Arizona DPS Officer Resigns After Arrest

A Department of Public Safety officer who taught other cops to spot substance-impaired drivers resigned several months after he was arrested for a drunken rampage in Tennessee -- where he was attending a national conference on highway safety.

Timothy Merrill was arrested on April 29, 2014 for assault, vandalism, and public intoxication. The arrest made headlines, and he immediately was placed on paid administrative leave, although a note in his personnel file says he was told to go back to work eight days later.

Merrill declined to comment. But the story is told through the DPS' internal investigation, Merrill's resignation letter and accompanying documents, and statements from a DPS public-information officer.

Following a months-long internal investigation at DPS, Merrill lost "80 hours accrued vacation time/annual leave." He officially was notified of the disciplinary action on November 25 2014, four days after submitting his resignation letter.

For any police officer, but especially for one who had been with the department for 10 years, this was a dangerous violation of the DPS' code of ethics.

Merrill and two other Arizona DPS officers, Daven Byrd and Sergeant Angelo Trujillo, were in Nashville, Tennessee, last April for the annual three-day Lifesavers Highway Safety Training Conference. As the event ended about lunchtime on Tuesday, April 29, the crew from Phoenix discussed how to spend their last night in the city. Byrd and his wife -- who had also come along for the trip -- suggested taking a shuttle to the downtown area about 3 p.m. to check out the live music scene. Merrill told the group he was going to go downtown early to buy his family presents but that he'd meet up with them when he was finished.

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The Byrds and Trujillo were in a live music bar downtown called The Second Fiddle for about an hour when Merrill showed up, three pairs of cowboy boots for his kids in hand. Unbeknown to his colleagues, Merrill had had "a few shots of whiskey" before arriving at the bar. According to testimony by Byrd and Trujillo, Merrill didn't appear intoxicated when he arrived, nor were they at any point worried about the drinks Merrill consumed at the bar.

It's not exactly clear how much Merrill drank at The Second Fiddle--Trujillo remembers Merrill mostly drinking beer but did note that he thought his friend had at least one mixed drink; Byrd estimated it was four or five drinks of beer and some type of mixed drink; while Merrill remembers having "six, eight shots. Maybe a beer or two."

And Merrill later admitted he hadn't eaten since breakfast.

After spending a couple hours at The Second Fiddle, the group decided to move on. Byrd suggested a club that turned out to be closed so they went in search of another live music venue.

Merrill's recollection of that part of the night is foggy, according to the police investigation, Merrill said he thought they went to two or three other bars, but because he was "pretty buzzed" at the time, he didn't remember exactly what happened. He did, however, remember one particular bar they stopped in because they "offered extra large shots." He had two of whiskey and said he was "happy and jovial" at the time.

Byrd told investigating officers that while he was talking with his wife, and didn't pay attention to how much Merrill drank at those bars, "at no point during the evening of April 29, 2014 was there a time he was concerned with the actions or state of mind of Officer Merrill."

Around 8:30 p.m., the Byrds decided to catch the shuttle back to their hotel, and Trujillo remembers asking Merrill if he wanted to go back as well. Merrill told him that he wanted to stay out longer, and the two ended up back at The Second Fiddle. Trujillo remembers drinking a beer; Merrill estimates he consumed five or six more shots of whiskey--and about 9:10 p.m., they got up to leave.

Trujillo later told the investigating officer that he is the "mother hen" and "can tell when someone is intoxicated;" he remembers Merrill being "fine."

It's unclear how, or even exactly when, the two officers got separated, but by the time Trujillo walked to the "busy and crowded" intersection to catch the shuttle, Merrill was no longer with him. Assuming that Merrill went to a different spot to catch a shuttle to his hotel, Trujillo said he didn't give his friend's disappearance much thought.

Merrill, who said he got lost as they left The Second Fiddle, was now alone and, he admits, "very intoxicated." He made his way the Honky Tonk Central bar, where he remembers being escorted out by security because he was "causing a disruption, hitting on girls, that sort of thing." Merrill referred to himself as "the obnoxious drunk guy" in his testimony.

After being asked to leave the Honky Tonk a second time--he tried to go back in to use the restroom--he walked into a nearby gift shop called Dixieland Delights. Merrill said he doesn't remember what happened in the store, but based on what witnesses told police officers, he knows he "obviously started hitting on the cashier" and was escorted out.

Richard Reed, one of the cashiers working at the time, later told police that Merrill followed one of the female cashiers around the store, telling her how beautiful she was, and propositioning her for sex. (Reed also said Merrill said the same thing to another female patron in the store, who told Merrill to "back up or she was going to punch him in the face.") For the third time that evening, Merrill was asked to leave an establishment.

According to Reed, "it was raining very hard" at this point in the night, "and Officer Merrill went down to his knees in a puddle and held out his arms 'like he was just screaming to God about something.'"

Ten minutes later, Merrill came back into Dixieland Delights. Resting his elbows on a glass shelf, he cupped his chin with his hands and "was just staring at the female employee 'like he was in love,'" Reed said. The cashier once again escorted Merrill out, and told him not to come back.

According to the police investigation, "Merrill said he remembered feeling frustrated about having been kicked out of the establishments, being in a town he wasn't familiar with, and not knowing where Sergeant Trujillo was. He said he was very drunk and confused."

Merrill remembered sitting on a windowsill outside of the store--he noted that he was "drunker than hell" at that point--when all of sudden there was "a lot of ruckus going on around him." He realized that the window behind his head was broken, and that he probably broke it. (Video footage from the store's security camera would later confirm that Merrill accidentally smashed the back of his head against the window when he sat up too quickly.)

Reed ran outside upon hearing the glass break, and was joined moments later by two security personnel from Honky Tonk Central, the bar Merrill had been kicked out of earlier that evening.

Merrill's memory of this mostly is "a blur," but he does remember realizing that there were "a lot of people around him and [feeling] like he was about to be assaulted." While one of the men from the Honky Tonk called 911, another police officer that had been in the area for an unrelated incident happened to pull up.

Feeling surrounded and threatened, Merrill "wanted to put some distance between himself and the people he thought were about to assault him." He got up to run away, and made it half a city block before slipping in a puddle, and banging the back of his head against the sidewalk. At first, Merrill appeared to have knocked himself out, but when he started stirring, the men jumped on him and tried to get him in handcuffs.

Merrill recalled feeling like he was being beaten up so he started kicking his legs. Whether intentionally or not, Merrill kicked one of the Honky Tonk guards "square in the face."

The police report from that night says, only after they got Merrill in custody and began speaking with him, did they notice "he had a slight smell of intoxicant, bloodshot eyes, and slightly slurred speech."

The next thing Merrill remembers is being handcuffed and sitting in the back seat of a patrol car. The DPS investigation notes that "Officer Merrill stated his memory of the incident was like 'snapshots' and he did not remember everything."

It turns out two more things Merrill didn't remember were "striking his head against the window of the patrol car" and threatening to "put a warrant on [Reed, the Dixieland employee], have [him] extradited to Arizona, and slit [his] fuckin' throat."

Merrill spent the night in a holding cell, and was charged the next morning with assault (causing bodily injury), vandalism (worth $500 or less), and public intoxication. After his release on bail, he went back to Dixieland Delights "to apologize to the employees he was harassing and to pay for the damage he had caused."

No manager was at the store that day, and Merrill had a plane to catch so he couldn't stick around, but he did get in touch with the general manger a few days later. He offered to pay for the window, and they agreed that if he did, the store wouldn't pursue any legal action. Merrill sent a money order for $600.

The incident was reported to the Arizona DPS on May 1, though the internal investigation didn't begin until August because the case was on "criminal hold;" the department was waiting for the outcome of the Nashville police investigation. Merrill was never criminally charged.

In his interview with investigating officers in October, Merrill said he developed a drinking problem in his senior year of high school but that with the help of his church, he sobered up. Merrill remained sober for years--got married, had kids, started working for the DPS--but said he started drinking again three years ago.

"I was hiding it from my wife, I was hiding it from my family. I was drinking consistently on my days off. [I] never was drinking on-duty or anything like that, but absolutely I was drinking at home," he said.

Realizing his problem was getting out of hand, Merrill said he started following a 12-step program, and "was sober for a good two and a half years."

But then a few months before the incident in Nashville, he admitted, he relapsed again. "I had stopped working the steps again. I kinda stopped going to church and caring about those things. I got complacent and started drinking here and there to where, obviously, it just fell right back off the wagon again," he said. "I thought I had hit bottom before, but that was absolutely--I hit bottom then."

Merrill said he had been sober since going to Nashville and that he attended weekly meetings. "I've fully accepted the responsibility [that] I'm an alcoholic. I stay away from it. I work my steps every single day. I do the spiritual side, I pray--all those sorts of things."

Merrill apologized to all involved parties, took financial responsibility for his actions, and admitted he had a drinking problem. But as the DPS investigation makes clear, "a law enforcement officer's involvement in a criminal matter, whether ultimately charged or not, diminishe[s] the public trust of law enforcement and is not in keeping with...DPS Mission, Values, and Code of Ethics."

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Miriam is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Miriam Wasser