ALAMOGORDO, N.M. (KRQE) – The DWI trial started Tuesday against now-former New Mexico State Police officer Jessica Turner. She is charged with driving drunk and hiding her car keys to avoid arrest. However, her attorney disputes that, saying Turner just had a medical episode and did not know what happened to her keys.
Both sides presented their opening statements to the jury in Otero County District Court Tuesday afternoon. The defense and the state agree that in 2018, a 911 call came in about a drunk driver in a white pickup truck on Highway 82 between High Rolls and Alamogordo.
They also agree that deputies found Turner slumped over the steering wheel in her white pickup truck, parked at an overlook by the highway. But they have different explanations for why and what happened after an Otero County Sheriff’s deputy woke her up.
The prosecutor suggested Turner may have gotten special treatment because she got a ride home instead of a ride to jail that night. Prosecutor James Dickens pointed out that the lead investigator, Otero County Sheriff’s Deputy Chris Swanson, notified his supervisor that he knew Turner. Swanson’s supervisor told him to continue with the investigation anyway.
“This was doubly hard because [Swanson] is not only a former coworker with Ms. Turner back when she was with the Sheriff’s Department but, in fact, he’s a close friend with her,” Dickens told the jury.
Meanwhile, the defense argued that Turner actually got treated more harshly than the average person. The night she was found, deputies let her go. Defense Attorney Gary Mitchell explained that it was not until after a KRQE Special Assignment made the case public, the District Attorney’s office then filed charges against Turner.
“It’s only because she’s a police officer and because people all of a sudden said, ‘Oh my God, we’ve got some publicity about this case. We better show the world here, we’re tough on police officers,'” Mitchell said.
The state’s first witnesses took the stand Tuesday, including Deputy Swanson. He explained why he told Turner to get it together before he turned on his dash camera.
“Why did she need, in your opinion, to pull her (expletive) together?” the prosecutor asked.
“Because she was slumped over the wheel when I made contact with her and an odor of alcohol. She needed to pull her (expletive) together,” Deputy Swanson responded.
Deputies initially told Turner she was under arrest, but then they changed their minds
when she argued that they did not know where her keys were and therefore, there was no evidence that she had been driving.
Prosecutors say she hid the keys on purpose while the defense disputes that. A now-retired state police officer described the conversation at the scene with Otero County deputies about the keys.
“I know they were talking about the keys, and I don’t… I’m pretty sure I saw the keys, and they kind of had me, kind of confused because I’m like.. I’m pretty sure I saw the keys.. but everybody was saying there’s no keys,” retired Officer Andrew Hoover said.
The defense said Turner was not drunk. Her attorney said Turner pulled over that night because she had not taken medication for an autoimmune disorder she has called, antiphospholipid syndrome. She parked her car and fell asleep, but her attorney said she was never a threat to anyone and did nothing wrong.
Turner resigned from State Police before the department could fire her. She is suing the department. The trial will continue Wednesday morning. The state will finish calling witnesses before the defense can begin presenting its evidence and testimony to the jury.