Investigation: ABC agents allowed to drink on the job

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A jury recently made the state pay up because a former ABC agent was drunk and crashed into another driver.

Sitting at a stop light on Route 29 in Albemarle County, Marine Jonathan Lippert  suddenly heard a siren and saw flashing emergency lights in his rear view mirror. Before he knew it, a car had slammed into his truck.

My guy was stopped at a red light," said Lippert's attorney John Ayers. "I mean, he just ran right into the back of him. When he gets out of the vehicle, he goes back to see the cop that's back there and he smells a strong odor of alcohol and knows immediately that this guy's drunk."

The driver in that crashed car was former ABC agent Eric Allen Jones. According to State Police, he had a blood alcohol level of .14 - almost twice the legal limit.

According to courtroom transcripts, Jones told police he'd been observing several restaurants and drank several beers and mixed drinks. He testified he got a call for help from another agent while having dinner.

"Finishes his drink and runs out the door and turns on his lights and siren and hits my guy less than a mile down the road," said Ayers.

The incident happened in March of 2010. Jones plead guilty to DUI and was ordered to pay fines and given a restricted license. He lost his job at the ABC, but it took three years to wrap this case up, because the state was trying to argue Jones was not actually working when the accident happened.

According to the ABC's code of conduct, agents are allowed to drink on the job. The code says, during certain undercover or investigative operations, "it may become necessary for an agent to purchase and consume alcoholic beverages."

They're not allowed more than two full drinks in a four-hour period. 

During the trial, ABC agents even testified "about going into the back of the bar when you're undercover and having to spit out the alcohol, and make sure you're not consuming too much."

"He testified himself that he was working the whole time. He never said there was any break for dinner or anything," said Ayers.

Despite the lights flashing and siren blaring, the state continued to argue Jones was not on duty when he crashed. The jury didn't buy it - agreeing Jones was on the job. It ordered the state to pay $70,000 in damages.

Lawyers for the state declined to comment for this story. Our calls to the former agent's attorney were not returned.

We reached out to the ABC to ask about the jury's verdict, and in particular the agency's alcohol policy. We were told ABC's policy is "more restrictive than most other policies. It put limits on the amount that can be consumed... Eliminating the possibility of intoxication."

The statement goes on to say Eric Jones was not on an official investigation. He became intoxicated on his own time and then attempted to drive to an assignment, resulting in a crash. He was in violation of agency policy and criminal law. Jones was immediately relieved of duty and soon after separated from the agency.

This summer, ABC agents terrified and arrested a 20-year-old woman from Henrico County after mistaking a case of sparkling water for beer. The charges were almost immediately dropped, and the ABC has since apologized and changed its policies.

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