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Legislator Johns Arrested for DUI During 2018 Session, Pled Down to Reckless Driving

On February 5, 2018, Stanley County Deputy Gary Nickerson issued the following DUI ticket in Fort Pierre city limits to Timothy Robert Johns:

Johns DUI ticket 2018.02.05.
Johns DUI ticket 2018.02.05.

At the time of the arrest, Johns was serving in the Legislature as a Representative of District 31. Johns is currently the Senator from District 31. On the day of the arrest, a Monday, Johns had chaired a 7:45 a.m. hearing of the House Education Committee, vice-chaired a 10:00 a.m. hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, and voted on several bills during a three-and-a-half-hour afternoon meeting of the full House. None of Johns’s committees were scheduled to meet the next morning; the House would reconvene Tuesday afternoon at 2 p.m. If Johns was not particularly interested in observing or testifying at any committee hearings, he could thus afford getting to bed and rising a bit late.

Then-Representative Johns appears to have taken a bit too much liberty with the prospect of a lazy Tuesday morning. Deputy Nickerson wrote out the above ticket at 22:09, not quite five hours after the House adjourned for the day. According to the deputy’s affidavit of probable cause, Deputy Nickerson found Johns so fragrantly inebriated that he cut short the sobriety test for fear the man would fall over:

Nickerson affidavit, Feb 2018.
Nickerson affidavit, Feb 2018.

Johns, a retired judge, understood the case against him well. Four days after the 2018 Session finished, on March 30, 2018, Johns pled guilty to reckless driving to get the state to drop the DUI charge. In his plea, he admitted that he “had previously ingested some alcohol and operated a motor vehicle in Stanley County on or about February 5, 2018”:

Timothy R. Johns, guilty plea to reckless driving, 2018.03.30, filed with Sixth Circuit Court 2018.04.04.
Timothy R. Johns, guilty plea to reckless driving, 2018.03.30, filed with Sixth Circuit Court 2018.04.04.
Timothy R. Johns, guilty plea to reckless driving, 2018.03.30, filed with Sixth Circuit Court 2018.04.04.
Timothy R. Johns, guilty plea to reckless driving, 2018.03.30, filed with Sixth Circuit Court 2018.04.04.
Timothy R. Johns, guilty plea to reckless driving, 2018.03.30, filed with Sixth Circuit Court 2018.04.04.
Timothy R. Johns, guilty plea to reckless driving, 2018.03.30, filed with Sixth Circuit Court 2018.04.04.

Judge Leo Disburg accepted this plea and, on April 5, 2018, sentenced Johns to 30 days in jail. Judge Disburg suspended that jail time on the condition that Johns pay a $220 fine and $194 in court costs for his reckless driving:

Judge Leo Disburg, Sixth Circuit Court, Judgment of Conviction of Timothy Robert Johns, 2018.04.05.
Judge Leo Disburg, Sixth Circuit Court, Judgment of Conviction of Timothy Robert Johns, 2018.04.05.

Johns joins fellow West River Senator Gary Cammack (R-29/Union Center) in the DUI-during-Session club. Given Johns’s DUI arrest in 2018 and Cammack’s in 2020, we could calculate that our 105 legislators have a known DUI arrest rate of 635 per 100,000 per year. South Dakota has led the nation in DUI arrests, posting 721.9 DUI arrests per 100,000 population in 2018. The national average DUI arrest rate in 2019 was 330 per 100,000.


  1. larry kurtz 2021-10-18 08:09

    I know Tim Johns all too well.

    After his wife died in 2012 his life turned upside down leaving him to run headlong into the September of his years. I talked to him on the phone in 2018 about creating the legal instrument that would bring an ice climbing park to the Open Cut before I gave up on Lead. He’s one of a handful of decent Republicans in South Dakota.

  2. John 2021-10-18 08:18

    We’re number one! We’re number one!
    That’s a reason I loathe driving in the evening. Instead of concern that ‘the deer are out’ – which, may nor may not occur; we know for certain the drunks are out.
    Being number one affects the vehicle insurance of ALL of us. Perhaps it’s long past the time to stop the gratuitous pleading down of DUI firsts. Perhaps these plead down DUIs are emblematic of how an attorney general is able to kill a pedestrian while evading a murder charge. Perhaps its long past the time for South Dakota to return to being, The Sunshine State.

  3. Nick Nemec 2021-10-18 08:25

    Legislators driving after drinking is about as dumb as it comes, especially crossing the bridge between Pierre and Fort Pierre late at night.

  4. mike from iowa 2021-10-18 09:22

    How is it so many people accumulate DUIs and they stay on their record for like forever? The next time pols get pulled over they get the first one muilligan?

  5. Eve Fisher 2021-10-18 09:41

    Is there a contest among the legislators to see who can get the most DUIs without going to jail?

  6. Allen Jeris 2021-10-18 10:49

    He should be gone. No excuse for this.

  7. Misty 2021-10-18 10:57

    What was his BAC? Was he entitled to the plea bargain or did he get a deal a normal citizen would not receive. That’s the question.

  8. bearcreekbat 2021-10-18 10:59

    The officer’s affidavit states that “He miss counted on a number counting exerise. During the walk and turn he did not maintain the instructional stance, he missed heel to toe, swayed and raised his arms. During the one leg stand test, he swayed, raised his arms, and put his foot down.”

    A couple years ago I had a heart procedure and went through a group rehab program at our local hospital, which included working on balance, Every day they had us attempt to “walk . . . heel to toe” and to stand on one leg. Every one of us had trouble maintaining balance, swaying, raising our arms and touching something, or putting a foot down throughout the entire program. I saw no indication that any of us had been drinking alcohol before any of the rehab sessions. My spouse has never had heart problems but experiences the same if not worse balance issues. Senator Johns is a few years older that both of us.

    The HGN test where the officer moves a pen in front of your eyes is interesting, but not a particularly reliable indiator of alcohol intoxication. If administered correctly by the officer

    . . . the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), studies have revealed the HGN Test to be 77% reliable in determining whether a driver has a blood alcohol concentration above .10, [which means it is inaccurrate 23% of the time].

    . . . However, law enforcement officials are notorious for administering the test incorrectly. This generally stems from lack of training, improper training, and failure to adhere to the proper procedures. . . . .”

    . . . the crucial issue in most DWI trials is whether the test was administered in accordance with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) guidelines for the HGN. One study observed that the HGN test was administered in the field incorrectly over 90 percent of the time.

    Add these troublesome details to the fact that the officer did not observe erratic driving, but stopped Johns for tail light issues and one might pause. Johns did plead guilty to reckless driving, either because he felt he was in fact guilty or perhaps he wanted to avoid the publicity, cost, and trauma of a public jury trial testing his actual guilt. While like most folks, I abhor drunk drivers, the devil is still in the details.

  9. bearcreekbat 2021-10-18 11:12

    As for failing the “number counting exercise” it brings to mind Heywood Banks and one of his tunes testing the ability to count to 18 and back.

  10. cibvet 2021-10-18 11:37

    As a retired judge, he knows the system, declined a breathalyzer test and failed all the other tests. That was the details and it appears he received favored treatment.Was there a chemical blood analysis required by law? Nothing stated here as such which would require license revocation. Show me an Indian or blue collar worker who gets the same treatment even with a high dollar lawyer.

  11. larry kurtz 2021-10-18 11:45

    Gary Cammack is on that list, too. Johns, not John’s.

  12. Loren 2021-10-18 12:51

    Is the DUI downgrade a legislative perk or can we all get one? Not to argue with bearcreek, but he suggests each test has its limits. Correct, but when you don’t pass even one of them… There is just too much of these “creative pleas” going on in SD. Kristi and her traffic rap sheet, Mikey and his EB5 corruption, Ravnsborg, senator this and senator that… I think we do have a trend!

  13. ArloBlundt 2021-10-18 15:43

    Cory….allow me to digress for a minute to thank you for reprinting the remembrance of Jim Soyer from South Dakota Governors. He was a wonderful guy, humble, good humored and immensely dedicated to being a true public servant. A couple things people may not know about Jim is that he was a quiet, effective behind the scene advocate for children and adults with disabilities and supported the deinstitutionalization movement in South Dakota in a 25 year long battle to establish a network of school and community based programs. Jim’s help in bringing South Dakota from a draconian system unchanged since statehood to a system that respects the personhood and dignity of people with disabilities was essential. What kind of guy was Jim?? Well, for over 20 years he served faithfully as an umpire in the Pierre Men’s and Women’s Softball League. The competition in the league ranged from boozily apathetic to red hot and very vocal, but Jim was widely respected as an arbiter and in the 10 years I played in various levels of the league (which had as many as 70 teams in the 70’s and 80’s), I never heard a player or manager bad mouth Jim Soyer. He was that kind of guy, calm, kind, and a perceptive observer of the human folly and triumph that is Pierre.

  14. grudznick 2021-10-18 15:57

    Let us hope this Officer Nickerson fellow read Mr. Johns the riot act for having his tail lights out, too, and did not let him skate on that offense.

  15. ArloBlundt 2021-10-18 17:32

    Grudz–I’m do you turn off your tail lights if your headlights are on…its 10;30, 11:30 Central Time…don’t have a car where the tail lights light up independently (or shut off) from the head lights…what am I missing.??

  16. grudznick 2021-10-18 19:26

    Mr. Blundt, I am not suggesting this fellow had a switch cut into the wires going back to his tail lights.
    I said

    Let us hope this Officer Nickerson fellow read Mr. Johns the riot act for having his tail lights out, too, and did not let him skate on that offense.

    I suppose it is possible he did not have his headlights on either, but I expect a fellow as well-to-do as Mr. Johns drives one of those fancy cars where the lights on come by them selves. What I am wondering and you are not picking up, because grudznick did not mansplain it better, is, why on earth did a fellow who was a judge and lawyer and in the legislatures be driving around after drinking without functioning, perhaps broken, tail lights? It is a fair question.

    Unless, perhaps, you are suggesting some libbie thug walked by Mr. Johns’ car and kicked out the tail lights to get him picked up? That’s crafty.q

  17. ArloBlundt 2021-10-18 20:20

    Grudz…no I’m not suggesting that an evil Fort Pierre Liberal kicked out the Senator’s tail lights so that he would get picked up running the gauntlet over the bridge to Pierre. As to why the Senator would get all wet and go driving at near midnight after several hours in the dens of inequity of Fort Pierre…as a friend of mine observed “You’re never too old for a wild hair”. Be forewarned.

  18. grudznick 2021-10-18 20:46

    As you may know, grudznick’s coiffure is rather unruly.

    The address of this infraction is curious. I, for one, am surprised that Mr. H did not investigate this further. If one uses the Google, it appears Marion St. and Hwy 83 do not intersect? Could the officer have been drunk or perhaps disoriented, or even on the demon weed? Was Mr. Johns on his way south on 83, towards the seedy district, or on his way back from the seedy district and got himself lost along Marion St. and who might live along Marion St. during the sessions that Mr. Johns might have been visiting? This becomes curiouser and curiouser.

  19. Mark Anderson 2021-10-18 22:31

    That late night trip from Ft. Pierre back to Pierre is a huge problem. Now if they would just let the bars in Pierre stay open an hour later, problem solved.

  20. ABC 2021-10-18 22:44

    According to one map, he was west of Pizza Ranch, east of Perkins on Hwy 83, when he was stopped.

    Marion Street ends as it intersects Huston Ave, so realistically, he was at the intersection of Hwy 83 and Island Drive, between first national bank and Perkins. Callling it Marion Street is old timey and not accurate.

    Number 1 for DUI arrests out of 50 states! Both Parties should be ashamed of that!

    Can we do better than this?

    Why do these drunk legislators keep getting returned to office? Can sober people
    Step in and govern better? Something is wrong with the voting population too.

  21. ArloBlundt 2021-10-18 23:00

    Grudz…I’m puzzled as well…Marion Street runs the same direction as hi way 83..they do not intersect..Marion Drive is a short diagonal street running from the boat ramp to connect with 4th street which intersects with the Highway in front of what might be the court house and cop shop (building on west side of hi way with flag.) Maybe 4th street is referred to as Marion Drive once they connect and before intersecting with 83. Perhaps Deputy Nickerson confused it with Marion Street. That’s a lot of maybes.Getting popped in front of the cop shop makes it more ironic.When I lived in Pierre not one but two Supreme Court Justices received DWI’s after dining in Fort Pierre with Jack Danials. Both were hale fellows.

  22. ArloBlundt 2021-10-18 23:09

    ABC is probably right…haven’t made that drive for many years.

  23. Mark Anderson 2021-10-18 23:28

    You know Arlo, my brother Rod coached a winning woman’s team awhile back in Pierre, his wife was on it. Just thought I’d ad that. Saw a few games, seemed the entire town was there.

  24. ArloBlundt 2021-10-18 23:38

    Mark…Pierre is the last bastion of softball…gets everybody together…no social or caste system..if you’re good, you’re good.

  25. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-10-19 08:04

    Larry, I would agree that, at least politically, Johns is one of the decent, practical Republicans.

    But there is no excuse for getting drunk and driving.

    With two DUI arrests among current members and with the drunk-on-duty debacle of Veto Day 2020, maybe it’s time for an alcohol audit of our legislators. Maybe we need to put ankle bracelets on all legislators during Session. Maybe we need to declare Pierre and Fort Pierre dry towns during Session.

    Don’t drink and legislate: I think we could make the case in court that the public interest demands sober legislators and justifies restricting the privilege of ingesting alcohol during Session.

  26. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-10-19 08:07

    ABC, I wondered about that discrepancy when I looked at the map. Was Marion the name of that street all the way to 83 previously?

  27. Nick Nemec 2021-10-19 09:14

    Marion Street is the first intersection with US14/US83/SD34 just west of the Missouri River bridge. I drove that intersection on Sunday, noticed the street sign and wondered if it was named after US Sen. Marion Michael Rounds.

  28. larry kurtz 2021-10-19 09:43

    My guess is Judge Johns won’t run for re-election because some nut cake like John Dale would primary him anyway.

  29. ArloBlundt 2021-10-19 15:49

    Well…the joke used to be, “What’s the difference between Pierre and East Berlin??” Answer:” Pierre has more cops”. A long hard day of legislating produces feelings of anger, anxiety, disillusionment and good old fashioned angst among the members of both houses. Nothing like a few drinks and some laughs to bring back equilibrium…after a couple hours in the packed bars, the folks in the suits are shoe faced and mellow. They should not drive and why they do is one of the eternal mysteries of state government.

  30. BlackHills76 2021-10-19 20:29

    Sen. Johns is one of the better legislators in SD. Fair and balanced and is very informed. So yeah he screwed up here, but everyone makes mistakes as long as they don’t make the same mistake twice. I would tell everyone we could have A LOT worse person in that seat. He is well liked and respected in District 31. If people around here want him gone you sure won’t like who likely would replace him.

  31. grudznick 2021-10-19 20:58

    Mr. BlackHills76, you are absolutely righter-than-right. Mr. H and others take glee in “outing” these fellows, but what they don’t grasp is that these fellows are as close to “friends” as they’re going to get in the legislatures.

    But like much of the NDS crowd or the general partisan hate sides, here we are just roasting this man who is among the sanest of them all.

  32. ArloBlundt 2021-10-19 22:56 is neither right or manly to kick a man when he is down..Senator Johns and Senator Cammack deserve consideration. They will serve their sentence, suffer public humiliation, and change their ways…Been there, done that, I don’t recommend it but it can be a good experience to learn from. Their error in judgement will be forgiven and forgotten if they don’t continue to think they are “bulletproof and invisible.” Their lapse of judgement was not unique or even unusual in Pierre during the session. What was of concern was the reduction of charges and the fact that they have avoided having their BAC revealed to the public, a good measure of the extent of their crime.There, they get a pass.It was a first offense before the court. The poor, the uneducated, the inarticulate, strangers in the community and immigrants, the young and the addicted probably would not receive such discretion from the court. People want equal justice before the law. Given these two cases and the Ravensborg debacle, its the people who feel they’re being kicked by the politicians and the court.

  33. John Dale 2021-10-20 15:40

    Doesn’t really bother me.

    It’s very common and we allow bar owners and booze distributors to run this State, which creates much bigger problems than Johns’ DUI.

    Another reason to stand-up to secret societies and tell them NO.

  34. robert a markve 2021-10-20 16:35

    Judge Johns suspended my license, imposed a large fine, sentenced me to jail..suspended..and a mandatory alcohol evaluation when I was arrested for DUI in 1991. By doing so, he saved my life. I haven’t had a drink since…30 Years. Thank you Judge Johns…

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