Man says his disability got him wrongfully arrested for being drunk in public

Posted at 7:04 PM, Jun 25, 2013

Norfolk, Va. - Norfolk resident John Merkel says he suffered an injury that causes him to walk off balance.

John may have learned to live with his disability but he says it’s something others don’t truly understand, and it’s something he says got him arrested and wrongfully charged with being drunk in public at Virginia Beach’s Farm Bureau Live Amphitheater.

“I mean, my pride stopped getting hurt by falling down years ago. It just became one of these things that I learned to live with,” he says.

The incident happened in early May at a concert at the amphitheater. John says he had two beers with dinner more than four hours before he was arrested.

He also says he offered to take a Breathalyzer but was refused.

“I told him, sir, I have a medical disability. I have a medical condition. He said I never told him that either,” John says.

Medical records show John suffered a traumatic brain injury around 15 years ago in a car accident.

A report from 1999 states he exhibits “delayed processing speed” and “impaired visual memory,” as well as “decreased coordination and fine motor skills.”

He says he was hospitalized for two months after the accident and went through almost a year of outpatient rehabilitation.

“I had to relearn to talk and walk and do everything,” he says.

At times during his interview with NewsChannel 3, he can be seen pausing to think about what he wanted to say and stumble a bit as he tried to explain what happened.

“I can never pass a sobriety test, uh, close my eyes and turn around and walk. I can never do that. I’ll fall on my fa- on my butt every single time,” he says.

And while John has come a long way, he says he’ll never truly recover.

“I don’t have very good balance. I have a service animal here because he’s my second eyes and ears for when I’m taking walks and such just because my reaction time is so poor,” he says.

According to court documents, Merkel was found guilty of public intoxication last week, but has appealed.

When NewsChannel 3 asked if Merkel has had any problems with drinking in the past, he admitted he was charged with a DUI in 2010.

NewsChannel 3 asked why people should believe he wasn’t drunk this time at the concert. John replied, “I’m a living example of learning from my mistakes.”

He says learning from his mistake makes it important to continue fighting the case.