Attorney ends up on other side of DUI case

Coleman

A Summerville attorney known for defending suspected drunken drivers was arrested early Saturday after he refused a sobriety test because it’s “very difficult to pass under any circumstances,” he said Monday.

Michael Coleman, 42, of Stoney Poynt Court in North Charleston smelled of alcohol and presented his S.C. Bar identification after a deputy asked for his information during a traffic stop Saturday, according to an incident report.

Facing his first charge for driving under the influence, Coleman paid $997 bail and was released from jail later in the day.

In a brief interview Monday, Coleman denied being drunk and said he was hesitant to be tested because he had foot surgery in the spring. He also was wearing boots when he was asked to submit to an examination of his motor skills on a gravelly roadside in Ravenel, he said.

“It was very difficult to take under those conditions,” Coleman said. “As a DUI lawyer, I’ve handled hundreds of DUI cases, and I know very few people are going to pass those tests. It’s a very difficult situation.”

As an attorney, Coleman successfully defended an off-duty North Charleston police officer who was arrested in late 2010 on suspicion of drunken driving in Colleton County. Coleman also represented a duck hunter who accidentally shot a Citadel cadet on Wadmalaw Island in 2009.

The events leading to his own arrest started around 1 a.m. Saturday, when a Charleston County Sheriff’s Office deputy reported seeing his silver Jeep going 78 mph in a 55 mph zone on Savannah Highway near McKnight Village Road.

The deputy wrote that the driver “was slow to react” to the blue lights and that the vehicle didn’t stop until one mile south of where he had noticed it, according to the report.

At first, Coleman denied drinking and said he had just left Walmart, the report said. Sitting in his passenger seat, his girlfriend said they had been at 17 South Nite Club and Restaurant. Coleman later acknowledged having a drink during dinner at the Hardeeville establishment, according to the report.

Coleman told the deputy that he does not believe in field sobriety tests, but the deputy said he eventually agreed to take one anyway. His girlfriend filmed the encounter with a cellphone.

He was allowed to remove his boots for the procedure, according to the deputy.

Outside his sport utility vehicle, Coleman stumbled, swayed and failed to walk a straight line, the deputy reported. He first struggled to produce his license and later handed over his S.C. Bar ID.

Coleman told the deputy that he wanted feedback about how he was performing on the test, and the deputy told him that he wasn’t doing well, the report said.

Later at the jail, Coleman did not submit to a breath test and accused the deputy of slander and libel. He also said the deputy “jerked him out of his Jeep,” the report states.

On Monday, Coleman defended his actions, saying that he didn’t know whether the deputy was qualified to conduct the field or breath tests. He also argued that he was stopped for speeding and shouldn’t be charged with DUI.

“I asked if (the deputy) was trained to conduct the test, and he wouldn’t answer my questions,” Coleman said. “Of course, I’m not going to attempt the test if he’s not qualified.”

He said his experience highlights the same problems with DUI arrests that he has argued many times in the courtroom.

Coleman’s attorney, Craig Jones of Daniel Island, declined to comment on the case because he hadn’t reviewed any of the accounts or deputy’s in-car video.

“He’s a good guy,” said Jones, who added that he is a friend of Coleman’s. “We just have to wait to get the facts and be mindful of everything.”

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.