Case against suspected drunk officer could hinge on procedure - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Case against suspected drunk officer could hinge on procedure

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -- Four days into a suspension with pay, Chattanooga Police Ofc. Steven Jones doesn't answer the door at his home in Eastern Hamilton County.

But he has a story to tell.  "It's not what you've heard so far," Jones' wife Amy tells Eyewitness News off-camera. "He's a good officer."

Amy Jones won't answer whether her husband had been drinking Saturday.  Ofc. Jones is accused of being drunk on duty at Riverbend and driving under the influence.  

The 25-year veteran was assigned to a motorcycle unit patrolling the Olgiati Bridge to keep traffic moving during the fireworks display.

"One of the officers observed something and that's how it was reported to us, Chief Bobby Dodd told a news conference Tuesday.

Dodd hasn't defined what that 'something' was, even after Eyewitness News questioned him as to whether officers saw him riding his CPD motorcycle erratically. "There were (sobriety) tests given at the scene,"  There were tests given when he returned to the command post, and there was blood drawn."

The TBI Crime Lab is processing the blood tests, but Chief Dodd says Internal Affairs investigators may have to wait two to three weeks for the results.

"Our policy is zero-tolerance, no alcohol for eight hours before shift," Chief Dodd says. "Any alcohol content is grounds for discipline, up to and including termination. And if it turns out he was intoxicated over .08, he will be charged with driving under the influence."

A number of 'if's" hold Jones' career in the balance.

But he may have one defense that could make most, if not all threats of discipline and prosecution go away, according to a Knoxville attorney who has defended police officers accused of misconduct.

"If he comes back and says 'Hey, no one read me my Garrity Warning, I made a statement and I didn't know I didn't have to make it then that evidence is inadmissible," Attorney Gregory Isaacs says.

The Garrity Rule, or Warning, is a 45-year-old ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court that grants Miranda rights to police officers.

If Jones invoked it, he has the right to remain silent. Investigators are required to tell him why he is being investigated, and their questions must be specific, and directly and narrowly related to the misconduct of which he is accused.

The accused must be told that refusing to answer questions may result in discipline or dismissal,  and that investigators may use the accused's own words to bring disciplinary action.

"But they (investigators) have to ask whether he wants to invoke those Garrity rights first," Isaacs says. "If they don't, it could be the basis for having all evidence coming out of those statements, suppressed. There have been cases where that happened."

Key, then, could be whether Jones' own statements were what prompted investigators to order sobriety and blood tests.

Chief Dodd hasn't gotten into any specifics as to how officers have conducted their investigation.  He has confirmed that supervisors became aware of concerns about Jones' condition and conduct at about 10:30 Saturday night, four-and-one-half-hours into his traffic-control work shift.
"I do want to know at what time what actions were taken, because I do have concerns about that as well," Dodd says. "I want to know if one officer spotted this, if all the officers knew it, anyone else knew it. Certainly, if there were other officers that knew and didn't report it, they will have some internal issues as well."

Jones is eligible to retire and to draw an annual pension of about $35,000 for the rest of his life, based on public records of his salary and the rules of the Chattanooga Fire & Police Pension Fund.

"If he were to retire before the investigation's over, departmental discipline is moot," says Sgt. Craig Joel, Vice President of the Chattanooga  chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police. "And he wouldn't have to forfeit the money even with a criminal conviction. This pension is our own money."

"The criminal case will not go away because he retires," Chief Dodd says.

But, the order in which investigators proceeded, could affect its outcome.  

"Did they start out thinking, oh we may have an officer drunk on duty...that's strictly a departmental matter," Isaacs says. "If that turned into 'he may have been drunk on that motorcycle, or arrived drunk on that motorcycle, that's a criminal matter, and the burdens of proof are tougher."

Attorney Bryan Hoss is representing Jones.  He has not returned calls seeking comment.

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