COMMERCE, Ga - For nearly a year, the Commerce Police Department charged innocent people with driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol who insisted all along there was no evidence to make an arrest.
One of them passed breathalyzer tests 10 times either in the field or at the jail, yet he was still charged with drunk driving.
Cody Wood, the officer involved in all the arrests, is on paid administrative leave while the city reviews his work.
The FOX 5 I-Team has confirmed three dismissed DUI cases so far, with another also dropped because Wood wrongly charged a soldier with possession of methamphetamines after a roadside test showed a bottle of melatonin was fentanyl. There was no other evidence of drugs in his car.
When reached at his home, Wood had no comment on the investigation.
But the people he wrongly arrested sure have something to say.
"Thought I was coming down here to have dinner with my friends, listen to some people sing karaoke and then go home," Aaron Cash said while sitting outside a popular Commerce bar. "But apparently he had other ideas."
Aaron Cash of Homer was wrongly charged with DUI last April after the arresting officer ignored some obvious signs he was sober.
It had been more than three hours since Cash says he had any alcohol that night last April. He also ate a meal before leaving.
Officer Wood said Cash crossed the center line as he drove away. The FOX 5 I-Team could not confirm it because the city said the dash cam video was lost during a transfer to a new system.
But it’s clear watching Wood’s body cam, after putting the 22-year-old through a series of tests and looking into his eyes, he was convinced Cash was drunk.
Officer Wood: "Are you sure you only had one beer and one shot?"
Cash: "Yes sir."
Officer Wood: "Because that’s not what I’m seeing."
Yet, Officer Wood failed to put in his report something he did see: the results of a breathalyzer field test to detect alcohol. Cash blew a triple zero — no alcohol detected… eight times at the scene.
Cash was still arrested for drunk driving.
"I’m about to lose my job, too," a despondent Cash can be heard on the body cam video.
An officer from another agency was incredulous when he saw Aaron Cash registered zero on this jail alcohol sensor. And he made his opinion known to the arresting officer.
At the Jackson County Jail, Officer Wood called in a Jefferson police officer who was certified to use a more elaborate alcohol sensor, the Intoxilyzer 9000.
Cash blew two more times and then waited for the Jefferson cop to read the results.
Here’s what Cash remembers happening next:
"He starts looking through the paperwork, and then he looks at me, looks over at the arresting officer, looks back at me and says, ‘Is this a F-ing joke?’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ And he said, ‘Because you blew triple zeros twice. Like you’re not drunk. I don’t know why you’re here.’"
The Jefferson Police chief said his officer did not dispute Cash's recollection of that night.
Even though he had now passed 10 breath tests, Wood still charged Cash with drunk driving.
It was eventually dismissed. Wood was never disciplined for the wrongful arrest.
"The next week he was actually back out on the road," said Cash.
The FOX 5 I-Team has confirmed four false arrests by Commerce police in the last year regarding DUI and drugs. Many others are still awaiting blood test results.
On May 6, Officer Wood stopped Randall McDuffie as he headed home from work because he crossed the center line.
"I had dropped my water jug and bent down to pick it up," McDuffie explained to the FOX 5 I-Team.
Wood asked McDuffie to take a field sobriety test. The police report said he blew .000.
McDuffie denied drinking or taking drugs. Wood still charged him with DUI drugs.
"He said ‘I just feel like you’re on something,’" McDuffie recounted Wood saying. "So I’m going to jail because of someone’s feeling."
The charge was dismissed when the blood test came back clean. McDuffie had to pay $295 to a bondsman and explain to his elderly mother why his mugshot appeared in the Bad and Busted newspaper.
"I've never been locked up in my life," he said.
Ashley Faust and her uncle insisted she did not use drugs. None were found in her car. But Commerce police charged her with DUI anyway, citing suspicions about her eyelids.
Tommy Rucker got a call from his niece last October while she was being charged with driving under the influence of drugs.
Rucker, a retired cop himself, headed to the scene to talk to the officers.
"I said she don’t drink," Rucker remembered. "She don’t do drugs. She just left the house."
There were no drugs in Ashley Faust’s car. Officer Wood determined she was impaired because he decided she failed the field test, noting in his report her "eyelids had tremors" throughout one of the tests.
On Jan. 8 of this year, her blood test results finally came back. All clean. No drugs. The city dropped all charges and, for the first time, Wood was placed on paid leave.
That’s when Commerce Police Chief Ken Harmon and City Attorney Scott Kelly started reviewing all Wood’s DUI cases.
Commerce Police Officer Cody Wood made twice as many DUI arrests last year as the rest of the Commerce Police Department combined.
The FOX 5 I-Team took a look as well. In 2023, Wood made 69 DUI arrests. That’s twice as many (31) as the rest of the Commerce Police Department combined.
No one from Commerce would sit down to answer our questions. In a written statement, Chief Harmon said he’s "also reviewing the actions and involvement of other officers to ensure compliance with departmental policy."
But Cash, McDuffie and Rucker say they each complained to the chief and others in the city shortly after those bad arrests, yet they say no one took their concerns seriously.
Commerce called in the GBI last month, but a spokesperson told the FOX 5 I-Team they declined because there was no obvious suggestion of a crime.
A student pilot, Cash, managed to get his arrest records expunged, so it won’t affect his dream to eventually get his pilot’s license.
It’s unclear whether the others still have a wrongful DUI arrest on their records that would show up in a background check, making this officer’s bad decisions last far longer than a single night.
"If you have an officer that is continuously making false arrests," said Cash. "That doesn’t just reflect badly on the officer. That reflects badly on the whole department and then cops as a whole."