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Carthage man’s DWI dismissed on park technicality


Improper signage about Thompson Park’s closing time has caused a driving while intoxicated charge against a Carthage man to be thrown out of court.

Watertown attorney Anthony M. Neddo successfully argued to dismiss a case against his client, James J. Cheal, 32, of 3614 Roberts Road, Carthage, claiming a sign at the Franklin Street entrance to the park does not sufficiently indicate when motorists are not permitted to drive in the park.

The sign reads that the park is open daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Another sign at the Gotham Street entrance cannot be viewed by motorists heading in both directions. An entrance at Park Circle does not have a sign at all, Mr. Neddo said.

On Friday, part-time Watertown City Judge Catherine L. Palermo dismissed a violation ticket issued to Mr. Cheal for being in the city-owned park after hours, contending that the signs are traffic control devices and do not adequately notify motorists that they are not permitted to enter Thompson Park after 9 p.m.

On Nov. 12, a Watertown police officer observed Mr. Cheal entering the park at Franklin Street shortly before midnight and stopped his black Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck for that reason. Mr. Cheal subsequently was charged with the more serious count of aggravated driving while intoxicated when it was determined he had a 0.20 percent blood alcohol content. A motorist can be charged with aggravated DWI if the BAC is 0.18 percent or more; the state threshold for driving while intoxicated is 0.08 percent.

With the parks violation thrown out, any evidence that stemmed from the traffic stop because of the sign cannot be used against Mr. Cheal and had to be suppressed, Christina E. Stone, the attorney who handles cases for the city of Watertown in City Court, said in explaining the ruling.

In defending his client, Mr. Neddo argued the ticket should have been dismissed based on the way the city’s park ordinance is written. The judge agreed, saying it failed to spell out that Mr. Cheal was trespassing when he drove his pickup into the park.

In a 17-page ruling, Judge Palermo concluded that the signs also do not make it clear whether the streets in the park are closed or whether just the parks’ amenities are off limits during those hours.

She also ruled that the signs do not follow state standards as “traffic control devices” in size, shape and color. Instead, they are confusing because they are attached or in proximity to other signs that read “Alcohol By Permit Only” and “No Glass Containers” and signs that indicate a noise ordinance is in effect and the park speed limit is 20 mph.

Mr. Neddo said he would not “discuss the facts of the case,” adding only that he believes the judge made the correct ruling.

“There’s a lack of signage that regulates traffic,” he said, noting the two signs are too small for motorists to read and do not spell out that motorists are not permitted in the park after hours.

However, Ms. Stone was surprised by the ruling, contending that Mr. Cheal gets off from the DWI charge as a result of a technicality on the sign violation.

“I don’t agree with the judge,” she said.

Ms. Stone argued the sign is not meant to be “a traffic control device,” so it is not regulated by vehicle and traffic laws, like a speed limit or parking sign. It simply indicates the hours that the park is open and closed, she said.

Ms. Stone plans to discuss the situation with city officials to determine whether the ruling should be appealed to Jefferson County Court.

George A. Shaffer, the Jefferson County assistant district attorney who tried the case, said he also intends to appeal the case. He declined to comment further because “it’s still an ongoing case.”

Meanwhile, Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham said he would like to see the City Council discuss extending hours in Thompson Park. The mayor said the council talked about doing that at one time but never acted on the issue.

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