WASHINGTON – District of Columbia Council member and former Mayor Marion Barry was acquitted Wednesday on charges of drunken driving and other related offenses stemming from his arrest last year near the White House.
Barry, 71, was charged with driving under the influence, operating a vehicle while impaired, driving an unregistered vehicle and misuse of temporary tags. Secret Service agents who stopped Barry's car early on Sept. 10, 2006, said he stopped at a green light and drove through a red one. The agents testified that Barry smelled of alcohol, was stumbling and had red eyes and slurred speech.
In deciding the case, D.C. Superior Court Magistrate Judge Richard Ringell said he could not find beyond a reasonable doubt that Barry was intoxicated. He noted a breathalyzer test conducted by the Secret Service registered a blood-alcohol content of .02, well below the legal limit of .08.
Barry signed autographs and shook hands with supporters as he left the courthouse.
"First of all, let me thank God for this decision," Barry said. "I wasn't doing anything illegal, anything improper, anything wrong."
Barry, who served six months in prison after he was videotaped smoking crack in a 1990 FBI sting during his third term as mayor, testified in his own defense Wednesday.
"I had only one glass of wine, and there weren't chemicals in my body," he told the judge. He said he was taking at least five medications for his diabetes, high blood pressure and knee problems. "I don't think I was impaired or under the influence."
Barry said he tries not to drink at all during his recovery from substance abuse. But he said was having a celebratory drink that night with a state senator from Oklahoma after learning he would receive an award from the Congressional Black Caucus. Barry would not name the state seantor, a woman who was with him in the car when he was arrested.
Barry said he didn't want to speculate on why he was arrested but said there had been efforts over the years "to embarrass me and to break my spirit.
"It won't work," he said.
His attorney, Frederick Cooke, said Barry's stumbling and failure of a field sobriety test were the result of his age and the medications he was taking.
Barry refused a urine test after passing the breath test, and prosecutors argued his refusal implied a consciousness of guilt. Officers suspected Barry was impaired with another drug, in addition to alcohol, said Assistant Attorney General Kara Preissel.
She reminded the judge that Barry testified he had only stopped playing tennis in recent months — after the driving incident.
"Someone who couldn't even walk on the scene is playing tennis during the time period," she said.
Ringell responded, "Ms. Preissel, are you aware of geriatric tennis?"
The judge said all the officers' actions were proper, but their finding of Barry's impairment met a different standard than what he must use in a court of law. He set a trial date of Aug. 22 for Barry in a second incident, in which Barry was charged in December 2006 with driving an unregistered vehicle.