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Police officer prepares for department discipline

Published: Thursday, July 25, 2013 at 8:57 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 25, 2013 at 8:57 a.m.

A Petaluma police officer charged with drunken driving reached a settlement with prosecutors this week, pleading to a lesser alcohol-related driving charge.

The infraction, called a “wet reckless,” is used as a substitute to DUI charges when prosecutors believe evidence against a suspect may not be strong enough to a guilty conviction in a DUI trial.

For Officer Ryan McGreevy, who was charged with a DUI in January for an incident that occurred on Oct. 5, the plea agreement means an end to a case that has beleaguered a police department known for its strong DUI enforcement. Petaluma’s Traffic Enforcement team consistently wins awards from the state Office of Traffic Safety for its DUI efforts. Mothers Against Drunk Driving also honored McGreevy in 2007 for his work in DUI enforcement.

“For Ryan (McGreevy), it’s a solution that means no jail time, no license suspensions and no criminal conviction,” said McGreevy’s defense attorney Michael Li of the settlement. “For the prosecution, it acts as a prior DUI conviction so that if he is ever in trouble again, they can charge him as a two-time offender.”

McGreevy will receive an $850 fine for the wet reckless citation, as opposed to the $2,400 fine he would have received for a DUI conviction. He will not have his license suspended or serve any jail time, as he would under a DUI charge.

Judge Pat Broderick also sentenced McGreevy to two years probation, during which time he is not allowed to drive with any alcohol in his system. He also must complete “wet reckless education school.” Such sentencing is typical for first-time wet reckless convictions.

McGreevy is not in the clear yet, though, still awaiting possible discipline from the Petaluma Police Department. In a statement released late Tuesday, Police Chief Patrick Williams said that the department is taking McGreevy’s actions seriously and will take “appropriate” action, though he did not say what that action might be. He added that any administrative punishments against McGreevy will not be disclosed to the public due to employee privacy laws.

San Fransisco police union lawyer Gary Messing will represent McGreevy in any dealings with the department over disciplinary action. Messing said that though the conviction is not ideal for McGreevy, it’s a relatively minor offense and isn’t uncommon in law enforcement. “Discipline varies. But in a case like this, with an officer who has had an excellent service record for eight years, I’m certain the department will work with him to continue his career,” he added.

While drunken driving cases in law enforcement may not be uncommon, the case against McGreevy was anything but normal. On Oct. 5, during a police department fundraiser at Rooster Run Golf Course, McGreevy crashed a fellow officer’s motor scooter on the fairway of the fourth hole. He required medical attention at the scene of the crash for a head wound and was later transported to Petaluma Valley Hospital for treatment and then on to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital for further tests.

Though the event was sponsored by the Petaluma Police Department, and officers from both Petaluma and the California Highway Patrol were present, no blood alcohol or sobriety tests were administrated at the scene. No on-duty officers were called to the scene.

But soon after the event, the police department began investigating the circumstances of McGreevy’s crash and concluded it warranted an outside investigation. The matter was turned over to California Highway Patrol Sgt. Chris Linehan, who conducted an exhaustive investigation and generated a 71-page report recommending that the District Attorney file DUI charges against McGreevy.

After being charged with one count of misdemeanor DUI on Jan. 27, McGreevy pleaded not guilty and attempted to quash a subpoena for hospital blood samples taken at Petaluma Valley after the crash. That effort failed, and hospital records showed McGreevy’s blood alcohol level was 0.11 about four hours after the crash — well above the legal 0.08 legal limit.

Despite obtaining McGreevy’s blood alcohol records, prosecutor Brian Staebell said that because of problems in how the blood sample was obtained and hospital workers hesitating to violate patient privacy laws, the wet reckless charge was the best option.

“Ultimately, we feel this was the best outcome, given the evidence we had and what we could prove during trial,” Staebell said.

Staebell went on to say that McGreevy’s status as a police officer had nothing to do with the outcome of the case. “We handled this case the same as we would any other case,” he said. “The fact that he’s a law enforcement officer never played into our position. We looked at the facts and felt this was the best option for what we could prove.”

Mother’s Against Drunk Driving recognized McGreevy for his work in DUI enforcement in 2007. According to MADD Sonoma County victim’s advocate Lynn Darst, the whole incident is a disappointing reminder of the dangers of drunken driving.

“It’s a reminder to everyone that it’s not OK to drink and drive,” said Darst. “MADD appreciates all the work law enforcement does to keep our roads safer, but it doesn’t matter who you are. (Drunken driving) is never OK and it’s a red flag to everyone.”

(Contact Janelle Wetzstein at janelle.wetzstein@arguscourier.com)

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