Officers admit giving rides to some suspected drunken drivers
By Sarah MacDonald / News Staff Writer
Thursday, September 9, 2004
NATICK -- Two Natick police officers said yesterday they had driven home possibly drunk drivers instead of arresting them because of their connection to area police departments.
The officers, subpoenaed to testify in an administrative hearing at Town Hall, said they used discretion when deciding how to handle a number of suspected drunken driving incidents over the past decade.
"I removed a hazard from the roadway," said Officer Allan Graham, who testified that in December 2002, he and Sgt. Brian Grassey drove home a former Natick police officer who had been stopped for erratic driving. "I did what I was supposed to do."
Grassey is appealing a three-day suspension he received for not arresting the retired officer in that incident.
"I didn't think it was necessary to overrule the officer at the scene," Grassey saidhe said when called to testify yesterday. "It's a decision based on the elements of each event that we go to."
The case involved a 911 call reporting a drunken driver near Speen Street who eventually rear-ended another car. Grassey, an 18-year veteran of the force, was called and ended up driving the man home rather than arresting him.
A witness called a selectman later to complain about the incident, and Grassey was suspended for giving the man preferential treatment.
Attorney Alan McDonald has argued Grassey exercised discretion when handling the situation, saying the suspension was motivated by Grassey's activity as the union president.
Town lawyer Joseph Bartulis contends Grassey knew the man was drunk and should have arrested him.
McDonald is also trying to prove that preferential treatment is part of the department's culture, and he called a number of officers to support that claim.
Graham testified he thought he would face "heat" for arresting the retired officer and told Grassey, "I would like to drive him home, but if he doesn't cooperate, we'll lock him up."
Grassey said he trusted Graham, who has made more than 500 drunken driving arrests in his 18 years as a police officer.
"I didn't question it based on his expertise in this area," said Grassey, who added he knew only that the driver had been drinking, not that he was drunk.
Graham said he was the backup officer at three similar calls -- two involving police officers from surrounding towns and one involving a Natick officer's friend -- which all resulted in the drivers being taken home and not to the station.
He said Grassey's decision to drive the retired officer home was not unusual. "We couldn't let him walk home, couldn't let him drive home, so we took him home," Graham said.
Officer Robert Hoffman testified he drove home a retired Brookline police officer rather than arresting him after a traffic stop 10 years ago.
So far, Town Administrator Phil Lemnios has held three hearings and heard testimony from Police Chief Dennis Mannix, Sgts. Thomas Lamont, Brian Lauzon and Bob Davis and Officers Graham, Hoffman and Elizabeth Heffler.
The town hearings must be complete before Grassey could appeal to either the state Civil Service Commission or an arbitrator. McDonald has said he is likely to appeal.
( Sarah MacDonald can be reached at 508-626-4447 or [email protected]