacher, Mr. Pitts replied, "You know, you don't get through life without taking a few little bumps."

Mr. Pitts, pastor of the 3,000-member church on Reynolds Road and bishop of a network of 25 other churches in the United States and Mexico, has been in trouble for a similar offense before.

He was arrested by Toledo police for driving under the influence in 2000. Mr. Pitts pleaded no contest and was found guilty of driving while intoxicated.

Contact Joe Vardon at:

jvardon@theblade.com

or 419-410-5055.



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