By KATRIANNA RAY
Capital News Service
LANSING — All 203 Datamaster breathalyzers investigated for documentation problems have been reinstated nearly a month after they were removed from law enforcement agencies across the state.
The State Police, which is conducting an investigation of the company that provides the machines, had pulled them from service and tested them in-house.
The investigation that began in January is ongoing and there is potential civil litigation against the vendor, according to Shanon Banner, the manager of the State Police’s public affairs section.
The recertification of the machines was a quick and simple process, according to Tecumseh Police Chief Brett Coker.
Coker said his department took its breathalyzer out of service after receiving notice of the problems. It returned to service “after just a few hours after certification by the State Police,” Coker said.
Concerns arose after the State Police detected problems with documentation by employees of the company that supplies the Datamaster machines.
The state pays the company, Intoximeters Inc., over $1.2 million a year to certify and service the breathalyzers, according to a 2018 contract with the State Police.
“The correct operation of the Datamaster instrument is verified regularly by technicians employed by the sheriff’s office,” Montcalm County Undersheriff Andy Doezema said. “These verification tests were never in question.
“After the questions came to light about the vendor’s records, the State Police performed their own verification test on our Datamaster machine,” Doezema said. “The test showed that the machine is operating correctly.
“I have every confidence, based on our own tests and the recent State Police test, that our Datamaster operates within tolerances, and always has,” he said.
Intoximeter employees have been accused of falsifying records about their inspection work with the breathalyzers.
In January, State Police Director Joe Gasper told the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee that one drunken driving case in Montcalm County was dismissed and six Detroit cases had key breath test evidence excluded.
An operating while intoxicated case was dropped in August in Montcalm County due to testing discrepancies. A technician signed the maintenance log for the breathalyzer without notifying the county jail and didn’t submit any paperwork, according to the State Police, calling into question the legitimacy of the technician’s paperwork.
“None of the [Montcalm County] Sheriff’s Office’s cases were affected,” Doezema said. “By their quick action and forthright communication, the State Police was able to minimize the number of affected cases.”
When the machines were down early in the investigation, the State Police recommended that law enforcement agencies use blood tests instead.
The accuracy of the two are similar, according to Dennis Simpson of the Specialty Program in Alcohol and Drug Abuse at Western Michigan University.
“The breath alcohol level and blood alcohol levels are two different things,” Simpson said. “They are not usually the exact same results. The accuracy depends on the person. When you have a blood test, the amount of alcohol being measured in the blood is usually accurate.”
From a person’s weight to the amount of iron in his or her blood, that ratio can differ from person to person and can affect results, Simpson said.
Doezema said it takes longer to get blood test results.
“The switch to blood tests created a burden on the lab and resulted in slower adjudication of court cases,” he said. “However, the accuracy of blood tests is excellent and the outcome will be just in the cases for which blood tests were obtained.”
He continued, “Additionally, breath tests only detect alcohol. Blood can be tested for a host of other intoxicants.”
Even though certifications of the machines are completed, uncertainty lingers.
Simpson said the employees who caused the problem work for Intoximeter. That casts doubt in some minds about the integrity of other Intoximeter employees.
“The instrument is made by Intoximeter. What makes anyone think that anything else is not done correctly? That question has not yet been answered,” he said.
And Doezema said, “Although the vendor failed to meet our expectations, this episode illustrates how the system is supposed to work. Through effective oversight, the State Police noticed and corrected a failure of the vendor before that failure resulted in a miscarriage of justice.”