Detroit Ex Police Official Cleared of Evidence Tampering

Detroit Free Press
January 17, 2008

Former Detroit Police Cmdr. John Autrey said he'd never jeopardize a 35-year career to help a fellow commander beat a drunken-driving case.

A Wayne County jury agreed Wednesday.

Jurors took about 30 minutes to acquit Autrey, 55, of felony charges of tampering with evidence and misconduct in office in connection with the April 28 crash involving Cmdr. Todd Bettison. He also was acquitted of a misdemeanor count of willful neglect of duty.

Autrey said after the verdict that he's ecstatic and that he meant only to clean up the scene when he picked up wine bottles inside and outside the car in question.

He said he had no motivation to protect Bettison, who goes to trial Friday on drunken-driving charges.

"I have nothing against Cmdr. Bettison at all," Autrey said. "But he's not my friend. We don't socialize. I'm not going to jeopardize my career for a man I barely know."

Bettison crashed his department-issued Chevrolet Impala into a telephone pole around 2:10 a.m. at Seymour and Hayes. He was hospitalized, and police said blood tests showed he had a 0.22% blood-alcohol level, nearly three times the amount at which someone can be convicted of drunken driving.

Officer Carl Chuney testified during the trial in Wayne County Circuit Court that Autrey showed up several hours later and retrieved a wine bottle from inside the car and three wine bottles scattered outside the car. He said Autrey put the bottles in a bag and into his police car.

Autrey acknowledged that he took the bottles, along with other debris at the scene, and threw them away in a police district garbage can. He said he also removed a child's car seat.

Chuney testified that a sergeant also told him to hold off on his report, and he later found his report listed as void in the department's computer.

Autrey said there might have been a cover-up attempt, but he was not involved.

He was charged June 11 with the felonies and soon afterward retired.

Autrey said he is considering another job in law enforcement or security, or might try his hand at teaching. He said he hasn't decided on any legal action against the city.

"I finally prevailed," he said. "It was a long, hard-fought battle but I told the truth and the jury believed me."

His attorney, Mike Rataj, said that police don't use empty bottles as evidence in drunken-driving cases.

"You use blood results and breathe results, you don't use empty bottles," Rataj said. "This case was a joke, and the jury saw right through it."