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Hollie Ramirez-Power

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At about 6 p.m. on December 30, 2016, Officer Marcus Bergeron with the police department in Madisonville, Louisiana, pulled over Hollie Ramirez-Power after he said he saw her swerving in her lane and nearly hitting some cars parked at a restaurant along the town’s main road.

Ramirez-Power, then 36, already had four previous convictions for driving while intoxicated, and Bergeron would later testify that he had been looking for her vehicle that evening after getting a report of an erratic driver.

Bergeron administered a Breathalyzer test to Ramirez-Power that came back negative for any alcohol. He also gave her a field-sobriety test, observing her ability to follow directions, her balance, and her physical responses to light stimulation. He said she was groggy and that the results of the test indicated she was impaired.

Bergeron would state during testimony that he noticed a white powder on the inside of Ramirez-Power’s nose while he was conducting the test, and that he asked Ramirez-Power whether she took any medications. She said Xanax. At the time, Ramirez-Power had several legal prescriptions for medications, including Xanax, to treat anxiety and pain. Bergeron said he searched the vehicle and found her medicine in her purse and some cut straws. He did not take any of these items into evidence, nor did he request a urine or blood-analysis test to measure the level of any drugs in her system.

Ramirez-Power was arrested and charged with driving while impaired. Because of her previous record, a conviction carried a possible sentence of up to 60 years if she was convicted under the state’s habitual-felon law.

After substantial delays, the trial in St. Tammany Parish District Court began on March 20, 2018. Ramirez-Power’s attorneys had sought to introduce evidence showing a pattern of misconduct by Bergeron in falsifying reports to make the facts fit the arrests in three traffic stops. But Judge Billy Burris ruled this evidence inadmissible, stating it would confuse the jurors.

Bergeron explained in his testimony how he had stopped and then arrested Ramirez-Power. He told the jurors about his employment history and that although he had moved around a lot, he had never been fired from a law-enforcement job. Under cross-examination, Bergeron said he never asked Ramirez-Power whether she would consent to a blood or urine test to screen for narcotics because the Madisonville Police Department lacked such kits. He said the basis for the arrest was his observation of her responses to the field sobriety test, as well as the white powder in her nostril and a cut straw in her vehicle.

After Bergeron testified, the state called Jennifer Kreeger, a nurse at the St. Tammany Parish Jail. Her testimony took only a moment, and she said that the jail offered Ramirez-Power a drug-screening test after she was booked, and that she refused the test. Ramirez-Power's attorney, Nick Noriea, quickly objected, noting that the jail drug test was for health purposes, that the results weren’t allowed to be used as evidence, and that Kreeger’s testimony about his client’s refusal to be screened violated a defendant’s right to remain silent. He was overruled.

The jury convicted Ramirez-Power on March 21, 2018. Her sentencing was set for the following week, but it was delayed while she filed an appeal.

Cameron Mary, Ramirez-Power’s appellate attorney, submitted a motion for a new trial on August 13, 2008. He argued that Burris was wrong to exclude evidence of Bergeron’s bad police work and to allow the nurse to testify about the toxicology screening at the jail. But the heart of the motion claimed that Bergeron had committed perjury when discussing his work history. Specifically, he said he had never been fired from a law-enforcement agency, but records from the Causeway Police Department, which patrols the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, showed he had been terminated in 2011. Separately, Bergeron had testified that he “went back” to the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office in 2001, but he had never actually worked there; he had been in six days of training at the reserve academy but had never been commissioned as a deputy or reserve deputy. The perjury, Mary wrote, undermined Bergeron’s credibility as a witness.

The state said in its response that Bergeron had been unaware that he had been fired and that he had not lied but only been inadvertently unclear when discussing his work history with the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office.

Burris threw out the conviction in September 2018. He said that Bergeron’s testimony had been “misleading.” In his ruling, he wrote: “There is no question that a verdict on a retrial, given this blatant discrepancy in the officer’s testimony, may lead to an acquittal since there is very little other evidence to corroborate his testimony.”

Burris did not rule directly on Mary’s arguments that the nurse’s testimony should have been excluded, but said that the trial attorney should have objected before Kreeger began testifying. District Attorney Warren Montgomery attorney dismissed the charge against Ramirez-Power on October 31, 2018.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 8/13/2019
Last Updated: 11/13/2023
County:St. Tammany
Most Serious Crime:Traffic Offense
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2016
Sentence:Not sentenced
Age at the date of reported crime:36
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No