“I know there are some who say he received special or preferential treatment of some kind,” Villanueva said. “It’s completely false.”
This included the suggestion that Woods’ blood should have been tested for drugs or alcohol after the golfer drove over a median and crossed a roadway with almost double the speed limit before throwing his vehicle into a tree. There was “no evidence of any impairment,” a sheriff̵
But after the press conference, the sheriff’s department, with Woods’ permission, published his reports on the accident. Buried on these 22 pages was a detail that the sheriff’s office had not mentioned: that an empty, unmarked pill bottle had been found in Wood’s backpack at the scene of the accident. The report also described for the first time that Woods appears to be disoriented and combative after the crash.
California traffic attorneys, heard by the Washington Post, disagreed as to whether the existence of “an empty plastic plastic container,” as the report described it, should have prompted deputies to try to test Wood’s blood to determine if he was legally under the influence. inconsistencies between the department’s news conference and its own reports drew criticism that Wood’s fame had affected the way his case was handled.
Villanueva stressed that Woods’ crash, in which the golfer suffered serious injuries including a broken right leg, was “purely an accident.” Even before the investigation was completed, he said there was no evidence to suggest that a charge such as reckless driving was justified. Although data from the car’s “black box” showed that Woods was driving up to 87 MPH in a 45 MPH zone at the time of the accident, he was not quoted for speed.
The sheriff’s office focused on the intersection where the crash occurred and pointed out other accidents that had happened there. The Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office said Friday it had not received any complaints from the sheriff for possible criminal charges against Woods.
The sheriff’s office refused to make Villanueva available for an interview or to answer specific questions for this article. “If you choose to speculate and offer your theory (even if there is no evidence to support your claim), then that is your power,” a representative said in an email without giving their name. “There is no contradiction in what was stated orally and what is documented in the report.”
On Wednesday, after the sheriff’s office announced that it had completed its investigation, Woods tweeted his gratitude to the department, including in particular thanking a deputy and two paramedics “for helping me so skillfully on the spot and getting me safely to the hospital.” Woods, whose agent did not respond to a request for comment, said in the tweet that he “will continue to focus on my recovery and family.”
Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School who has studied police special treatment for celebrities, described handling such cases as a job hazard common to law enforcement officials in Los Angeles. “In LA, you have to know how to do your job and how to do your job when there’s a celebrity involved,” Levenson said. “You are put under the microscopic control of the nation.”
Villanueva struggled with this fact at LA police last year after retired basketball superstar Kobe Bryant and eight others died in a helicopter crash in January 2020. Villanueva fought with the gossip site TMZ to break the news before his department reached the next of kin. He was then sued by Vanessa Bryant, the basketball star’s widow, who claimed that his deputies incorrectly shared photos of the helicopter crash site, including using them to impress a woman in a bar.
Levenson said Villanueva at news conferences seemed to give Woods more leeway than was given to a normal topic of investigation. “It struck me as, ‘I’re reverent towards Tiger, I want to give him all the benefit of the doubt,’ ‘Levenson said. “I think most people wonder if they would get the same benefit from the doubt.”
Because the Los Angeles sheriff is an elected position, Levenson said, Villanueva is particularly sensitive to public opinion about his handling of a well-known and most popular figure like Woods. “Law enforcement is, to the extent they are elected, just like other politicians,” Levenson said, adding that special treatment is almost inevitable in a case with a subject as famous and powerful as Woods.
“We’re a celebrity city,” Levenson said. “Some of them may be athletes, some of them may be Hollywood. You can go decades back and find cases where celebrities were treated differently by the police. This is nothing new. ”
The reports, released Wednesday, provided far more details about Woods’ accident than the accounts previously provided by the sheriff and his deputies. Deputy Carlos Gonzalez told reporters that Woods was “calm and clear” after the “accident”. “But in his own report, Deputy Kyle Sullivan, who interviewed Woods in a bay of trauma at the hospital, said the golfer could not remember being involved in a car accident and” thought he was currently in the state of Florida. “A captain in Los Angeles firefighter at the scene also described Woods as “some fight,” but said his behavior was consistent with his traumatic injury.
In another report, Gonzalez said he found the pill bottle in the front pocket of a backpack “resting in the brush” next to Woods crashed car. “The container had no label and there was no indication of what, if anything, had been inside,” the report reads.
The Washington Post consulted three attorneys specializing in traffic cases and reviewed the full reports. Hart Levin, a Los Angeles attorney who mostly handles DUI cases, said the investigation into Woods’ accident was “very irregular” in the lack of effort to test his blood.
Levin said that in his experience, a pill bottle on the spot is considered a “dead gift” to police: “Even if there was nothing about it, it is a probable cause.”
Levin said the other circumstances of the accident would also typically make an investigating officer suspicious. “It’s a serious accident that doesn’t make much sense,” Levin said. “He wants to double the speed limit, and he’s flying off the road in the middle of the day. The police’s perception will either be that he does it on purpose, which does not seem to be the case here, or he is probably on to something. ”
The lawyer said it appeared the deputies were doing him a favor: “This is the Tiger effect.”
Other California traffic attorneys disagreed. David Wayne Brown, a Monterey County attorney who wrote a book about fighting traffic tickets in the state, said that because the pill bottle was empty and unmarked, it had little probative value. “In my opinion, it really is not enough to get a search warrant,” Brown said.
“He may have received special treatment for not being quoted for speeding,” Brown said, adding that police have different informal policies on whether or not the ticket drivers who have been in serious single-car accidents.
LA-based DUI attorney Myles Berman also said the pill bottle should not have asked deputies to test Woods blood. He added that the sheriff’s office would have had a problem maintaining a speeding ticket based solely on the black boxers’ data because there was “no clear visual evidence” that Woods violated the law.
This is not Wood’s first brush with the traffic law. In 2017, a police officer found Woods sleeping behind the wheel of his car on a road in his Florida neighborhood. “Woods stated that he did not know where he was,” according to a police report, and a urine test showed he had five drugs including Vicodin and Ambien in his system. He went into a redirection program and avoided a DUI belief.
At the press conference, Villanueva shot down the idea that Woods DUI history could have spurred his department to seek a search warrant. “History does not give you the elements you need to determine probable cause,” Villanueva said, “so I leave it at that.”
Following the accident, the sheriff’s office released a list of 13 other accidents that caused four injuries that had occurred at the intersection where Woods crashed since 2020. Only two of them were single-vehicle accidents. While the records show that two of the drivers were cited for violations, the sheriff’s office declined to provide further records or information about the cases.