A Loudoun County Public Schools teacher accused of drinking on school grounds has been found non-guilty.
A jury acquitted Michael L. Hitzges, 48, of his one drunk in public charge after less than 20 minutes of deliberation after a Feb. 25 trial in the Loudoun County Circuit Court.
A driver's education teacher, Hitzges was arrested March 4, 2013 after a colleague notified a school resource officer at Broad Run High School, suspecting Hitzges was under the influence of alcohol.
Hitzges had admitted to drinking the night prior, around five beers and a couple of shots, with his last drink taking place at around 11:30 p.m. He arrived at school the following morning at around 6 a.m.
During a preliminary breath test conducted at the school by Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Kenneth Pratt rendered a BAC of .09; however, the breath test was not admitted as evidence, with Judge Thomas Horne reasoning that the .08 limit applies to operating a motor vehicle, not a drunk in public charge.
“What is the limit of intoxication? The limit is for someone to be disturbing the public peace,” Horne told the court prior to a jury being brought in.
Just four witnesses were called over the course of the two-hour trial. First brought to the stand was Marie Rosperich, a nine-year science teacher at Broad Run who shared a classroom with Hitzges. As Hitzges prepared to take over the classroom to monitor his study hall, Rosperich noticed he looked tired and smelled of alcohol. When she returned to the classroom around noon, Rosperich reported that Hitzges appeared to be asleep. She moved some chairs around, but only roused him when she lifted a table and dropped it on the ground. She then reported Hitzges to assistant principal, Michael Fitzgerald.
Other witnesses included Fitzgerald and fellow Broad Run assistant principal Melissa Sergeant, both of whom interviewed Hitzges March 3.
While all three witnesses noticed Hitzges looked tired, none of them reported him slurring speech or swaying.
“He basically looked like he had a really bad hangover,” Fitzgerald said.
Defense attorney Todd Sanders attempted to dismiss the case on the grounds that Broad Run doesn’t constitute a public space given the limited people allowed on the school grounds and security, a motion Horne denied.
Before the jury took to deliberation, Horne clarified that the mere scent of alcohol is insufficient to alone prove drunk in public, but that other impairments are necessary.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Shamis argued that Hitzges’s sleepiness and falling asleep at work constituted impairment, but Sanders argued that was more indicative of a hangover.
“It’s not a crime to be hungover,” Sanders said. “It’s probably a bad idea to go to work hungover, but it doesn’t make him intoxicated in public.”
The jury ultimately agreed with Sanders.
Though Hitzges has spent 11 year’s at LCPS, including nine at Broad Run, he is no longer with LCPS.
“He would like to teach again and hopes this is a step in the right direction,” Sanders said. “Teaching has always been his passion and it’s something he’s very good at.”
Hitzges will be back in court March 11 for a separate drunk in public hearing stemming from a Jan. 12. He was allegedly walking home from a bar at the time of his most recent arrest.