Former bar owner acquitted of drunken driving

Farmington city attorney said acquittal "shocked" her

Steve Garrison

FARMINGTON — Lance Johnson, a former Farmington fire engineer and bar owner, has been acquitted of drunken driving after a non-jury trial, a decision the city's attorney described as shocking.

Johnson, 42, was charged June 4 in Farmington Municipal Court with drunken driving after he was arrested the night prior near the intersection of Sandalwood and English drives.

Johnson's ex-girlfriend called police at approximately 11:30 p.m. June 3 to report Johnson was harassing her by driving past her new boyfriend's residence on Greenwood Drive, where he knew she was staying, according to a police report.

The ex-girlfriend told police Johnson had called her and he sounded drunk, the report states.

An officer was dispatched to the residence and while he was speaking with the ex-girlfriend, Johnson allegedly drove slowly past the residence, the report states. The officer returned to his squad car and pursued Johnson through the subdivision and eventually located him parked in his vehicle with the lights off, according to the report.

Johnson allegedly told the officer, "you got me," when he was arrested, the report states.

He admitted to drinking several beers and a shot of tequila earlier in the evening and registered a 0.12 and a 0.11 blood-alcohol content level on two separate breath tests, according to the report.

A blood-alcohol content of 0.8 is the limit for operating a motor vehicle in New Mexico.

Johnson was a 16-year veteran of the Farmington Fire Department, but left the department after his arrest.

Johnson had previously been fired by the city in April 2011 after he was charged in Durango, Colo., with drunken driving, but he was reinstated after filing a lawsuit claiming wrongful termination.

That drunken driving charge was eventually dismissed through a plea agreement with prosecutors.

Johnson also owned Zebra's Bar & Grill before it was closed on April 4.

Johnson declined to comment Monday on the acquittal, but said he no longer lived in Farmington.

Farmington City Attorney Jennifer Breakell said Johnson was acquitted after a one-day trial on Oct. 22. A part-time municipal judge, Stacey Biel, presided over the trial due to the absence of the city's elected municipal judges, according to Breakell.

Breakell said Biel decided to acquit Johnson, despite the breath test results and officer testimony, because Johnson's ex-girlfriend could not be located to testify.

Breakell said Biel's decision "shocked" the attorneys in her office. Johnson was not being charged in connection to the alleged harassment, Breakall said.

"We were shocked about it, based on how the law reads," Breakell said.

Breakell said Biel's decision is final and cannot be appealed.

"We respect the decision of the judge," Breakell said.

Nothing in Johnson's case file indicates why he was acquitted. Biel could not be reached for comment Monday.

Johnson's attorney, Mitch Burns, also could not be reached for comment.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644.