Watching that Prairie Grove police video of Washington County justice of the peace Andrea Jenkins, who was arrested on a charge of driving while intoxicated last week, is heartbreaking for a couple of reasons.
First, Jenkins' interaction with police stemmed from her desire to help her young son, who had been in a traffic accident. Thankfully, it appears the son was uninjured, but called his mom for insurance paperwork officers needed. Jenkins drove to the accident location with the information. Most parents understand entirely a mother's wish to come to the rescue when one of her kids has gone through a traumatic experience. Who can blame Jenkins for wanting to be there?
What’s the point?
Washington County Justice of the Peace Andrea Jenkins should resign after trying to use the power of her office to influence a law enforcement officer not to charge her with driving while intoxicated.
The investigating police officer, however, reported noticing the odor of alcohol on Jenkins, who acknowledged drinking "like two glasses of wine." The police video shows the officer as he put an argumentative Jenkins through sobriety tests, then began preparing for a breathalyzer test. Jenkins said she refused the test, leading the officer to immediately place her in handcuffs and in his car.
Jenkins was taken to the jail. A test administered by authorities showed Jenkins' blood alcohol concentration at 0.17, according to a police report. Under Arkansas DWI law, a person is intoxicated when the concentration is 0.08 percent or greater or if the person's reaction and motor skills are substantially altered by an intoxicant.
Which leads us to the second heartbreaking element of that video. Jenkins asked the 24-year-old officer why he was "doing this" and whether he had any children, apparently trying to make him understand her reasoning for taking to the streets. Her argument was basically, yes, she had consumed some wine and, yes, she had driven to the scene, but what else was a mother supposed to do when her kid was in need?
We don't know if Jenkins was drunk and will leave that to courts to determine. But we can think of some parents who would object to Jenkins' rationalizations about drinking then driving. They're the ones who visit cemeteries where there children were laid to rest after an inebriated driver, who might have believed they had every justification for getting behind the wheel, caused a fatal accident. We suspect those parents would have a thing or two to say about Jenkins' rationalization.
But from a public policy perspective, here's our thought: Andrea Jenkins should resign her post on the Washington County Quorum Court, to which she was elected last November. She took office in January, having unseated an incumbent. In her campaign for office, Jenkins declared, "Ethics is huge to me. I would be making sure everyone is held accountable, even the county judge."
Does Jenkins apply that standard to herself?
In her combative conversation with the police officer, Jenkins fell into the "Do you know who I am?" trap that has ended the political careers of people all over the country.
"I'm a justice of the peace. I'm an elected official," Jenkins told the officer. Later, she urged him to "Give me a break."
The officer, to his credit, stayed calm and told Jenkins her political office didn't mean anything to him. Later, Jenkins continued: "I am a justice of the peace on the Washington County Quorum Court. I know Sheriff Helder. He's a friend of mine. Sheriff Helder is a friend of mine. Call him, if you need to, or call Judge Woods, because they are all friends of mine."
Joseph Wood is the county judge in Washington County.
"I'm going to talk to Judge Woods," Jenkins told the officer. "What is your name?"
The entire exchange is designed to wield the power of Jenkins new public office in an attempt to escape the admittedly awful situation she found herself in. Voters, however, were authorizing her to represent them on a public body that makes laws and approves county budgets. We're certain none of them elected her so that she could use the power of the office in an unethical attempt to influence a police officer who had every reason to be concerned about her condition and the fact that she had driven.
The people of Washington County have every reason to be concerned when a justice of the peace suspected of a crime is challenging the authority of a law enforcement officer to enforce the state's laws by practicing the "do you know who I am" defense. Getting elected to public office is about serving constituents. It's not a "get out of jail" free card. Certainly, the people who asked to be elected to public office face the same laws as their constituents and, one could argue, an even greater responsibility to live up to the laws they expect others to comply with.
It is not the allegation of a DWI that prompts a call for Jenkins' resignation. It is the ease, just a few months into her time on the Quorum Court, with which she abused the authority of her office in expecting the police officer to give her special treatment.
Elected officials are not above the law. It really is that simple.
Commentary on 06/15/2019
Print Headline: Abuse of office