The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

December 8, 2009

DWI charge against Neosho minister to be dismissed


By Derek Spellman

dspellman@joplinglobe.com

NEOSHO, Mo. — A charge of driving while intoxicated against a Neosho minister who has maintained his innocence since his arrest in July will be dismissed, city officials said Tuesday.

Melvin Stapp, 61, had asked that the DWI charge be dismissed after a Breathalyzer test showed no traces of alcohol in his system not long after his arrest on July 5. The charge had remained, though, pending the results of a lab analysis of a urine sample Stapp gave authorities in July.

“While substances were found to be present in Mr. Stapp’s test results, it has been determined that it was the result of prescription medication lawfully taken by Mr. Stapp,” the city said in a news release Tuesday.

City Attorney Steve Hays, who also acts as the city prosecutor in municipal cases, declined to comment beyond the press release, although he did say the dismissal extends only to the DWI charge. A separate charge of improper lane use against Stapp will remain.

Stapp, who has addressed the City Council about his arrest and the amount of time involved in obtaining the lab results, welcomed the news release.

“Finally,” he told the Globe on Tuesday. “I was glad to get that taken care of.”

Stapp reiterated what he had previously said: that he had no harsh words for the city, that the police have always been polite, and that they made a “judgment call” with which he disagreed.

Still, he said he thinks “the damage that was done (to his reputation) will never be repaired.”

Police had said Stapp failed several field sobriety tests administered at the scene and also had red eyes, which Stapp later said stem from eye problems he has had for years. Stapp was arrested.

A Breathalyzer test administered at the Newton County Jail showed no traces of alcohol, while the results of the urine sample analysis remained pending.

Stapp has always denied both the DWI charge and the charge of improper lane use.

“To me, it seems like I’ve been assumed guilty already,” he told the City Council in late July, later saying that his reputation was damaged. “Everybody in the country knows I’ve been arrested,” and “everybody in the country knows I’m a pastor,” he said.

Police Chief Dave McCracken previously told the Globe that he understood why Stapp was upset, but he said police acted in accordance with state law and department policy. Once police arrested Stapp on probable cause of driving while intoxicated, a condition that extends not only to alcohol but also to legally prescribed medications if they impair driving, the department could not “un-arrest” him and had to file paperwork with Hays, the chief said.

As for the improper-lane charge, Stapp said he plans to continue contesting that too.

“I’m not going to plead guilty to it because I don’t think I did anything wrong,” he said Tuesday.

The minister said he plans to attend future council meetings, although he will not necessarily plan to speak to the council.

“If they leave me alone, I will leave them alone,” he said Tuesday, referring to the city.





Background

Melvin Stapp, the minister of Monark Baptist Church, was pulled over at 1:05 a.m. on July 5 after Neosho police reportedly saw his vehicle traveling over the center yellow line for about half a block on Neosho Boulevard, near Stadium Drive. Stapp said he was headed home after manning his church’s fireworks stand on July 4.