Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2007

Top state delegate charged with DWI

Assistant City Manager Felton, who had also been drinking, gets a ride to police station from city officers

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The state delegate arrested for drunken driving last week called the Gaithersburg assistant city manager he’d spent a couple hours with at a bar for a ride home from the police station.

The senior official in turn asked city police for a ride to the station, angering the city police chief.

Kumar P. Barve, 49, of Gaithersburg was arrested by Gaithersburg City Police just before midnight Thursday, shortly after leaving Growlers, a pub in Olde Towne Gaithersburg where he’d been invited to join Assistant City Manager Fred Felton for drinks following a Maryland Municipal League dinner.

Barve was spotted by a city police officer exiting a parking lot near Growlers through an enter-only lane and was then observed crossing the center line of East Diamond Avenue, according to a police report. He was stopped, administered a series of sobriety field tests and arrested.

Police said Barve made several calls from the county police’s 6th District station.

‘‘I got a call from Kumar and he told me what had happened,” Felton said Monday. ‘‘He told me that he had been pulled over for DWI. He asked if I could come get him, I said, ‘Yes.’”

Felton, who reported having two martinis, said: ‘‘Given Kumar’s predicament, I certainly didn’t think it was a good idea for me to get behind the wheel of a car.” So he called the city police station to find out how long a DWI processing takes and asked to have an officer drive him to the station where Barve was being processed, saying he would bring Barve home in a cab.

An officer did, and city police Chief John A. King is not happy that his department was brought into a personal matter of a top city official. City officers also drove Barve and Felton, who lives a few blocks from the city station, home.

In cases of drunken driving, King said if an offender has been cooperative and lives nearby, it is not uncommon for police to drive the person home. But he was surprised Friday morning to learn that his lean police staff had ferried Felton.

‘‘It’s not an appropriate use of police resources and I’ve taken steps to make sure that it does not happen again,” King said. ‘‘I’ve spoken to the acting city manager about it. This will not happen again.”

Acting City Manager James Arnoult said he agrees Felton’s request was inappropriate. ‘‘His heart was in the right place; he was trying to make sure that a friend got home safely,” he said.

With hindsight, Felton said it was ‘‘probably not” an appropriate request. ‘‘At the time I simply had a friend who was in a bad situation, and I wanted to just get down there and get him home, so in retrospect it was a poor decision.”

Felton has no direct supervisory role over police, although he plays a role in developing city budgets; he also is a candidate for city manager, who determines the city staffing budget.

Barve is the House of Delegates majority leader; he is a Democrat from Gaithersburg representing District 17.

‘‘I don’t care to comment on this,” Barve said Monday, ‘‘and I refer you to my colleague and my attorney, Lu Simmons.”

Luiz R. S. Simmons of Rockville, a Democrat and fellow District 17 delegate, is a lawyer and a member of the House Judiciary Committee. He also declined to comment pending his own investigation.

Barve was charged with driving while intoxicated, driving under the influence, failure to obey a traffic device and failure to drive right of center, according to a police report.

Traffic citations show that Barve received $90 traffic tickets for the lesser two charges, which he may pay or contest. For the DWI and DUI offenses, the majority leader must stand trial.

Early Thursday evening, Barve attended a Maryland Municipal League gathering at the Golden Bull Grand Café in Gaithersburg. The cash-bar event started at 5:30 p.m.

By 9:30 that night, Barve had a seat at the Growlers bar next to Felton.

Others there that night included Sen. Nancy L. King (D-Dist. 39) of Montgomery Village, who sat with a handful of lawmakers from about 10 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., she said. Felton, who had invited the delegates to the Municipal League dinner to support Gaithersburg and Washington Grove, bought them a round of drinks.

‘‘I’m just sad that it happened,” King said of Barve’s arrest. ‘‘When we left the other night, he showed no evidence at all of having had a lot to drink.” She called the situation ‘‘a one-time occurrence” that would not impact Barve’s performance in Annapolis.

‘‘Of the many times that I’ve been with him in Annapolis, I’ve never seen him have more than one or two drinks; that’s just not his style, that I’ve seen,” she said.

After being pulled over Thursday night, Barve told Officer Shane Eastman that he had had two alcoholic drinks and agreed to a series of sobriety tests.

He failed seven out of eight measures in a ‘‘walk-and-turn” assessment, according to a police incident report, including being unable to maintain balance and walk in a straight line, the report said. He also failed four out of four measures in a ‘‘one-leg stand” assessment, the report said.

Barve agreed to a preliminary breath test in the field, which is not admissible in court. He scored a .10, according to the report.

Barve was arrested and taken to the county police station for processing, where he refused to take the court-admissible Breathalyzer test, according to the report.

Eastman said the lawmaker was cooperative.

Barve’s driver’s license was temporarily suspended, confiscated and sent to the Motor Vehicle Administration, according to the police report.

Barve has been majority leader since 2003 and has been a member of the House since January 1991.

He is a member of the influential House Ways and Means Committee and chairs its subcommittee on revenues. In 2003 he championed ‘‘John’s Law,” a stricter drunken-driving law that prohibits a person from driving within 12 hours after being arrested for alcohol or drug-related offenses.