After Katie Steele Danner was named director of the Missouri Division of Tourism last week, I was fascinated by the savage way in which any mention of her previous brushes with the law was immediately decried as partisan or outright lies in the comments left on numerous news websites.
Of course, her blotter record was left out of every one of the articles I saw, and on one level I can agree with that. The fact that she was stopped on suspicion of driving while intoxicated years ago, is not enough to disqualify someone from holding public office.
What has always been disturbing to me about the former Democratic state representative and Jay Nixon fundraiser is that she simply refused to take breathalyzer tests on two occasions.
As I noted in the Sept. 14 Turner Report:
On March 13, 2007, the Missouri Southern District Court of Appeals ordered Taney County Circuit Court Judge Tony Williams to revoke Ms. Steele-Danner's driver's license, after Williams had restored her driving privileges in an earlier decision.
Ms. Danner-Steele, under the name Katie Steele, was a state representative from Kirksville, the state director of Bill Clinton's presidential campaign in 1992 and later was appointed by President Clinton as regional director for the Kansas City office of the Department of Health and Human Services. She is married to former State Senator Steve Danner, a close advisor to former Speaker of the House Bob Griffin and current adjutant general.
According to the appellate court decision, "Kathleen Steele-Danner was stopped by Officer Shawn Teitsort for speeding. The officer noticed a strong odor of alcohol on her breath. When asked how much she had to drink, she stated she had one glass of wine. (She) was asked to perform field sobriety tests and was subsequently arrested for driving while intoxicated.
"After arriving at the Branson Police Department and reading Missouri's Implied Consent law to (Ms. Steele-Danner) Officer Teitsort requested that the respondent submit to a breath test. She refused and her license was revoked."
The decision came down to whether Teitsort had reason to believe Ms. Steele-Danner was driving drunk.
Respondent had to steady herself using the car door when exiting her vehicle. He observed her swaying as she walked. Her eyes appeared bloodshot and "staring." She continued to sway during the horizontal gaze nystagmus test ("HGN") and the officer noted a lack of "smooth pursuit" in both eyes and a distinct nystagmus at maximum deviation, with an onset prior to forty-five degrees, indicating intoxication.
When Respondent performed the walk-and-turn test, she did not take the correct number of steps, used her arms for balance and did not make a proper turn. Because she stepped off of the line three times, the officer deemed her unable to complete the test. Likewise, she put her foot down three or more times on the one-leg stand test and was unable to complete the test. Based upon his training, experience, and observations, Officer Teitsort testified that he formed the opinion that Respondent was intoxicated and placed her under arrest for driving while intoxicated. On the issue of the officer's credibility, as the Director points out, the trial court put its stamp of approval on Officer Teitsort by indicating, "I believe [Officer Teitsort] administered the tests properly. In fact, that officer is one of the finest."
Judge Williams based his decision on Teitsort's comments during cross examination that he thought Ms. Steele-Danner was "borderline" and might not fail the breathalyzer test:
[Defense Counsel]: Okay. And you were surprised she didn't take the test?
[Officer]: Yes, sir.
[Defense counsel]: Because you thought she might not have been above a .08?
[Officer]: I believed she was borderline. That's correct.
[Defense Counsel]: Okay. You thought she might not have been above .08?
[Officer]: That's correct.
The appellate court gave the following summary of the case:
Respondent was stopped at 1:38 a.m. for speeding fourteen miles per hour over the speed limit. She had a strong odor of alcohol and bloodshot eyes, had trouble with balance and walking, and was uncertain in her turning. Respondent was unable to follow directions for the walk-and-turn test and admitted to drinking alcohol earlier during the evening. The trial court misapplied the law when it found Officer Teitsort's testimony that he was surprised when Respondent refused to take the test because the officer thought Respondent was borderline -- that there was a possibility she would pass the test -- negated the probable cause determination that she was driving her vehicle while in an intoxicated condition. In so doing, the trial court disregarded Officer Teitsort's objective and credible observation of Respondent's unusual and illegal motor vehicle operation and indicia of intoxication from field sobriety tests, which objectively constitute probable cause.
The decision was 2-1, with the dissenting judge agreeing that the case should be returned to Judge Williams, but only to determine if the officer had properly administered the field tests to give him probable cause.
Clay County Circuit Court records indicate Ms. Steele-Danner had her license taken away after refusing to take a breathalyzer test . Her driving privileges were restored Jan. 15, 1997, by Clay County Circuit Court Judge Rex Gabbert.
If Jay Nixon wants to appoint Ms. Steele-Danner as director of tourism, that is his choice. And while I appreciate her long resume and the glowing reviews given by those who say she will be God's gift to Missouri tourism, it is a shame that the media did not provide even one word about the other side of her record.
The only time it has even been mentioned was after she was named interim economic development director, and that was solely as a response to what was written in The Turner Report. The incidents were not even examined, nor was the court record. Reporters simply asked the same usual sources if Ms. Steele-Danner's record would hurt her. The sources said it wouldn't, so the "watchdog" media simply dropped the matter.
Is it any wonder people have no faith in the media?