District of Columbia police were overzealous and in error when they charged senior White House adviser George Stephanopoulos with leaving the scene of an accident in Georgetown, police sources said Friday.
That traffic charge and another of driving with an expired permit likely will be dropped by city prosecutors at Stephanopoulos’s Sept. 18 court date, the sources said.
“The officer just made bad decisions,” said a police official familiar with the incident. Stephanopoulos was handcuffed and taken to the station about 11 p.m. Thursday after an encounter with an officer that began as Stephanopoulos struggled to get his car out of a tight parking space on M Street NW. Witnesses said he twice hit the bumper of a Nissan Pathfinder in front of him. The officer, who was standing nearby, walked over and, after a brief conversation, charged him with fleeing the scene.
“Do you know where my car was when I supposedly fled the scene? In the parking space, stopped,” Stephanopoulos said Friday. “I couldn’t get out of the space if I wanted to, and of course I had no intention of leaving.”
At the 2nd District station, officers gave Stephanopoulos a breath test, which registered 0.00 for alcohol.
Witnesses Friday said a police officer admonished Stephanopoulos for popping Tic Tac breath mints - a well-known habit of the presidential aide - saying it could affect results of his breath test. But several specialists said Tic Tacs have no effect on the test.
According to District motor vehicle records, Stephanopoulos’s license expired on July 8 - within the 90-day grace period allowed by the police department’s General Orders. During the grace period, drivers usually are not taken into custody but instead are ticketed and told not to drive until their permit is renewed.
White House press secretary Michael McCurry said President Clinton “fully expects George to get his license renewed.” Stephanopoulos said it was an oversight.
The penalty for leaving the scene of an accident where there has been bodily injury or “substantial property damage” is a $100 fine and up to 30 days in jail.