DWI checkpoint critic hauled off to EBR jail

A Baton Rouge-area defense attorney known for criticizing the use of sobriety checkpoints was handcuffed and taken to jail early Wednesday after exiting the passenger side of his vehicle while intoxicated and informing his driver of her right to refuse a sobriety test, police said.

Jarrett Ambeau, who defends alleged drunk drivers for a living, claims he was targeted and jailed without cause on a misdemeanor count of interfering with an officer because of the work he does, said David Rozas, Ambeau’s attorney.

“He really was just trying to protect his client, that’s it,” Rozas said. “I think he has a reason to feel the way he feels — wronged.”

Ambeau, who also practices law in Ascension Parish, manages a Facebook page called “Baton Rouge DWI Checkpoints” that publishes the locations of sobriety checkpoints — a hobby he believes may have contributed to his booking into East Baton Rouge Parish Prison, Rozas said.

“It’s my client’s position that he feels like he was targeted because of his connection to the DWI sobriety checkpoints and the amount of DWI defending that he does in the surrounding parishes and this parish,” Rozas said.

Ambeau was riding in the passenger seat of his vehicle Wednesday morning when a Baton Rouge police officer initiated a traffic stop. Ambeau immediately advised his driver to refuse any field sobriety tests, Rozas said.

“He informed his client of her constitutional rights and said, ‘Hey, you’re not going to answer any questions. … We’ll go on our merry way. Don’t cause any trouble; just tell them you’re not going to answer any questions,’ ” Rozas said.

Not long after, Ambeau noticed the officer began to perform a field sobriety test on the woman.

“At that point, that’s when (Ambeau) decides to get out of the vehicle and, putting his hands up, says, ‘Wait, wait, stop, stop, stop,’ ” Rozas said.

In an affidavit of probable cause, Cpl. Mickey Duncan wrote, “While beginning field sobriety testing, the passenger, (Ambeau), exited the vehicle and aggressively began to approach (me), yelling for the driver to not take any tests.”

Duncan described Ambeau as “highly intoxicated,” adding that his actions interfered with the officer’s investigation.

Rozas, who said Ambeau had consumed some alcohol, contends Ambeau was only doing his job.

“The real issue is: If a lawyer is invoking that right to counsel for his client, is he impeding the investigation to the point of being arrested?” Rozas said.

It’s not unusual for police to book people into jail on some misdemeanor counts.

“It’s a situational call,” said Cpl. Don Coppola Jr., a Baton Rouge police spokesman.

He also said the Police Department does not target people or treat anyone unfairly.

Ambeau’s driver, Shannon Bottoms, was issued citations for improper lane usage and failure to change address on a driver’s license, said Cpl. L’Jean McKneely, a Baton Rouge police spokesman. Bottoms wasn’t booked into jail.

Ambeau posted bail Wednesday morning soon after being outfitted in an orange jumpsuit and locked in a jail cell.

“He never wants to have to experience that again,” Rozas said.