Once Lauded as Top DUI Enforcer, Thomas Kustra Proves Perverse Incentives

renegade law enforcement officers who act like Trooper Kustra is an equally serious crime and should be treated as such. He has violated my friends constitutional rights, shown total and complete disregard for the law and caused much harm and damage to her personal, professional and financial life.
-complainant

Thomas Kustra, employed at the Georgia State Patrol, made it his mission to target DUI drivers. He averages three DUI arrests per shift, for a whopping 282 total in 2010, earning him Georgia Officer DUI Hero Award and the Officer of the Year from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

Kustra is part of the Nighthawks DUI Task Force which boasts the “most highly trained DIU enforcement officers in Georgia.” Despite whatever good intentions Kustra and his colleagues have, at the end of the day, like all in law enforcement, they’re responding to incentives. Perverse incentives.

His incentive is not to “serve and protect” but to make arrests. That metric – arrests – is one of the only objective ways he can gauge his impact. Quite literally he’s incentivized to make arrests. Even when there’s no one harming a person or property.

Do you think Kustra was disappointed that he received recognition from MADD? Or that last December, Jack Hill and Johnny Grant, “senators” in Georgia, sponsored a resolution “Recognizing and commending Trooper First Class Thomas Kustra; and for other purposes” that adorned him with such praise:

it is abundantly fitting and proper that the extraordinary accomplishments of this distinguished Georgian be appropriately recognized. NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE SENATE that the members of this body commend the courageous and selfless dedication of Trooper First Class Thomas Kustra and recognize him on receiving the Meritorious Service Award from the Peace Officers’ Association of Georgia.

Kustra and his colleagues don’t have to please their “customers.” They operate without competition. Like every other government program their incentive is only to expand – to grow in size and scope.

In fact, since it’s founding in 2004, Nighthawk has tripled in personnel (from 1o to 30) and doubled the ground they cover (from five to 10: Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett to Athens-Clarke, Bulloch, Chatham, Clayton, Cobb, Columbus, DeKalb, Fulton, Gwinnett and Macon).

And why shouldn’t they? What budgetary restrictions do they face? Not many, considering that they have a ready-made “customer” base – everyone who lives within the arbitrary political boundaries of Georgia who is told “your money or your life“, which funds the ramped-up police state in which Kustra prides himself at being at the forefront.

Incentives do make a difference. Do you think Everyone Kustra ever arrested was actually unable to safely operate a vehicle?

Below is a complaint filed with Georgia’s Department of Public Safety Special Investigations Unit (SIU) about Kustra’s actions that is very telling. The complainant was hesitant to make-public their name at this time since they received a call threatening arrest if it was made.

Today I called SIU (404-624-7523) and spoke with Angie Holt, it’s head. I noted that I was recording the call and expressed my experience – that folks with badges often get-away with things wrong for you or I – and encouraged them to do the right thing. Holt noted that she’d pass-along word to the person investigating the complaint. And she did confirm that Kustra was currently still on the job. We’ll see what happens…

Have you had a run-in with Kustra, pro or con? Leave a comment and let his reputation speak for itself.

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June 7, 2012

From: XXXXX XXXXXXXX

To: XXXXXX XXXXXX, Special Investigation Division, Georgia State Patrol

CC: John Lewis, State Representative, Governor Nathan Deal

RE: Complaint Against Trooper Kustra

PLEASE NOTE: I received a call from somebody who I believe Identified himself as “Corporal Custer” from the Ga State Patrol, cell number (XXX) XXX-XXXX on June 7, 2012 at 2:08pm. He threatened to arrest me if I file this complaint. In addition he said the complaint was past the statue of limitations, and would not be heard. I asked him if he was part of SID. He said he was not, and they would not take my complaint. When asked who I should talk to in order to file this complaint, he refused to answer the question, but instead replied that the complaint would not be heard. At this point and time, due to the threatening nature of the call, and the extremely aggressive response and demeanor of the person I spoke with, I am in fear for my own safety, and fear retaliation for filing this report. If, indeed, I need to be arrested for filing this complaint, then do so – I am willing to go to jail if I have to in order to do what I believe to be the right thing, but I hereby formally request that any further harassment from any government employee, including, but not limited to the Georgia State Patrol, stop immediately.

I’d like to file a complaint against Trooper Kustra. He is guilty of the following offences:

1) Careless & Reckless Driving
2) Needlessly Endangering the Life of a Passenger in His Patrol Car
3) Compromising a Criminal Case
4) Departing from the Truth
5) False and Wrongful Arrest
6) Knowingly Making a False Report
7) Giving False Testimony in Fulton County Court
8) Misuse of State Resources

On March 18, 2010, 11:56pm My friend was pulled over by Georgia St Patrol Trooper Kustra in Buckhead. I was in the passenger seat. She was coming from dinner at an upscale restaurant. She had 1 glass of wine with her dinner, which lasted over an hour and a half. He arrested her, 2 hours after consuming that glass of wine. According to the charges filed by Trooper Kustra, she had failed to maintain her lane, which gave him probable cause to stop the vehicle.

She was handcuffed, placed inside the police car and arrested for DUI. Her car was less than 500 ft from her driveway. Trooper Kustra would not allow me to drive the 500 feet, nor did he administer the standard field sobriety tests; The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test, The One Leg Stand test or The Walk and Turn Test. He insisted the car be towed and impounded. According to the woman being arrested, Trooper Kustra read some information to her from a small card concerning her rights once in the patrol car. He read it so quickly she was unable to understand. When she asked the trooper to repeat the information more slowly and clearly, he refused.

At this point, I walked the 500 ft, carrying her belongings from the car, back to her house. I waited about 30 minutes to make sure the 2 glasses of wine I had consumed with dinner, at this point, almost 5 hours earlier, would in no way impair my ability to drive. I then got in my car to go bail her out of jail. As I turned down Piedmont Avenue, Trooper Kustra flew past me with her in the back. They were traveling at a ridiculous rate of speed. His blue lights were not on. I caught up with them a few stop lights down the road. As we turned to get on I 85 headed south, he began to speed up. Thinking it would save me from having to use my GPS to find the jail, I decided to follow them. By the time we reached the 17th street exit, we were going 85 miles an hour in a 55mph zone. I backed off my speed as I was concerned about my own safety at this point. By the 10th Street exit, Trooper Kustra was going what appeared to be triple digit speeds. I was doing 75 mph and had lost complete sight of him before we reached the North Ave. exit. His blue lights were still not on. The accused was not put in a seat belt, and later claimed she had been slammed around the back of the patrol car, handcuffed, to the point of having bruises on her wrists, hands and shoulders. I fail to see any emergency situation that warranted that degree reckless driving and endangerment of his passenger who was handcuffed, not secured and unable to protect herself.

On Monday, June 4th, 2012, I went to testify on her behalf at a jury trial, which ended her two year nightmare. The trial lasted all day. After less than 4 minutes of deliberation, the jury came back with a not guilty verdict on both counts; failure to maintain lane and DUI. Trooper Kustra, who has since been promoted, testified she had swerved into oncoming traffic, across the double yellow lines. Myself and the defendant (we were both in the car at the time) both testified this was not true (which it was not, nor was there any traffic on the road). Somehow, the video footage of the arrest, which was crystal clear, did not contain the footage of the infraction, due to “technical problems with the camera”. In addition, Trooper Kustra testified that she had glassy eyes, smelled of alcohol, and slurred speech. Her voice can be clearly heard on the video and it is not slurred in the least little bit, nor did she smell of alcohol or have glassy eyes. The reality is she was pulled over without probable cause and wrongfully arrested by a trooper who acted as though he was above the law. Her defense attorney pointed out she had been given the field sobriety tests while wearing 2 ½” heels on rough, broken pavement.

Now that the trial is over, and she won (if you can call it that), the aftermath is around $10,000 in legal fees, bail, court reporter, impound fee’s, etc. In addition, the defendant had gotten a six figure job, but was dismissed after the last step, the background check, which revealed the pending case (she had never been arrested before and had no prior legal issues). In addition, she was detained and interrogated by customs upon entering the country twice (her job at the time involved international travel – the arrest may or may not have contributed to her being laid off). When her previous employer laid her off as a result of the economy, she was left with no option but to empty her retirement savings to pay for her defense. She is currently in negotiations with her bank to try to keep her condo in Buckhead, which may or may not happen. The two years of terrible anxiety has taken a toll on her health. She has bills from a physiologist that need to be paid. All of this as a direct result of Troopers Kustra’s poor judgment and total disregard for the law.

We have many supporting documents, including the receipt from the restaurant showing her one glass of wine and the time the bill was paid shortly before her arrest. In addition, we have the possibility of tracking down the waiter to testify as such. We also have the video of the arrest, along with all of the court documents, receipts, etc. We are currently waiting for the court transcriptions.

I would also like to add that Kustra forced the case to go to trial despite the State having zero chance of winning the case, and, according to our defense attorney, the prosecuting attorney’s desire to not try the case. I can only imagine the cost of a courtroom for 10 hours, his 7 hours, his patrol car parked for 7 – 8 hours, two attorneys from the DA’s office, 11 hours of the judges time, the jurors time, the court officer for 12 hours and the two corrections officers that spent an hour outside of the courtroom. The cost of the wasted resources to the State and Fulton County must be substantial. All over 1 glass of wine with a dinner.

In closing, I’d like to say, firstly, that I do not condone driving impaired, think it is a very serious crime, and a threat to public safety. I’ve never been arrested for it, and I don’t do it. That being said, renegade law enforcement officers who act like Trooper Kustra is an equally serious crime and should be treated as such. He has violated my friends constitional rights, shown total and complete disregard for the law and caused much harm and damage to her personal, professional and financial life. The police are supposed to be the good guys, and when they stop being the good guys, the system is broken. According to documents released by MADD, In 2010, Trooper Kustra, was credited for 282 DUI arrests, the most DUI arrests in the State of Georgia for that year. While his hard work and determination are admirable, I have to wonder, of that record breaking achievement, how many of those arrests were lawful and how many of those accused are simply victims like my friend, of Kustra’s race up the rankings of the Georgia State Patrol.

I hereby swear that to the best of my knowledge, the above is true.

XXXXX XXXXXXX

EPN

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Pete Eyre

Pete Eyre is co-founder of CopBlock.org. As an advocate of peaceful, consensual interactions, he seeks to inject a message of complete liberty and self-government into the conversation of police accountability. Eyre went to undergrad and grad school for law enforcement, then spent time in DC as an intern at the Cato Institute, a Koch Fellow at the Drug Policy Alliance, Directer of Campus Outreach at the Institute for Humane Studies, Crasher-in-Chief at Bureaucrash, and as a contractor for the Future of Freedom Foundation. In 2009 he left the belly of the beast and hit the road with Motorhome Diaries and later co-founded Liberty On Tour. He spent time in New Hampshire home, and was involved with Free Keene, the Free State Project and The Daily Decrypt.