Oh to be One of the Good Old Boys

Dennis "Mitch" Maley
In the days since TBT brought its readers comprehensive coverage of the DUI investigation into Manatee County Commissioner George Kruse, readers have expressed an immense amount of justified outrage at the way the case was handled, which is to say, in a very Manatee County-like manner.

The term Good Old Boy network might not have been invented as a description of our county, but it is the one most frequently used by readers when expressing their frustration at the lack of accountability so often applied to those within our community’s power structure when they commit acts for which the rest of us would be far less likely to receive preferential treatment were we to do the same. It may also be used more frequently here than just about any other place—and with good reason.

Kruse was driving to his home in Greyhawk Landing a couple of weeks ago when he crashed head-on into a tree near the community’s gate. He was issued a citation for careless driving and the whole thing would have likely remained just one more unknown instance in which a local elected official was given a get out of jail free pass had it not been for a community Facebook group where other residents began posting inconsistencies in the official narrative.

Screenshots were shared elsewhere and soon we learned that, two weeks after the fact, the Manatee Sheriff’s Office was "investigating possible DUI charges." That seemed quite odd. After all, in a DUI case, how much investigating can be done weeks following the incident? When there’s suspicion of driving while impaired, a breathalyzer and field sobriety test are the primary means of evidence and their results are known immediately.

However, after MSO finally released 911 audio and bodycam footage from the responding officers, the truth of the matter was easily assembled. When Kruse crashed his Ford F-150 double cab into a tree, the tire tracks did not indicate he’d swerved, and the impact suggested he was driving well beyond the posted speed limit, having made little effort to stop. His voice was heavily slurred on the 911 audio, and, when the first officer responded, it was patently obvious that Kruse was, for lack of a better term, shitfaced drunk.

Throughout the course of the video, we learn that the officer, who was first to arrive (he was working a special detail in the community and had been approached by several residents who’d passed the crash site) was fully aware that Kruse was clearly inebriated and strongly suspected that both the commissioner and his wife, who arrived on the scene minutes after the crash and can be heard coaching Kruse to get out of the truck and into her vehicle on the 911 audio, were lying in their assertions as to what had happened. 

We also learn that both Kruse and his wife acknowledge that the commissioner was behind the wheel of the truck when it crashed. Yet, the officer, an experienced lieutenant, never asks Kruse whether he’d had anything to drink, never asks him to submit to a breathalyzer or even a field sobriety test, and then makes the extraordinary decision to allow Kruse’s wife to drive the commissioner home before the deputy that was en route to work the crash arrived. In other words, he made no effort whatsoever to hold Kruse accountable for a blatant instance of driving while severely impaired.

In the video, we see the first officer tell the second officer on the scene that the reason he couldn’t pursue a DUI investigation was that there hadn’t been any witnesses to put Kruse behind the wheel. I spoke to multiple attorneys after the incident, all of whom agreed that the decision was extraordinarily uncommon. While single-car crash DUIs with no witnesses are very difficult to prosecute, someone in that situation is going to be given a breathalyzer, in which case they will have to decide whether or not to submit to it or face the penalty of losing their license for up to one year. When they fail the breathalyzer, they are going to be arrested on suspicion of DUI, and, if they do in fact beat the rap, it’s going to cost a small fortune in legal bills. 

Florida law prohibits most statements regarding an automobile accident given to law enforcement by drivers and others involved from being used in a later civil or criminal trial. Florida's "Accident Report Privilege" exists to encourage witnesses to cooperate in the investigation without fear of incriminating themselves. If an officer suspects a DUI or other crime related to the crash, he must "switch hats" and inform the person that he is no longer conducting a crash investigation but a criminal one. he didn’t do that either. In other words, he didn’t even try to make a case and seems to have outright avoided it. 

One can only guess as to why that may have been the case, although the officer was clearly aware of who Kruse was, having informed the second deputy on the scene upon his arrival. He also told Kruse’s wife when she returned from taking her husband home that he knew who they were and did not want to be in a situation where their "hands were tied" and "phone calls have to be made," especially with a public official. Click here to watch that portion of the video.

Some of the attorneys I spoke with knew the lieutenant involved and agreed that he was a talented law enforcement officer who usually does much better work, but that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? The Manatee Sheriff’s Office conducted its monthly DUI Saturation Patrol just nine days after Kruse’s crash, announcing that it had arrested three impaired drivers and tested three more to no avail. In other words, even three people who weren't inebriated were handled with more zest than someone who very clearly was—and crashed head-on into a tree to boot. Deputies made two additional arrests, wrote seven traffic-related court summons, and issued a whopping 72 citations, all of whom presumably were not members of the county’s protected class.

This sort of blatant inconsistency undermines the good work that law enforcement does by giving citizens plenty of reasons not to respect the authority that they are entrusted with by us, the average taxpayer, especially when they condescendingly lecture us on the dangers of small infractions like going a little bit over the speed limit on an empty road as they eagerly stroke a ticket. 

When asked if the Manatee Sheriff’s Office would be conducting an internal investigation into the failures in the way this case was handled TBT got a hard no. And why should they? Sheriff Rick Wells is one of the most powerful political players in the county and routinely raises more than any other local candidate—even when he doesn’t have an opponent. He’s unlikely to lose the support of the Republican power machine over something like this. Quite the opposite, many probably appreciate the idea that deputies so loathe the notion of arresting a local politician or even getting into a situation where phone calls have to be made.

As for Kruse’s political future, who knows what effect, if any, this will have. After all, it’s not only Florida but Manatee County. He's brought a more than a little embarrassment to the board, his party, and, most of all, his family, in the short time he’s been on the board. That’s a shame because aside from those major missteps, he's proven himself an otherwise sharp guy who has a lot to offer in some areas of local governance, much of which was on display when he was my podcast guest this week. We recorded the interview on Wednesday afternoon, the day before the evidence was released, and we only discussed the matter briefly at the top of the interview, but the policy discussion was insightful and spoke to his potential (click here to listen).

But as much potential as he might have on the policy side, his judgment is, to be quite generous, suspect. As an Irishman who has been known to favor tilting my own chin toward the heavens, I won’t grandstand about drinking or even suggest that I’ve never in my life taken the wheel of a car when I shouldn’t have. It’s my experience that few people who don’t abstain completely can make that claim. But I also recognize that as a public figure who gives their own opinion so often and on a sizable platform, I’ve got a lot to lose in terms of credibility with even small lapses in judgment, and have some not-insignificant Uber expenses that speak to the matter. As an elected official, Kruse has an even higher bar and much more to lose than a journalist, even if the odds might be offset by what we might call Good Ol’ Boy armor.  

Local politicians and others close to Kruse have often described him as a heavy drinker even before this incident, and the incident itself elicited many off-the-record, "I knew it was just a matter of time," comments this week. He’s a bright enough guy to know better, which suggests that perhaps he needs some help and, if that’s the case, I sincerely hope he gets it. As for the rest of us, the MSO’s next Saturation patrol will be held on Friday, May 20. Be careful, especially if you’re not an elected official. 

Dennis "Mitch" Maley is an editor and columnist for The Bradenton Times and the host of our weekly podcast. With over two decades of experience as a journalist, he has covered Manatee County government since 2010. He is a graduate of Shippensburg University and later served as a Captain in the U.S. Army. Click here for his bio. His 2016 short story collection, Casting Shadows, was recently reissued and is available here.

Reader Comments
Ron w.
MAY 17, 2022  •  JD Williams, Great post ! Kruze, his wife and any others attempting to dismiss Kruse's guilt. Then, it's only fair to say: Those involved have earned wooden noses...
JD Williams
MAY 10, 2022  •  This is obviously simply going to come down to political corruption. The Manatee County Commission, State Attorneys Office, and the Sheriff's Department have become known for incompetence and corruption. OUR tax dollars are being wasted on investigations of the shady behavior of the Commissioners, when we already know the outcome. Admissions of guilt at DUI scenes, made to paramedics and LEOs are valid. If these type of admissions are not valid, then you cannot convict a murderer based on his confession. You did not see him do it and you did not see him at the scene. In effect, you did not "place him behind the wheel." His voice, his wife's statements, should have been enough. If he was not driving, then who was driving? It is also illegal to provide a false statement to a LEO during an investigation. Oddly enough, in Manatee County, if you get caught by a Red Light camera, they cannot place you behind the wheel, but they send you a ticket that you must pay. To avoid the ticket, you can deny it was you, and you have to tell them your vehicle was stolen and when you reported it stolen. Another way out of the ticket is if you are directed through the light by a LEO. The last and most interesting way is if someone else is driving your vehicle. You must identify them, the MCSO will send a ticket to the driver, WITHOUT placing them behind the wheel. They probably would not even send one to a county commissioner. So they can send tickets to people without placing them behind the wheel, but in a case where there is an overabundance of evidence that Kruse was behind the wheel, practically nothing will happen. Lucky that his wife is just as criminal minded as he and it seems the rest of the commissioners. Do you think they have no experience with this? Look at her statements and instructions to him. Manatee County has become a corrupt backwater county being overdeveloped by people that have a number of these and past commissioners in their pockets. The Manatee County Commissioners, State Attorneys Office, and the Sheriff's Department are an embarrassment to the people. This will all pass soon enough, as this is just fodder for the media, and the media and authorities will not attempt to pursue it. Remember, the media can't lose. It is essentially a one way street. You will find a few outlets where you can vent your frustrations, but very few people will see it, and in the end, as with the post, it will amount to nothing.
Christopher L Gilbert
MAY 10, 2022  •  The worst offense here is the palpable disparity in justice administration between the elected official and the average citizen. The board elected in 2020 promised to reform government, but it has only perpetuated stereotypes of corruption. Through every scandal, Kruse has kept his public image as a sharp guy, but without character and humility, intelligence is destructive to the public interest. And there is no pressure from other authorities such as the MCSO that would provide an incentive to the board to be better people.
Tony WilliamsRepublican
MAY 10, 2022  •  Republican or Democratic elected officials have become their own "protected class" look at how during the pandemic many politicians and celebrities openly flaunted there "maskless I'll do as I want lifestyle but forced us to live by their arbitrary and every changing rules. Term limits and an alert public who monitors and questions actions such as this!
Garrett Ramy
MAY 09, 2022  •  Not much for me to comment on, as this article boldly conveys the sentiment of MC populous, even registered republicans. When you have Republicans crapping on Republicans, this doesn't sit well with the citizens. It's time to take our county back.
MAY 09, 2022  •  if you're a elected official, you can get away with just about anything it seems. Thank GOD nobody was hurt.
Thomas H. Greene
MAY 09, 2022  •  As a former Soldier (23 years active duty, retired), what disturbs me is the lack of integrity on the part of the Law Enforcement Officer initially responding to the incident. This is a flagrant abuse of authority. DUI laws and investigative procedures are in place to protect the public. Failure to enforce/investigate incidents is a disservice to the people of Manatee County. And any individual cited for DUI by this officer should present this incident in Court as evidence that officer is biased and does not enforce the law equally. Law Enforcement is supposed to Serve and Protect the people, this is an abuse of discretionary authority. Both that officer and the County Official should resign their positions.
The Queen of Diamonds
MAY 08, 2022  •  This county what we call Manatee is so crooked in every way imaginable. From the municipalities, the police, the school district being lead by the four time married Cynthia Saunders aka The Dragon Lady who was sanctioned by the FLDOE and now this dipshit Kruse with the man boobs. What a complete laughingstock and crap hole this place is.
MAY 08, 2022  •  Republicans, the law and order party, not so much.
Ron W.
MAY 08, 2022  •  Manatee and Sarasota County both need a Sheriff like Polk County's Sheriff Grady Judd. He would never put-up with how the Manatee County Sheriff's Office handled Kruse's crash scene...
Mari Burleson
MAY 08, 2022  •  Unbelievable. This favoritism of crime in the good ole boy network needs to stop. These times are over. Past due. Expired.
Alene Gauthier
MAY 08, 2022  •  What a poor and positively embarrassing example he and the Sheriff's office is to his children. I saw a lot of sweeping under the carpet incidents when I worked out of country and realized the seriousness of the situation in a DOS setting. But then I come home and buy a house in a Good Ole Boy county ? Perhaps a good time to again consider moving to an equitable county elsewhere.
Cory Wright
MAY 08, 2022  •  So the moral of the story here is, if you’re driving drunk & crash your vehicle into something (or god forbid, someone) make sure you get out of the driver’s seat ASAP *and preferably into the back of your (enabling) wife’s car so the officer can not “technically” place you as the driver of said crashed vehicle. As long as you’re white & particularly if you’re a man in a position of political power, you’ll get off virtually Scott-free! Got it. Great lesson. Thanks MCSO!!
Richard Correnti
MAY 08, 2022  •  Gmajo got it so RIGHT!!! He lied,...she lied,...an MSO officer gave them "special" treatment. It is sad,...so sad. The question is how do we fix it?
I live in corrupt town
MAY 08, 2022  •  No preferential treatment going on there. Vaccinegate, Code Enforcement, and now a DUI being swept under the rug by the sheriff’s department. The officer and those helping the cover up need to be fired. No need to call the IG office because someone up there will narrow the scope of the investigation enough so that no one will be held accountable, well except for the new guy, the retired guy, or the whistleblower. Yes, let’s just blame her.
Ally B
MAY 08, 2022  •  He'll get a free pass. He's rich and white. I'm surprised he just doesn't get a chauffeur to cart his butt around. The Good Ole Boys Club wins again. Just like Vanessa with Vaccine Gate. Get rid of these criminals!
Debby Pellom
MAY 08, 2022  •  A LIAR,A cheat and a DRUNK..great combination...his wifey is no better than him....another check mark for manatee county at the expense of our LOUSY Commissioners.. way to put on the map for all the wrong reasons..
MAY 08, 2022  •  Mr. Kruse’s obviously inconsistent lies about the causes of his accident and the officer stating he did not want the issues associated with a politician’s DUI case undermine the rule of law. Both of them demonstrated to the citizens of Manatee County that each of us should try to weasel out of any personal responsibility. Very sad.
Elaine Johnson
MAY 08, 2022  •  I have watched the videos. Obviously Kruse was inebriated, I hope for everyone’s sake MSO makes this right!! Gotta Love those FB groups 😏
MAY 08, 2022  •  Next will taxpayers have to pay for this mess through his attorney expenses as a commissioner or the police officers defense, etc. the next insult? You just never know these days.
August H
MAY 08, 2022  •  The next election we Republicans need to move these Good Ol Boys out and put the Republicans that stand for our values in office instead of these privileged individuals who think they are above the law
MAY 08, 2022  •  I'm not upset that Mr. Kruse was involved in a DUI; he's only human. I'm upset because as a public servant he lied. I'm upset because his wife lied. I'm upset because the cops felt the need to give special consideration to a public servant. Sad, sad, sad ...
S.J. Gander
MAY 08, 2022  •  We always knew it existed, but rarely saw it so openly practiced, much less in the local newspapers. The “good ol’ boys” in Manatee County are known to take care of one another. I refer to the case of Manatee County Commissioner Kruse’s Auto accident headlined in the paper Saturday. No breathalyzer test for him… a minor citation. I very seriously doubt if John Q. Public were driving that truck he would get those breaks. Sorry the deputy in the incident felt the pressure NOT to do his duty in the normal way, because the guy was a political ally of his boss. Manatee voters, aren’t you tired of this corruption yet? It's time to clean house - get the broom. Sweep the incumbents out - all of them!
Paul Finer
MAY 08, 2022  •  Where is the Manatee County Inspector General? Where is the Florida State Commiasion on Ethics?