The Chief
September 4, 2001

NYPD Seeks To Make All DWI's Cause For Firing

PBA Denounces Plan As Overreaction; Gray Resigns

By Mark Daly

The Police Department will speed up its internal trials for cops accused of drunk driving, and may fire officers for the offense even before their criminal trials begin, police officials announced last week.

Police Commissioner Bernard B. Kerik has asked NYPD lawyers to draft the new policy for his approval this month, the officials said. The Commissioner also asked to have drunk driving be made grounds for dismissal.

No Harm, No Firing

Until now, officers arrested for driving while intoxicated have been kept on restricted duty until the criminal charge was adjudicated, a process that sometimes takes years. Under current policies, drunk-driving convictions that do not involve injuries usually result in suspensions and the loss of vacation time.

Mayor Giuliani defended the new hard-line. "That probably should have been the rule from the very beginning," he said. "You have to leave a little margin for discretion. But let's say the general rule for the Police Department should be that if you get found to have been driving drunk, you should be dismissed from the Police Department."

Patrick J. Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, decried the proposed policy in a press conference Aug. 30 at the union's annual convention in Kerhonksen, NY.

At the convention, Mr. Lynch also told delegates that the union would support City Council Speaker Peter F. Vallone in the Democratic mayoral primary on Sept. 11. The endorsement will officially be announced Sept. 4, as this issue hits newsstands.

On the DWI switch, Mr. Lynch said, "The Mayor is doing this because it is a hot-button issue." He added, "They should abide by the law and treat New York police officers like every other citizen of this city."

Mr. Lynch claimed the Americans with Disabilities Act prevents employees from firing workers with an alcohol problem, but city officials scoffed at the idea. "The A.D.A legislation is not a license to drive drunk," mayoral spokeswoman Sunny Mindel told the New York Times.

A high-profile DWI case showed what could become common under the new rule when Police Officer Joseph Gray resigned Aug 28 to avoid questioning by Internal Affairs investigators over his arrest for a fatal DWI accident in Sunset Park. The questioning was the first step toward a departmental trial.

Mr. Gray, 41, a 15-year veteran, forfeited his pension by resigning rather than applying for retirement. He was charged with vehicular manslaughter on Aug. 4 after his minivan struck and killed Maria Herrera, 24, her son Andy, 4, and her sister, Dilcia Pena, 16. Ms. Herrera was eight months pregnant but her unborn child did not survive after an emergency Cesarean section delivery.

Precinct Shakeup

Police investigators said Mr. Gray began drinking at 8 a.m. on the day of the accident with other officers in a parking lot across the street from the 72nd Precinct stationhouse, and continued drinking at a topless bar in the neighborhood that had been declared off-limits to cops. A court-ordered blood test determined Mr. Gray's blood alcohol level was .16 percent. The legal limit is .10 percent. Fourteen officers were transferred or suspended and three were fired following the accident, for either participating in the tailgate party or failing to supervise other officers.

Commissioner Kerik had pushed to hold Mr. Gray's departmental trial before the end of the 30-day unpaid suspension he received following his arrest, reportedly to avoid paying the accused officer for one more day on the force, Mr. Gray's lawyer, Harold L. Levy, said he was concerned that the testimony would be leaked and would prejudice a jury in his criminal trial. Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes had also voiced concerns that their police hearing would impede efforts to prepare for the criminal trial.

The same day Mr. Gray resigned, an off-duty NYPD Detective was arrested and charge with DWI after he drove for four miles on the wrong side of the Bronx River Parkway in Yonkers.

Det. Paul Gill, 33, was spotted shortly before 3 a.m. by an off-duty officer from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Mr. Gill allegedly sped his 1999 Toyota minivan to outrun the MTA cop and then hit a Westchester County patrol car before he was cornered by other patrol cops.