Hilliard found guilty of aggravated DWI, asks for forgiveness 

  • Merrimack County Sheriff Scott Hilliard was arrested for drunken driving Aug. 9. He was found guilty of aggravated DWI on Tuesday. Monitor file

Monitor staff
Published: 1/14/2020 11:16:19 AM

Merrimack County Sheriff Scott Hilliard will spend five days in jail and have his license suspended for up to 18 months after he was found guilty of aggravated driving while intoxicated and an open container violation Tuesday morning.

If he completes an impaired driver management program, Hilliard can apply to have his license reinstated after 12 months, Nashua District Court Judge James Leary ruled. Hilliard will then have to drive with an ignition interlock device for 24 months after his license is reinstated. He will pay a $930 fine.

“I feel that it’s important that people realize that under the badge that I wear as the sheriff proudly, there is a human heart and I’m doing the best I can,” Hilliard said after his sentence was read. “I acknowledge what happened today and again, I ask for forgiveness.”

In September, the State of New Hampshire Standards and Training Council unanimously voted to suspend Hilliard’s certification pending the outcome of his case. It’s not clear what effect the conviction will have on the rest of Hilliard’s term as sheriff, which is an elected position, or if he could run again in the future.

Merrimack County Administrator Ross Cunningham did not return a call Tuesday asking for clarification.

Hilliard, 58, was arrested on Aug. 9 in a 99 Restaurant parking lot in Tilton after a caller reported to police that a man in a white Cadillac was driving erratically on Laconia Road, also known as Route 3.

After he was pulled over, officers said they could smell alcohol on Hilliard’s breath and that Hilliard had slurred speech, flushed cheeks and glossy eyes. Police also found a glass tumbler in the Cadillac, which Hilliard said contained a “cocktail.”

Hilliard was arrested and transported to Franklin Regional Hospital, where a blood-draw revealed his blood-alcohol level to be 0.246%. He was not on duty at the time of the incident.

Both Hilliard and his lawyer spoke openly Tuesday about his struggle with alcoholism, which they said has been fueled by struggles with mental health.

“I am not excited about today’s outcome, I did not expect this,” Hilliard said. “I am sorry. I asked for forgiveness for my mistakes. I asked for forgiveness from God. I asked from the court. I asked from my family. I asked from the people who work for me. I am human, I made a mistake. I have acknowledged it since then. I have also taken the liberty to correct my mistake. I’ve been to counseling, I found a fantastic counselor.”

Defense attorney Jared Bedrick said a culture of seeking support for mental health challenges is absent for many law enforcement officers who experience trauma on the job.

“It’s not the most welcoming environment to come out and say you’re suffering,” Bedrick said. “You see people suffering in silence for many years without the proper treatment. This is what’s happened to Scott.”

“They see a lot, they have to do a lot, it subjects them to the kind of things that cause PTSD, depression, anxiety and alcoholism,” Bedrick added.

Yet Bedrick described Hilliard’s DWI as a “blessing” a “wake-up call.”

Hilliard said four days after his arrest, he started seeing a counselor. He is now seeing that counselor weekly and has been sober for six months.

Leary’s decision Tuesday was drastic shift from his ruling during the first day of Hillard’s bench trial in December.

Last month, Leary ruled in favor of a motion by Hilliard’s attorney to suppress any evidence police obtained against Hilliard after his drunken-driving arrest, including the results of the hospital blood draw.

Bedrick argued that although Tilton police officers conducted a thorough investigation, they made an “unlawful” arrest because they did not attempt to apply for a warrant.

However, the state successfully argued Tuesday that the blood draw should be considered by the judge because Hilliard voluntarily consented to the test.

Leary said when he watched the body camera footage of the night of Hillard’s arrest, he saw that the Tilton officers were professional with Hilliard.

“I saw when he did consent, I saw the video. Dejected, depressed, almost despondent I guess to some extent, but he did consent,” Leary said. “He was read Miranda, I saw him nod his head and say ‘yes.’ I saw the sergeant read the ALS (Administrative License Suspension) rights to him, he did consent every time, he nodded his head yes. He signed the document.”

Leary commended Hilliard for the steps he has taken to better himself since his arrest. He said that made an impact on his sentencing.

Leary was “astounded” when he saw how well he was operating with a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit.

Leary sentenced Hilliard to 17 days in jail with five days imposed and the rest suspended. He said Hilliard will serve that time in the Belknap House of Corrections.

Hilliard’s court proceedings were moved out of Merrimack County to Nashua to give him a fair trial.

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