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Tuesday, Sep 02, 2014

Drunk driving now a fireable offense for Pinellas sheriff’s employees

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Published:   |   Updated: November 12, 2013 at 06:05 PM

Pinellas County Sheriff’s deputies or employees convicted of drunk driving, or who register high blood-alcohol levels after getting pulled over, will be fired under a new policy that went into effect this week.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri emailed employees Monday afternoon, notifying them of the change.

Before, a deputy or civilian employee with no prior disciplinary history stood to be suspended for seven days for a drunk driving arrest.

“I never want to be in the position of having to terminate anyone’s employment; however, I also do not want to be the one knocking on the door of someone’s home at 2 a.m. telling them that their loved one was killed by a DUI driver — especially one that works for PCSO,” the sheriff said in the email.

“There is an easy solution to avoid any consequence of this new policy: Don’t drive while impaired.”

Gualtieri said on Tuesday that his decision was spurred by three recent cases involving deputies or prospective deputies, including one who had a blood-alcohol level of 0.2 and wrecked after driving the wrong way down Armenia Avenue in Tampa last month.

Anyone with a blood-alcohol percent of 0.08 or higher is presumed to be intoxicated under Florida law.

Another case involved a probationary deputy — or one not yet given union protection — who got into a wreck in the parking lot of a Green Iguana in Tampa about a month ago, Gualtieri said.

“I’m tired of it. I’m over it,” he said. “I’m going to nick it before it goes any further.”

Under Gualtieri’s new policy, any sheriff’s office employee convicted of drunk driving would be fired, as would anyone with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent or higher. If a deputy or civilian employee refuses to submit to a breath test, internal affairs investigators will demand one.

The new policy does not apply to those already accused of drunk driving, such as Deputy Chester Johnson, who was arrested after the wreck on Armenia Avenue last month.

At the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, there has been a zero-tolerance policy on drunk driving in effect since David Gee took office, according to agency spokeswoman Debbie Carter.

“If a deputy is arrested for DUI, they are immediately suspended without pay; and, regardless of a conviction, they are terminated or given the opportunity to resign or retire after due process,” Carter said in an email.

The policy at the St. Petersburg Police Department is a bit more nuanced.

“We do not have any automatic punishments for DUI,” said department spokesman Bill Proffitt.

Punishment for a first-time offender appears to be a suspension anywhere from four to six weeks along, he said.

Among the factors taken into consideration are whether there was a wreck, whether the officer had any prior drunk driving arrests and whether the officer tried to use his influence to avoid arrest, perhaps by flashing his badge, Proffitt said.

sthompson@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-6504

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