All charges filed against Davenport Supervisor Dennis Valente after an alleged June 9 drunken-driving incident have been dismissed by Meredith Town Justice Gay Merrill for lack of probable cause, according to a copy of the decision provided to The Daily Star.
Valente was arrested for driving while intoxicated - first offense, failure to remove highway hazard, depositing refuse on a highway and breath-test refusal.
State troopers reported at the time he had previously been convicted of driving while intoxicated, but Valente’s attorney, Joseph Ermeti, said that was completely false in a letter accompanying the decision.
At the time of Valente’s arrest, troopers said they were investigating a complaint about gravel falling off a bucket truck and were looking for the vehicle’s owner, Valente, who was found asleep at the wheel of a tractor. He owns the the Davenport Garden Center on state Route 23.
When state police arrived, he was napping in cab of the tractor, which was on his property parked near one of the center’s greenhouses, a location where he would be available if needed. The engine wasn’t running, he said. He failed a standard field sobriety test, troopers said.
Among the judge’s findings were: “The People offer no basis to draw a conclusion that the complainant is a reliable source placing the defendant on a public roadway while intoxicated.”
When Valente chose to take a nap in an enclosed tractor cab that was not readily apparent, “one reasonably can conclude the defendant had an expectation of not being disturbed/privacy to take a nap.”
Valente said the decision was “in sync” with his feelings at the time.
“I didn’t think I should have my personal space invaded when I wasn’t doing anything illegal,” he said. “As a public figure you are going to upset people, and this is the result of that.”
He said was appreciative of the community support he has received, adding “It is humbling.”
The special prosecutor in the case, John Muehl, said he will not appeal the decision. While there was probable cause to bring the case to a jury, there were some issues with it, so “I will respect the judge’s decisions,” he said.
Ermeti said he will let the judge’s words speak for themselves but added that the case is another example that “defendants are not always guilty.”