In an eye opening article in the January 17, 2010 Journal News, several officers acknowledged off the record what many suspected for a long time: When off-duty police are stopped for Westchester DWI or traffic infractions, they are frequently helped out by other officers who get them a ride home and make sure their car is put in a safe place. The protection of intoxicated fellow officers is off the table when an accident is involved, since as one cop noted: That’s a situation that you can’t hide…I’m not going to risk my career in a case like that.” The officers who are stopped for DWI routinely refuse to take a breathalyzer, knowing that this will can significantly hamper the D.A.’s ability to prove a DWI case, despite the fact that the refusal carries with it a one year revocation of their operating privileges if proven at the DMV “Refusal Hearing.”
The issue of off duty cops driving drunk came to light as a result of a spate of four recent accidents involving Westchester police officers. On December 11, 2009, Dobbs Ferry Police Officer Michael Huffman was charged with DWI in a rollover accident in Tarrytown. On December 27th, there were two accidents–Westchester County Police Officer Joseph Kraus allegedly went through a red light in Scarsdale and struck the vehicle of on duty officer Jessica Knatz, who was hospitalized as a result of the accident, and County Correction Officer Patricia Yancy-Johnson is alleged to have struck an ambulance in Greenburgh. Lastly, on December 31, 2009, White Plains Police Officer Joe Zepeda is accused of striking a truck on I-287. All four officers are due back in Court between January 26th and February 5th, and all have been suspended by their departments, in Zepeda’s case without pay, pending the results of their criminal cases.
Westchester D.A. Janet DiFiore professed to be “very disappointed” to hear that officers anonymously admitted to covering for off-duty cops who drive while intoxicated, although she stated that she was “not surprised.” DiFiore also claimed to be looking to strengthen the penalties for refusal to take a chemical test, however, this would certainly seem to be beyond her purview as this is a provision of New York’s Vehicle & Traffic Law which would have to be amended by the New York State Legislature, not a local D.A.
If you or a loved one is charged with a New York drunk driving offense, another crime, or a traffic infraction, contact the Westchester County Criminal Defense Lawyers at the White Plains, New York Law Office Of Mark A. Siesel for a free consultation to discuss your legal rights and options.