Video has surfaced showing an arrest in which a New York woman called her prosecutor father before having a DWI charge downgraded to a lesser crime.
Rachel Winter, 21, was pulled over on the night of Nov. 24 in Lockport by Niagara County sheriff’s deputy Timothy Caughel. Body-cam video showed that Winter admitted to the officer that she drank “a few beers” at a friends house.
Rachel maintained in the footage that she had waited long enough after drinking before getting behind the wheel, but Caughel asked her to perform several field sobriety tests. After she failed the tests and refused to blow into a breathalyzer, Rachel was placed under arrest.
According to a cell phone conversation shown on the video, Caughel told his supervisor, Lt. Steve Broderick, that Rachel “couldn’t pass any of the tests.”
Additionally, the deputy said Rachel “had most of the clues” for being drunk and maintained she was pulled over after veering into an oncoming lane with no headlights on.
The conversation occurred after Rachel was handcuffed and detained in the back of Caughel’s cruiser. The footage showed the young woman sobbing as the deputy read her her Miranda rights, which included not having to answer questions without an attorney being present.
Having already told Caughel that her father is an attorney, the deputy asked Rachel if she wanted to call him and told her she could once they arrived at the station. Caughel then phoned Lt. Broderick.
“She wants to call her father who is an attorney,” Caughel told Broderick. “Do you want me to have her call him now or when we get back to the station?”
“Is it Ron Winter, who her father is?” Broderick asked. “Yeah, I know him very very well. When my uncle was the D.A. he was his first assistant D.A., so if she wants to call him I got no issue.”
Ronald J. Winter, who now works as law clerk for New York Supreme Court Justice Richard Kloch, Sr. was then called and allowed to talk over speaker phone to his daughter. He also spoke with deputy Caughel.
“Has Rachel been arrested?” Ron Winter asked Caughel. “Do you recognize my name at all? I used to be the chief homicide prosecutor for Niagara County. Is there any way to not have this happen? Is there anything we can do?”
“I’ve already called out with her under arrest,” Caughel responded. “I’ve already called for a tow truck, the normal procedure, read her Miranda and DWI.”
“Alright, so this isn’t going away huh?” says Winter.
Watch the raw video:
Rachel was initially charged with DWI but once at the Niagara County sheriff’s office, Lt. Broderick intervened, and asked Caughel if he would be willing to downgrade the DWI to a lesser charge.
“You wouldn’t have a problem doing a reckless?” Broderick asked Caughel on the video as the deputy appeared to attempt to muffle the audio recorder of his body camera.
“I mean, that’s totally up to you,” Caughel responded.
Months after the incident the video was viewed by the Niagara County District Attorney’s Office. Prosecutors inquired about why the Niagara County sheriff’s office failed to charge Rachel with DWI.
An investigation was then launched by the sheriff’s office which found that Broderick improperly intervened. The Lt. was disciplined and Rachel was eventually charged with DWI again.
Last week however, Niagara Falls City Court Judge Robert Merino issued an apology to Rachel and dismissed the DWI charge after prosecutors said the body-cam footage alone did not prove the young woman was drunk.
As a result, Rachel pleaded guilty to driving without headlights and failure to maintain her lane. The incident illustrates the clear privilege enjoyed by politically connected individuals within the justice system. Now, the New York state Office of Court Administration is investigating the case.
“We’re looking into the circumstances regarding the dismissal,” Office spokesman Lucian Chalfen said Wednesday. “The target is not the judge. The target is another individual associated with the court system.”
Chalfen declined to elaborate on the full scope of the investigation.