Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman says he was trying to stop a friend from driving drunk. It’s been debated whether TV personality Tila Tequila was under the influence of alcohol when she attempted to leave Merriman’s Poway home early Sunday. But whether Tequila was impaired or not, law enforcement and legal experts say you can’t use unreasonable force to stop a person from getting into a car.
San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman was arrested and accused of choking and manhandling Tequila, an MTV reality show persona whose real last name is Nguyen. She signed a citizen’s arrest charging Merriman with battery and false imprisonment.
“We would all do our best to help a friend if we considered their actions to be detrimental to their personal safety,” Merriman said in a written statement.
Tequila posted a note on Twitter that said: “I’m allergic to alcohol…That is how I got the name Tila ‘Tequila’ cuz the irony. I cant drink.”
The owner of the night club where Merriman and Tequila spent the evening partying in a VIP area took the rare step of commenting on what his employees reported to him about the night.
“It sounds like she’s allergic to the truth,” Stingaree owner James Brennan told the Associated Press. Brennan says Tequila drank shots of tequila and drank from a bottle of vodka. “She wasn’t falling down or anything of that nature, but she was visibly intoxicated.”
A spokesperson from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department says there are basic steps allowable for stopping a person from getting behind the wheel. “You can take their keys, call them a cab or drive for them,” said public affairs officer Susan Plese. “But you probably shouldn’t assault them. If you’ve tried everything and they drive away, call 911.”
Tequila was examined by paramedics and no injuries were reported. Asked if he threw Tequila to the ground, Merriman declined comment.
“You don’t have a legal right to force someone to do what’s good for them,” says David Steinberg, a professor who teaches criminal law at Thomas Jefferson School of Law. “Granted, we don’t know what went on. But it’s implausible to say you choked someone for their own good.”
Steinberg said Merriman would not be legally liable if Tequila did leave his house in a drunken state and then inflicted bodily harm on herself or others.
“These are complex situations,” said Eloisa Orozco, program specialist for Mothers Against Drunk Driving. “At MADD, we focus on alternate transportation or getting a designated driver ahead of time. Plan ahead—but if you do get in a situation, use common sense.”
An investigation into the Merriman/Tequila incident is ongoing, said Poway Sherif Station detective sergeant Bill Giltner.
Ron Donoho is a regular contributor to NBCSandiego.com, editorial director of “Pacific SD” magazine and a contributing editor to sandiego.com. His Web site (sandiegoDTOWN.com) is dedicated to news, sports, culture, happy hours and all things downtown.