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Originally published Friday, March 26, 2010 at 9:21 PM

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Washington State Trooper being investigated in DUI, abuse of authority

State Patrol Sgt. Chris Clark was arrested last weekend for suspicion of drunken driving. But Clark, who was off duty when he ran his personal car off the road, could face even more heat for his decision to call a rookie trooper to help him. The rookie called his superiors after noticing signs his boss was impaired, which led to Clark's arrest.

Seattle Times staff reporter

A rookie trooper "did the right thing" when he reported his suspicions that his boss, Sgt. Chris Clark, was possibly driving drunk when Clark ran his car off the road last weekend, according to State Patrol commanders.

Now, Clark, a 21-year State Patrol veteran, is being investigated for driving under the influence — but could face even more heat for apparently abusing his authority by requesting the help of a young subordinate.

"We are certainly as concerned, if not more concerned, about an apparent abuse of authority than the DUI," said Bob Calkins, a Patrol spokesman in Olympia. "We understand people make mistakes, but it's how you handle them that matters."

Clark, 42, was ultimately arrested on suspicion of drunken driving, said Patrol Cpt. Jason Berry. The Patrol expects to forward its case to Pierce County prosecutors next week for a charging decision, he said.

In the meantime, Clark has been placed on paid administrative leave, pending the outcome of the driving arrest, Berry said. Once that is resolved, he said, the Patrol will launch an internal investigation into Clark's conduct.

Clark, a detachment supervisor assigned to King County, was off-duty when he phoned Trooper Adam Gruener around 3:30 a.m. on March 20, Berry said.

He asked that Gruener, who was on duty in King County, meet him near Canyon Road East and 104th Street East in unincorporated Pierce County, west of Puyallup.

Gruener, 22, didn't know what was wrong, only that Clark was requesting his help, and so he complied, Berry said.

When Gruener arrived, he noticed signs "his sergeant was impaired by alcohol," Berry said, noting that Clark's car had become stuck after Clark had run it off the road.

Gruener, who joined the State Patrol 14 months ago, called Clark's supervisors in King County and reported his suspicions, Berry said. Sgt. Monica Alexander and Lt. David Scherf then responded to Clark's location and confirmed Gruener's suspicions, he said. One of them administered a field-sobriety test, which Clark failed, Berry said.

Clark was placed under arrest and taken to a police department in Pierce County. He was administered a Breathalyzer test and his blood-alcohol content was registered as 0.07 percent, just under the legal limit of 0.08.

"That sometimes happens," Berry said, noting that the breath test was given "some time" after Clark crashed his car and called Gruener to the scene.

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Berry said Gruener acted appropriately.

"The trooper who worked for this sergeant is a very young-tenured officer. He's only two months off probation," Berry said of Gruener. "He saw what he saw. He was in a very awkward situation, and he did the right thing."

Asked whether Gruener should've left his assignment in King County to respond to Clark's location in Pierce County, Berry said: "From his perspective, his boss called him and said he needed help.

"Is this what his sergeant should have asked him to do? Probably not."

Clark's arrest was first reported by Seattle Times news partner, KING-TV, on Friday afternoon.

According to Calkins, a complaint against Clark for inappropriate use of the Internet was sustained in 2006 and Clark was issued a five-day suspension. The details of that incident were not immediately available. Since the union contract between troopers and the state requires that discipline records be expunged after five years, it's unknown if Clark might have been disciplined before 2005, Calkins said.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

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