Foss: Handling of case is suspicious

Schenectady police Officer Daniel Coppola heads to City Court on Thursday, May 17.
Schenectady police Officer Daniel Coppola heads to City Court on Thursday, May 17.

Should I ever be arrested for driving while intoxicated, I hope the police show me the same courtesy they extended to Schenectady police Officer Daniel Coppola. 

I hope they wait well over an hour to place me under observation. 

Once I’m under observation, I hope they spend twice as long observing me than required by law. 

By the time they get around to administering a breath test, I hope at least two hours have passed. 

I don’t know how Coppola wiled away the two hours between the car accident he was involved in at 4:14 a.m. and the breath test he was administered at 6:21 a.m., but I’d hope to spend that time drinking water, walking around, eating a late-night breakfast — anything that might help me appear more sober. 

Under state law, those charged with drunk driving must submit to a breath test within two hours, or forfeit their driver’s licenses. The idea is that tests taken after this two-hour window has expired are less reliable, and thus not admissible in court. 

Try as I might, I can’t think of much reason, if you’re trying to determine how drunk someone is at the time of an accident, to wait the full two hours to give them a breath test.  

When you’re drunk, two hours is a long time. 

It might not be enough time to restore a person to full sobriety, but it gives them time to begin sobering up — for their BAC to steadily drop as their liver metabolizes the alcohol in their system. 

Coppola, a two-year veteran, registered a blood alcohol content of 0.12 percent, which makes you wonder how high his BAC was at the time of the accident. 

Unfortunately, we’ll never know, thanks to the long, albeit legally permitted, gap between the crash and the breath test. 

We’ve been told time and again that the Schenectady Police Department’s problems are in the past, that the department has turned over a new leaf, that recruits are held to a high standard and that officers who step out of line are held accountable. 

The Coppola case raises troubling questions that throw this narrative into question. 

The arrest was initially left off the police blotter, which makes you wonder whether someone wanted it left off the police blotter. The department issued a press release about the accident shortly after a Daily Gazette reporter inquired about it.

Ordinarily, a person arrested for DWI has his or her license suspended at arraignment, but the police neglected to provide City Court Judge Teneka Frost with a certified copy of Coppola’s breath test. Without this necessary documentation, Frost was unable to suspend Coppola’s license. 

The handling of the Coppola case doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that the Schenectady Police Department is as open and transparent as it claims to be, or that it treats officers who run afoul of the law the same as any other citizen. 

I doubt the police would wait two hours to give me a breath test, and I bet most people suspected of drunk driving would be in the same boat. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

Categories: Opinion, Schenectady County

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