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Coming clean on 'dirty DUIs' in Contra Costa County

A whistle-blower tells how a private detective arranged for men to be arrested for drunk driving at the behest of their ex-wives and their lawyers — and that entrapment using decoys was only one of many alleged misdeeds.

October 16, 2011|By Maura Dolan, Los Angeles Times
  • David Dutcher says his 2008 arrest on suspicion of drunk driving was a setup orchestrated by a private detective who is the subject of a state and federal criminal investigation.
David Dutcher says his 2008 arrest on suspicion of drunk driving was a setup… (Michael Macor, The Chronicle )

Reporting from Martinez, Calif. — David Dutcher met Sharon on Match.com in late 2008, a few months after separating from his wife. "We had a lot in common," he recalled. Sharon loved four-wheel-drive trucks and sports.

They met for coffee, then dinner. Sharon was tall, slender, blond and beautiful. She moaned that she had not had sex in a long time. She told him he had large, strong hands and wondered if that portended other things. She described his kisses as "yummy."

"It felt a lot like Christmas," said Dutcher, 49, a tall, burly engineer with wavy red hair.

On their second date, Sharon suggested they join one of her friends "who was partying because she had closed a real estate deal," Dutcher said. They drove to an Italian restaurant in a suburb near San Francisco. Sharon's friend, "Tash," was a loud and raucous brunet who was pounding down shots.

The women fiddled with Dutcher's tie and massaged his neck and shoulders. The brunet unbuttoned her blouse to reveal generous cleavage. "I am way over my head with these girls," he remembered thinking. "I hadn't been out dating in a while."

Sharon had trouble finishing her tequila shots and asked Dutcher to help, he said. When the women went to the bathroom, two men at the other end of the bar peppered Dutcher with questions.

"Are you a celebrity?" they wanted to know.

The women suggested going to a house with a hot tub that Tash was housesitting, Dutcher said. He followed them in his truck. Within a few minutes, a flashing red light appeared in his rearview mirror. The officer said he had been swerving.

Three months later, Dutcher's wife filed a motion in their divorce case, telling the court that her soon-to-be former husband had been arrested on suspicion of drunk driving and that she feared for their children's safety. The judge ordered that Dutcher's visits be supervised.

Then, earlier this year, Dutcher received a letter from Contra Costa County Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Harold W. Jewett. It contained a transcript of a police interview with Christopher Butler, a private detective and the subject of a state and federal criminal investigation.

"I hope in some small way this information will help you recoup both rights and dignities lost in one of the most deplorable legal practices I have ever heard of," Jewett wrote.

::

Dutcher had been duped.

The women who'd ogled him worked for Butler's detective agency. Sharon, who told Dutcher she was a divorcee employed by an investment firm, actually was a former Las Vegas showgirl.

A man who once worked for Butler had blown the whistle. He told authorities Butler arranged for men to be arrested for drunk driving at the behest of their ex-wives and their divorce lawyers — and that entrapment was only one of many alleged misdeeds.

Butler, 49, a former police officer, was arrested in February. In addition to setting up at least five DUIs, he sold drugs for law enforcement officers and helped them open and operate a brothel, collecting and delivering the profits, according to prosecutors and a statement Butler gave them after his arrest.

In the March 15 statement obtained by The Times, Butler said his accomplices reasoned that they could shield their illegal businesses because any complaints would be investigated by a state-run narcotics task force, which one of the officers headed.

The alleged crimes implicated three different law enforcement agencies — the San Ramon and Danville police departments and the narcotics task force — and took place in Contra Costa County, a collection of mostly middle-class communities that stretch from the East Bay shoreline opposite San Francisco to upscale suburbs inland.

Jewett called the scandal a "sordid drama" that overwhelmed the resources of the county and raised potential conflicts for police departments being asked to investigate their own.

In May, the FBI took over the probe, interviewing Dutcher and other ex-husbands arrested on suspicion of drunk driving. A federal grand jury indicted Butler and two of the officers in August and September. The charges included drug dealing, running a prostitution business and illegal possession of a weapon.

More indictments are expected. A third officer, implicated by Butler in the DUIs, faces state charges of accepting bribes to make arrests.

Stunned prosecutors combed through pending criminal cases and eventually dismissed charges in at least 20 DUI and vice crimes, tainted by the involvement of the accused officers. Two of them had once worked with Butler on the police force of the East Bay city of Antioch.

Butler also apparently hoodwinked reporters. His agency received national attention for employing gumshoe "housewives" who juggled soccer games with undercover spying. People magazine and Dr. Phil did stories. An East Bay magazine reporter who went on a ride-along with Butler later discovered that everything he had witnessed had been staged.

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