MPD officer fired after two Dec. arrests - Tucson Local Media: Import

MPD officer fired after two Dec. arrests

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Posted: Tuesday, April 11, 2006 11:00 pm

March 29, 2006 - After lengthy internal investigations, the Marana Police Department on March 17 fired a traffic officer arrested three times in three years, including driving drunk.

John M. DeStefano, first hired in 1999, spent almost three months on paid leave while the department conducted investigations into his off-duty behavior, which in December included arrests a week apart for DUI and domestic violence.

The 33-year-old violated six police department and town policies as a result of his two most recent arrests, Police Chief Richard Viduarri said last week.

DeStefano behaved in a way "unbecoming" of a police officer and brought "discredit" to the police department, according to the list of violations.

The officer also violated department policy by "consuming intoxicants to the extent that results in intoxication or obnoxious behavior which makes (officers) ineffective in their job," according to one violation.

DeStefano will fight what he considers a hasty and unfounded decision to fire him, his attorney said last week.

A member of the Marana Police Officer Association, DeStefano's union dues afforded him the help of attorney Mike Storie, who has represented police officers in several high-profile cases.

Storie considers his client's firing a "knee-jerk reaction" to a January story published in the EXPLORER, which first detailed DeStefano's DUI arrest.

"(Vidaurri) will point out several provisions, but they're all murky, gray and B.S. - all nonsense," Storie said of alleged department violations.

DeStefano has gone through four internal affairs investigations since 2003, when the officer faced the first of two domestic violence charges.

His latest round of troubles began early the morning of Dec. 18, when he drove his 1994 Buick sedan off Twin Peaks Road, just west of Silverbell Road. The officer had just left a Christmas party when a car entered his lane and forced him to swerve into an embankment, he told Pima County deputies.

Deputy Jeffrey Bonds got to the scene shortly before 4 a.m. to find DeStefano's car perpendicular to the road, its wheels spinning in the dirt. DeStefano for 15 minutes had been trying to get his car unstuck, according to Bonds' report.

The deputy smelled alcohol on DeStefano's breath and noticed the Marana officer stumble more than once. It took DeStefano "two or three times" to pull his license from his wallet, Bonds noted.

When the deputy saw DeStefano's police badge, he called his sergeant, who came to the scene. Sgt. George Economidis requested a Marana supervisor respond, too.

Marana Police Sgt. William Hess told Economidis in a phone conversation that Marana would not respond, citing potential conflicts. However, shortly after that conversation, Marana Police Officer Mark Meredith arrived on the scene. Moments later, Hess himself showed up, records state.

Economidis - who also smelled alcohol on DeStefano - wanted to check the officer's eyes. DeStefano more than once refused to take the field sobriety test. He admitted to having "a couple" drinks, but declared he "was not impaired enough to drink," records state.

"I believed he meant he was not impaired enough to have problems driving," Economidis clarified in his written report.

Deputy Barton Davis, shortly after 4 a.m., arrived to take over the on-scene investigation. He again asked DeStefano if he would let the deputy check his eyes. DeStefano finally consented, Davis reported.

When the deputy asked DeStefano to take a breathalyzer test, the officer asked to speak to his sergeant first.

Hess and DeStefano spoke privately in the back of a police cruiser for three to five minutes. After this meeting, DeStefano informed deputies he would not take the breathalyzer test.

A blood test measured the officer's blood alcohol content at .186, more than twice the legal limit. Deputies charged him with extreme DUI.

After the arrest, DeStefano continued to monitor traffic as a motorcycle cop until Pima deputies met up with him again a week later, this time at his house on Whitetail Road.

A breathalyzer test showed DeStefano to be intoxicated again, reports state.

He and his wife of nine years had been arguing off and on for hours when deputies got to the house about 10:30 p.m. on Dec. 27.

DeStefano had punched and dented a microwave earlier in the day. His wife told deputies the couple was in the middle of a divorce and had been arguing often, reports state.

DeStefano drank as many as six martinis the day of the incident, his wife estimated. At one point, he threw a plastic bag of party cups at his wife. The bag missed her and dented the dishwasher, reports state.

DeStefano tried to leave during the argument, but his car wouldn't start. He tried to jump start it with the use of his wife's car, but she came outside and took the keys from her car. She went back inside, locked the doors and turned out the lights, reports state.

DeStefano dialed 911.

Two of the couple's children - two and four years old - slept through the fighting, both DeStefano and his wife told deputies, who placed the Marana officer under arrest for domestic violence and criminal damage.

Pima County prosecutors dropped those charges.

Deputies first arrested DeStefano for domestic violence in 2003. Prosecutors dropped that charge, too.

The police department required DeStefano attend in-house counseling following that incident.

A year later, the department again investigated the officer. He and two other uniformed officers insulted an employee and displayed "poor behavior" at the Hooters on Ina Road, according to allegations in police records.

The department found the claims to be unfounded, and DeStefano faced no disciplinary action.

The department didn't investigate DeStefano's December DUI arrest until after deputies arrested him a week later for domestic violence, Vidaurri said.

At that time, the chief assigned the DUI investigation to Officer Mike Henry, while Sgt. Bill Derfus looked into the domestic violence incident.

Both investigators wrapped up their work by April 13, when the chief notified DeStefano of his impending termination.

Internal affairs records requested by the EXPLORER on March 15 had not been made available by the paper's deadline.

Vidaurri held a "pre-action" meeting to give DeStefano a chance to tell his side of the story. DeStefano - in the company of two witnesses - did all the talking for about 30 minutes, Vidaurri said.

"I asked no questions, I made no comments," Vidaurri explained.

On March 17, the chief stood by his initial decision and gave the officer his walking papers.

"We have to have the public's trust," Vidaurri said. "When we go out and do things that discredit the police profession, it damages our credibility."

DeStefano refused to talk to reporters, letting his attorney speak for him.

"It's just wrong what's happening to John," Storie said. "There is not one police station in Arizona that fires a police officer after one DUI. And the (domestic violence) case - that was dropped. I don't want to hear about it."

Over the past six years, DeStefano got several laudatory letters from Marana citizens for his police work, according to personnel records.

"Based on performance evaluations, he was a good employee," Vidaurri acknowledged. "He did a good job, did it very well."

Vidaurri decided to fire the officer based on the seriousness of the violations, not the number, he explained.

Any appeal by DeStefano will first land on the chief's desk. From there, the issue could go to the town's human resources director, town manager or even a Personnel Action Review Board, consisting of town employees.

Attorneys on April 20 will meet to discuss DeStefano's DUI case, which is being processed through Pima County Justice Court. If convicted, the former Marana officer could get a minimum of 30 days in jail and a $250 fine.

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