Bradford moves on — but worries another shoe will fall

The Colorado Statesman

Embattled Republican state Rep. Laura Bradford wants to know what’s next.

In an exclusive interview with The Colorado Statesman this week, a shaken Bradford poured her frustrations over a string of controversies and personal turmoil over the last month that has left her fighting for her career and family.

Her month-long saga began on Jan. 25 when she was pulled over by a Denver police officer for driving under the influence of alcohol. Since then, Bradford has experienced a rollercoaster of events and emotions that had her questioning her allegiance to her party, while balancing family turmoil after her husband, Linton Matthews, suffered a heart attack just two weeks later.

Laura Bradford

“I just could not talk to anybody for a while, I’m just so exhausted,” Bradford revealed during a brief phone interview Thursday with The Statesman. “My feeling is, what is next?”

Just when Bradford was resuming some semblance of normalcy, she was hit again Wednesday with another disappointing surprise. The Denver Police Department released a report to the public estimating that her blood alcohol level was 0.2 percent — more than twice the legal limit to be drinking and driving.

The account from patrol Officer Brian Klaus goes like this:

The officer pulled Bradford over near Colfax and Pennsylvania Street — just blocks from the Capitol — after he observed the Collbran lawmaker making an illegal left turn from Downing onto Colfax. Klaus attempted to pull Bradford over at Colfax and Washington Street, but Bradford did not pull over, instead turning onto Pennsylvania Street, according to the police account.

Klaus continued to follow Bradford with his overhead lights activated when he observed her almost hit a parked car, according to the officer’s report. He acknowledges having periodically shut off his lights and siren while following Bradford because he wasn’t sure whether he could pull over a state representative. He identified Bradford as a lawmaker from her legislative license plates.

Bradford finally pulled over in the 1700 block of Pennsylvania Street and Klaus made contact with her, according to his report.

The officer says he smelled alcohol and asked her if she had been drinking. Bradford allegedly answered, “Yes,” according to the report. She purportedly admitted to having one glass of wine at Prohibition, a new Colfax bar that has been a regular hangout for lobbyists, lawmakers, reporters and staffers.

After calling his supervisor, Sgt. Benita Packard, Klaus asked Bradford if she would agree to roadside tests, despite being unable to arrest the representative. In Colorado, lawmakers have the right to so-called “legislative privilege,” which protects them from misdemeanor arrests when going to or from a legislative function. Police made the presumption that Bradford would need to be at the Capitol in the morning for official legislative duties.

Bradford agreed to the roadsides, failing each test, according to Klaus. He then estimated her blood alcohol to be 0.2 percent.

Klaus again asked Bradford how much she had to drink and she responded, “Three glasses of wine,” according to the report.

Based on advice from his supervisor, Klaus informed Bradford that she would not be arrested and that police would not file a report for the alleged DUI. Officers called a taxi for Bradford and issued her a traffic citation for the illegal turn.

“I told her how lucky she was to not be going to jail for DUI,” Klaus wrote in his report. “She stated to me she did not want special treatment and I explained to her I had no choice.”

As Bradford was cleaning out her car to get in the taxi, officers asked her if she had anything else in the vehicle and Bradford responded by telling the officers that she had a loaded handgun underneath the drivers seat, which police secured before giving it back to her, according to the report.

It is not illegal to possess a handgun in a car in Denver without a permit — though Bradford claims she has a concealed carry permit anyway. It is illegal to be in possession of a firearm while under the influence of alcohol, but District Attorney Mitch Morrissey chose not to file charges because his office did not feel there was proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

In a Denver Police Department internal affairs report, Klaus says he was angry that he could not arrest Bradford for the alleged DUI or the gun charge, but his frustration is more with his supervisor, not with Bradford, noting that she had repeatedly asked to be brought in.

“I explained to Rep. Bradford what other charges I could apply and again she stated she didn’t want special treatment,” Klaus wrote in his report.

Exonerated?

It is here that Bradford feels exonerated. The crux of the backlash Bradford felt over the incident revolved around the idea that she had claimed legislative privilege. Police had originally stated that Bradford had invoked the law, but according to subsequent police accounts and the report released Wednesday, it was actually the supervisor who had demanded that Bradford take the privilege. An internal investigation of the supervisor is pending, police said.

Bradford felt compelled to apologize to her colleagues on the House floor on Jan. 30 once the incident came to light. Just three days earlier she was stripped by Republican leadership of her post as chair of the House Local Government Committee.

Just as police were calling a press conference on Jan. 31 to apologize to Bradford for originally stating that she had invoked the privilege, Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, announced an ethics committee to investigate Bradford’s conduct. Just a little over a week later, Bradford was completely exonerated by the ethics panel, and the inquisition ended.

Given the apology from the Denver Police Department and the exoneration by the ethics panel, Bradford thought her troubles with this chapter of the saga were over. But when she learned that police were estimating her blood alcohol level, she was astonished by what she calls “unprofessionalism.” She wonders how it is fair for police to publicly guess her blood alcohol without having her take a Breathalyzer, saliva or blood test.

“That’s why I kept asking them to bring me in, so that I would be exonerated,” she said.

“Are they going to have a crystal ball in the car to decide who’s an axe murderer, or to determine who is a drug dealer and who is not?” asked Bradford. “I’m just so frustrated by the lack of professionalism that should be extended to any citizen, public or not. Due process. Where has that gone? Does it exist and for whom?”

“Every citizen has the right to the presumption of innocence,” she vehemently concluded while on the phone with The Statesman as she drove back to tend to her ailing husband in Mesa County.

Personal Turmoil

Much of the exhaustion Bradford is feeling as of late stems from the heart attack her husband suffered on Feb. 12. She was forced to miss several days at the Capitol to care for him, and she believes the stress around her family contributed to his condition. He is still not feeling as well as he should, according to Bradford.

Matthews was livid over the response by Republican leadership, believing that the party should have stood behind his wife and waited for the facts to come to light before convening an ethics panel and stripping her of her committee post.

On Feb. 3, just days after the ethics panel was called, Matthews switched his voter registration from Republican to unaffiliated to honor his wife. In the days after that, Bradford also alluded to leaving the Republican Party, but she never followed through.

The move would have thrown the Legislature into turmoil as Republicans control the House by only one seat. Losing Bradford to an unaffiliated or independent status would have affected the entire political makeup of the House, including the swing of committees.

She says she was just angry at the time and is ready to move forward now.

“I think it got mixed up,” said Bradford. “When I answered questions I said, ‘All options were on the table.’ But, it was just that that week was just so horrid. I learned some lessons that week.”

Peter@coloradostatesman.com