SCHENECTADY — City police Officer Daniel Coppola pleaded guilty Thursday to driving while ability impaired in Schenectady City Court.
The plea came after an offer from Assistant District Attorney Chandler Delamater for Coppola to plead to the lesser DWAI charge, rather than facing prosecution on a driving while intoxicated charge filed against Coppola after a car crash on May 13.
Coppola refused to comment on the plea Thursday.
The crash that precipitated the DWI charge happened at around 4 a.m. at the intersection of Broadway and Liberty Street, just three blocks away from the Police Department. Coppola was off duty at the time, and an investigation by Schenectady police determined the crash was caused by the driver of the other vehicle, Yireh Pino, 27, of Schenectady, when she failed to stop at a red light. Pino was also driving without a license, police said.
Almost two hours after the crash, Coppola still had a blood alcohol content of 0.12 percent, according to his arrest report. The legal limit for driving drunk is 0.08 percent.
That report also showed that Coppola told police he had been at 20 North Broadway Tavern and Union Inn, and that he had two drinks over the course of the evening.
Pino was charged on May 18 with disobeying a traffic control device, a traffic infraction, and misdemeanor third-degree unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle.
No injuries were reported, police said.
Police indicated in a press release that Pino “struck” Coppola’s vehicle after running a red right.
In the 911 call placed by Pino — obtained by The Daily Gazette through a Freedom of Information Law request — she can be heard saying, “I just got T-boned.” Coppola called in the accident as well, Police Chief Eric Clifford previously said.
Listen to the 911 call
It was unclear what exactly happened during the crash. Attempts to reach Pino were unsuccessful. She is scheduled to appear in court on May 29.
As a result of Coppola’s guilty plea, he must now enroll in a victim impact panel and an impaired driver course.
Also as a result of his plea, City Court Judge Teneka Frost ordered Coppola’s license suspended for 90 days. Andrew Safranko, Coppola’s attorney, requested a 20-day stay on the suspension, which Frost allowed.
Coppola then had to turn his license over to the court.
Safranko said Coppola will be issued a non-restricted paper license, which will be good for 20 days. Coppola must enroll in an impaired driving course to become eligible for a conditional license, but he must do that within the 20-day period to avoid facing a full suspension of his license, Safranko said.
Once he completes the impaired driving course, he would be eligible to get his license fully restored, Safranko said.
Coppola did not have his license suspended during his arraignment on May 17 because original documentation of the breath test administered to Coppola was not provided. Assistant District Attorney Nick McDonald tried to offer a photocopy of the test results to Frost during the proceeding, but Frost did not accept it.
The police are responsible for supplying the paperwork for a court case. But Chief Clifford said in an interview with The Daily Gazette on Wednesday that he investigated the incident and found his department did supply the court with an original copy. He said that copy was found in a different court file that wasn’t Coppola’s.
Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney on Thursday confirmed Clifford’s explanation, adding that the document was misfiled by a court clerk.
City Court Chief Clerk Robin Farmer said she could not comment on the matter Thursday.
“Mistakes happen,” Clifford said. “It’s not always someone trying to get something over on someone else. I’m not blaming [the court]; I’m simply standing up for my officers, saying it wasn’t us.”
Clifford also addressed the amount of time it took between when the crash occurred and when the breath test was administered to Coppola. He said he pulled up all of the DWI arrests over the past three months and found it took an average of 108 minutes to give a breath test in cases that involved a motor vehicle crash where alcohol use was suspected.
In Coppola’s case, it took 127 minutes.
“I don’t have a problem with that because, as a police officer, things get slowed down to make sure all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed,” Clifford said.
Under state law, a person charged with driving under the influence must submit to a breath test within two hours. If they don’t, they automatically forfeit their driver’s license.
The legal threshold for a DWI is 0.08 percent. The legal threshold for a DWAI is any blood alcohol content greater than 0.05 percent, but less than 0.07 percent.
Coppola’s arrest was not included in the Police Department’s arrest log as of May 15 — after it had been checked twice by The Daily Gazette. The omission was rectified by Wednesday night.
Clifford on Wednesday said he took “full responsibility” for the arrest not having been included in the arrest log. He said it either did not make it to the book by May 15 or someone removed it.
There is a new system in place for anyone who wishes to view the arrest log, though, and Clifford said that was enacted due to the Coppola incident. Clifford said his department will now issue an electronic report of all arrest records and that those viewing the arrest log must sign it out first.
Clifford was in court Thursday but refused to comment after Coppola’s guilty plea.
Clifford said previously that Coppola has been reassigned to desk duty.
Coppola is allowed to remain on the job due to a change in the Police Department’s policy regarding the arrest of police officers. In the past, those charged with DWI would have been given an immediate suspension without pay for 30 days. But following the city’s victory in a long-running legal case in October, the city now follows rules laid out in the Second Class Cities Law when disciplining officers.
City Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico previously said the Second Cities Law states an officer cannot be disciplined, including with unpaid suspension, without being given the right to a hearing and a decision to do so by the city’s public safety commissioner.
Clifford said on Wednesday that his department was moving forward with the an internal investigation of Coppola’s case.
Public Safety Commissioner Michael Eidens was also in court Thursday but would not discuss the investigation, as he said disciplinary proceedings are confidential.
When whether Coppola should keep his job as a police officer after pleading guilty to a DWAI charge, city Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo and independent Councilman Vince Riggi both said that decision should be left up to Eidens.
“I’m very, very happy, through a court ruling, we have a public safety commissioner who can know all of the small details and make his judgment on that,” Perazzo said.
City Council President Ed Kosiur refused to comment on the case Thursday.
Councilman John Mootooveren, who is chairman of the city’s Public Safety Committee, did not return a call seeking comment.
McCarthy also did not return a call seeking comment.
Safranko said Coppola apologized to Eidens, Clifford and the rest of the Police Department for casting them in a negative light.
“[Coppola] takes very seriously his role as a police officer. He loves his role as a police officer, and he loves helping the citizens of Schenectady,” Safranko said. “He’s accepted responsibility for his actions.”