The Halloween Drunk Tank

Beneath an almost full moon on Halloween night the (probably) drunk man tried to follow the tip of the officer's pen with his eyes.

Behind him a parade of costumed yuppies shuffled between Washington Avenue's trendy bars: sexy school girls, sexy devils, mobsters, Facebook.

Officer Don Egdorf waved his pen from side to side. Egdorf is one of 14 members of a local task force dedicated to finding and arresting drunk drivers. And he had a Halloween-worthy persona of his own: what DWI attorneys call a "vampire cop."

"Because they're out there looking for blood," says Tyler Flood, the flashy defense attorney who brags about getting drunk drivers off the hook and is the subject of this week's upcoming cover story out on the web this Wednesday.

Like many DWI guys in town Flood has a simple motto, which can be found in his ads on bathroom walls and beer glasses throughout the city: Do Not Blow. Less than half of the people stopped for DWI in Houston agree to take a breathalyzer -- because they either don't trust it or know that refusing gives good defense attorneys a much better shot at helping them out (or both).

So the city has instituted "no refusal" weekends over big drinking holidays, during which police can fast-track a search warrant for an uncooperative suspect's blood. Defense attorneys paint this as a macabre spectacle; police say it's an excellent way to get elusive convictions in court.

Aside from being impossible to refuse -- the cops will strap you into a gurney chair if they have to -- blood tests are also much harder for attorneys to cast doubt on in court. Egdorf says he keeps waiting for a new slogan, "Don't Bleed, Blow," to pop up.

(Earlier in the night, Flood, toting a court order, had attempted to view the blood tests, likely hoping to uncover ways to fight them in trial. Egdorf sent him home.)

After failing the pen test, the driver on Washington Ave. was instructed -- three times, actually -- to lift one leg off the ground and count to 30. He requested permission to tie his shoes first, then spent the next couple of minutes executing a perfect double-knot. This would be his only achievement on the night, as the one-leg stand and walk-and-turn proved to be stumbling failures, and, once Egdorf's pink cuffs had been slapped on, the man regrettably ignored his right to be quiet.

Egdorf, at least on the job, is a patient man. Even for a (probably) drunk person, the man was incredibly annoying, and likely unaware that his backseat ramblings were being recorded. Egdorf calmly let him carry on, knowing how bad everything would sound if the case ever went to court. Then he posed the question of the night: Would the suspect agree to a breath test?

A series of non-answers ensued, including an attempt to barter the return of the suspect's wallet, which was in his car, which had been towed, in exchange for his consent to blow. Egdorf eventually marked the man as a refusal and plunked him down in a cell with, among other characters, a man in a dress.

More than an hour -- and at least three bathroom breaks for the suspect -- passed. Then the warrant came through.

"We're going to get him and stick him," Egdorf said.

The man was led down a hallway and into a room where he was met by Jeff, a registered nurse, and a piece of paper informing him that the state had the right to his blood. He looked sullen as Jeff put the needle in his arm.

"This isn't legal," the man said.

"Yes, it is," Egdorf replied, then led him off to jail.

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