The Boston Globe has reported troubling cases in which police officers in Massachusetts, a state that regularly conducts sobriety checkpoints, have been granted extraordinary leniency after being caught driving drunk while off-duty as part of a practice that is known as “professional courtesy”.
By Annabelle Bamforth @ Ben Swann
Massachusetts- Despite attempts from police departments within the state to keep such cases secret, the paper managed to expose several instances where officers received minimal legal and professional consequences, even in cases where drunk officers had caused injuries and property damage.
In September 2012, state trooper Brian Simpkins was found unconscious by police in his personal vehicle, which was still running, in a parking lot. It was later found that he had been drinking heavily for most of the previous evening before he was found passed out around 2 a.m. Simpkins refused a breath test and was placed on administrative leave after the incident. Since he had refused a breath test and most of the evidence against him was discarded, he was acquitted and has since returned to duty.
Last fall, state trooper John Basler’s car collided with the vehicle of Susan Macchi and her daughter Juliet, who were both killed after the crash. Police had originally declined to acknowledge that an officer had been involved in the fatal collision, and they did not include alcohol as a possible factor. It wasn’t until hospital records showed that Basler’s BAC was .19 that he was charged with any crime.
Last year, Andover police officer Evan Robitaille crashed into another car on Interstate 495 in Lowell and fled to a gas station. Witnesses stated that Robitaille was clearly intoxicated. Despite witness accounts, Robitaille was taken to a McDonald’s instead of receiving a sobriety test. Robitaille was later indicted for drunken driving and resigned. In his plea deal, the drunk driving charges were dropped and he was placed on probation.
Boston Officer Richard Jeanetti almost killed Briana O’Neill in 2012 when she was thrown from her car after Jeanetti sped through a stop sign and hit two vehicles. Similarly to the case of trooper Basler, police did not originally investigate Jeanetti for possible intoxication, and he was not given a sobriety test or citation for speeding- despite the fact that his car’s black box showed he had been driving at speeds of up to 68 mph, over double the scene’s speed limit. A medical test later revealed that Jeanetti’s BAC was .27. Jeanetti later pleaded guilty to driving drunk and resigned.
The Globe reports that at these officers are among least 30 other MA officers who have been charged with off-duty drunk driving since 2012. Charges have often been dismissed because the majority of officers refused to submit to a breath test. Colonel Timothy P. Alben, Superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police, told the Globe that officers have the right to refuse a breath test just as any citizen does. The Globe stated that the majority of officers charged return to their jobs at their police departments.
There are instances when police hand out a heavier punishment and are then challenged by the officers. Trooper Adam Paicos sued the state police after being fired for an alcohol-related violation and driving in the wrong lane in a separate incident. Paicos, a military veteran, argued that he should have been granted time to seek treatment for alcohol abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder rather than termination. Paicos is currently attempting to find employment with another police department.
A Massachusetts Civil Service Commission report regarding a Pittsfield officer who had failed to report a traffic stop that involved another officer alluded to professional courtesy being a common practice. According to the report, “Every police officer who testified before the Commission testified that the routine and customary practice when a stop is made on a fellow police officer, is to show professional courtesy and not call in the stop.”
Bowling Green State University criminologist Phil Stinson, who has studied national police arrests, considers these incidents to be frequent. “It’s the ultimate professional courtesy,” said Stinson.
The Globe noted that some Massachusetts police departments were uncooperative in providing records of officers who have been suspected of or charged with drunk driving. Most of the information is public and supposed to be attainable, but the Globe reported that “police put up roadblocks to getting information — refusing to release some information that is typically public, taking months to respond, or charging unusually high fees for documents.” Boston Police have withheld names of five officers arrested for drunk driving, while Massachusetts State Police have countered the Globe’s request for reports regarding eight officers suspected of drunk driving with a vague statement informing the Globe that the requested information would cost $1,000.