SCHENECTADY — Police Chief Eric Clifford said the city patrolman facing drunken driving charges stemming from Sunday’s motor vehicle crash may face disciplinary charges early next week.
But Clifford on Friday said even when the internal probe wraps up he may hold off on a decision pending how a judge rules on whether to suspend Officer Daniel Coppola driver’s license, which he needs to do his job.
“It’s possible he could go on (disciplinary) charges Monday, and if we make a decision by Monday, we may actually move faster than these court proceedings, which is really the new way of doing things,” the chief said, referring to to the state law that now determines police discipline with Public Safety Commissioner Michael Eidens in charge. “This situation is not going to be taken lightly and I will hold him accountable.”
At the same time, Clifford said it speaks to integrity of Coppola, 23, that he called in the wreck to police after being hit by a motorist, who police say was driving without a license at the time of the crash at 4:14 a.m. Sunday at Broadway and Liberty Street in Schenectady. It’s unclear if that driver has been charged.
“He does not have a history of discipline,” said Clifford of Coppola, noting that will be among the many factors he will weigh when deciding on discipline.
Court documents indicate Coppola’s eyes were glassy, his speech was deliberate, and he smelled of alcohol. He failed standardized field sobriety tests to stand on one leg and the horizontal gaze nystagmus but passed the walk and turn test.
Copolla, who had a blood alcohol content of 0.12 percent, pleaded not guilty Thursday in City Court to two counts of driving while intoxicated. He is due back in court June 7.
In New York, the legal threshold to be charged with driving while intoxicated, a misdemeanor, is 0.08 percent.
The court filings indicate that Coppola was read his Miranda rights at around 5:20 a.m. and was charged with DWI. Roughly about 20 minutes later at 5:42 a.m., he was placed under observation, as the law requires. The subsequent breath test, where his blood alcohol content came in at 0.12 percent, was given at 6:21 a.m.
Asked about the police handling of the matter, Clifford said everything was done by the book.
“The two-hour time frame doesn’t stand out as a problem and is not outside the boundary of reasonableness,” he said.
Eric Sills, an Albany-based attorney, said Friday that “with certain exceptions, the ‘two-hour rule’ provides that the police must administer a chemical ( blood or breath) test to a DWI suspect within two hours of the time of the person’s arrest.
He also stressed that that it is common for the defendant to leave the arraignment with their driver’s license.
“Although a driver’s license is technically supposed to be suspended pending prosecution at arraignment, the defendant has the right to a pre-suspension hearing, as well as the right to an adjournment to prepare for the hearing,” Sills said.
Clifford said he didn’t know but he suspects that Lt. Wesley McGhee, the supervisor on duty the night of the incident, didn’t respond but had to be called to the scene, which might also have prevented Coppola from getting the Breathlyzer test earlier.
“I don’t know if it caused a delay but it could have,” said Clifford.
As part of Thursday’s proceeding, City Court Judge Teneka Frost ruled she couldn’t suspend Coppola’s license, which normally happens when somebody is arraigned on a DWI charge, because a certified copy of the breath test was not contained in the court files.
Clifford said Friday that the department provided a copy of the breath test signed by the officer, “which is typically acceptable” and that an police officer would have had to drive to Albany to get the certified state copy.
“We provided everything that we normally provide, which has historically been accepted by the judge, but (the judge) didn’t feel it was appropriate,” said Clifford.
Court papers indicate that Coppola, 23, told the responding officer that he was driving home from Union Inn after having two beers.
Attorney Andrew Safranko, who is representing Coppola, said his client, is remorseful and has cooperated fully with authorities during the probe.
“He apologizes to the chief and the members of the department for casting a negative light on the department,” said Safranko. “He’s a young man, loves loves being a police officer, and apologizes for getting in this situation at all.”
For now, Coppola, who is 23 with two years on the force, remains on desk duty, watching prisoners and taking police reports, Clifford said.
Coppola is the stepson of Schenectady County Sheriff Dominic Dagostino.
Over the years, several police officers in Schenectady and Albany have run afoul of the law after drinking and get behind the wheel of a car, in some cases striking parked cars and other stationary objects.