NASHUA — Merrimack County Sheriff Scott Hilliard asked for forgiveness Tuesday after being sentenced to five days in jail for aggravated driving while intoxicated.
“I am not excited about today’s outcome. I did not expect this,” Hilliard said after his bench trial and sentencing at 9th Circuit Court, Nashua District Division. “I am sorry. I ask for forgiveness for my mistakes. I ask from my God. I ask from the court. I ask from my family. I ask from the people that work for me.
“I am human. I made a mistake. I have acknowledged it since day one,” he said.
Although Judge James Leary previously ruled that Hilliard’s arrest was unlawful since police never obtained a warrant, the judge found that there was sufficient probable cause for the arrest.
Hilliard was convicted of aggravated driving while intoxicated and transportation of an alcoholic beverage for the Aug. 9, 2019, incident in Tilton. Two alternative charges of driving while intoxicated and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol were dismissed.
In addition to the jail sentence, he will lose his license for up to 18 months.
First elected in 2006, Hilliard has made no mention of resigning.
In a statement issued Tuesday evening, the Merrimack County Commissioners said they have “no authority” to decide Hilliard’s future in office.
“Sheriff Hilliard is an elected official who is accountable to the voters,” the commissioners wrote.
“This is a decision to be made by Sheriff Hilliard and ultimately, the voters in the next county election.”
Tara Reardon, chairman of the Merrimack County Board of Commissioners, said commissioners are working on a statement.
“I think the future is a little bit uncertain until he speaks with the people he needs to speak with,” said Merrimack County Attorney Robin Davis.
“Alcoholism and other abuses affect all of us, and I think we need to be sensitive to that,” Davis said. “We need to accept those folks and get them the help that they need.”
Judge Leary said he was “astounded” at Hilliard’s ability to function with a .246 blood alcohol content — three times the legal limit — saying any other person with that high of a blood alcohol content could be in a coma.
“I think that it is important that people realize that underneath that badge that I wear as the sheriff proudly, there is a human heart and I do the best that I can,” said Hilliard.
He said the past few months have been a difficult time for his family, people who work for him and the citizens he serves. He said he was grateful for an outpouring of support.
“I have taken the liberty to correct my mistake. I have been in counseling,” said Hilliard, who has been drawing a law enforcement paycheck for 40 years.
On Friday, Aug. 9, a motorist called 911 shortly after 6 p.m. to report a white Cadillac driving erratically, swerving and crossing the center line while traveling westbound on Tilton Road in Tilton before stopping at the 99 Restaurant.
When police arrived at the restaurant, the Cadillac was parked and Hilliard was exiting with take-out food.
“I noticed that his speech was slurred. There was a strong smell of alcohol,” Officer Eric Keck of the Tilton Police Department testified earlier. Keck said Hilliard apologized to police, saying something to the effect of, “Yeah, I’m sorry. I really screwed up.”
Hilliard told police that he had four vodka-and-soda cocktails during his lunch at 2 p.m. Police also found another alcoholic drink, with ice, in the console of his vehicle.
Although his arrest was deemed unlawful since a warrant was not obtained, this did not invalidate the consent Hilliard provided to test his blood. Leary said police were professional, read the sheriff his Miranda rights and provided him options from the Administrative License Suspension form, which he signed.
“In a way, it was a blessing in August 2019 for him to get this wakeup call,” said defense attorney Jared Bedrick. Within four days of his arrest, Bedrick said, the sheriff was working on his sobriety, meeting with a counselor and making efforts to improve his mental health.
The judge commended Hilliard for seeking treatment immediately, but said he is concerned about a potential relapse.
Hillard was issued a $930 fine, sentenced to 17 days in the House of Corrections with five days imposed and the rest suspended, 18 months loss of license that can be reduced to a year if he completes an Impaired Driver Care Management Program, and 24 months with an ignition interlock device installed in his vehicle, a device for testing if someone has been drinking before a vehicle can be started.
It was suggested that Hilliard serve his prison sentence at the Belknap County jail in Laconia. Hilliard’s trial was transferred from the Franklin Circuit Court to Nashua to avoid potential conflicts of interest in Merrimack County.