COLONIE — A special prosecutor will be assigned to the case of a sergeant of the Schenectady County Sheriff’s Department who was fired last week after his second drunk driving arrest.
Prosecutors allege Daniel Coppola, 26, of Rotterdam, drove on a curb and nearly hit a utility pole with his car while more than twice the legal limit for drunkenness on April 26.
Coppola, the stepson of Schenectady County Sheriff Dominic Dagostino, did not appear in Colonie Town Justice Court for Monday’s arraignment because of a medical issue, according to his lawyer, Andrew Safranko.
Safranko entered pleas of not guilty on Coppola’s behalf during the night court session.
Coppola is free on personal recognizance, and his license is suspended for 30 days, the standard for these types of cases, Safranko said.
The defense lawyer said in an interview the case will be assigned a special prosecutor because of Coppola’s status in law enforcement.
According to Safranko, Albany County District Attorney P. David Soares has said he will not prosecute cases involving police officers because of the heightened scrutiny of law enforcement officers these days.
Coppola faces misdemeanor charges of aggravated driving while intoxicated, driving while intoxicated, driving with a blood-alcohol level of 1% or more of alcohol, and a traffic citation for moving from a lane unsafely.
Coppola’s blood-alcohol level was allegedly .20%, more than twice the state’s legal limit of .08%, according to arresting documents.
Coppola told Colonie police Sgt. Thomas Breslin he had consumed a couple of beers at the Across the Street Pub in Albany, police records allege.
Breslin said in arresting documents he observed Coppola driving west on Central Avenue at Reber Street just after 9 p.m. April 26. The sergeant said Coppola left his lane unsafely.
Police said Coppolla was also seen “driving up on the curb and almost hitting a utility pole.”
Coppola was previously convicted of driving while impaired in an arrest in May 2018, when Coppola worked for the Schenectady Police Department.
Coppola was accused, while off duty, of driving with a blood-alcohol level of .12%.
The Sheriff’s Department said Coppola was terminated after an administrative review of the April 26 arrest. The department said he had been an exemplary employee, with no other personnel issues at the department.
Dagostino has stated that any action short of terminating Coppola would undermine the integrity, credibility and legitimacy of the Sheriff’s Department.
The sheriff has said he was “disappointed and heartbroken over the actions of my son.”
Safranko was asked if his client has a problem with alcohol, given the two drunk driving arrests while he held jobs in law enforcement.
Safranko said it was “too early to get into those types of strategies” and mitigating factors. The lawyer noted that Coppola’s first conviction resulted in a non-criminal disposition.
Safranko said his office would challenge Coppola’s firing, considering he was terminated before the case was adjudicated.
“We’ll certainly fight for the termination as being a harsh and excessive punishment,” the lawyer said.
But Safranko acknowledged that the Schenectady County Sheriff’s Department “has kind of a different rule” with its collective bargaining unit, where the sheriff is allowed to make personnel decisions prior to arbitration.
In most police departments, Safranko said, “typically you get a 30-day suspension pending formal charges, then formal charges get levied and then an arbitration would occur from there.”
Safranko said of his client’s frame of mind: “Listen, obviously he’s upset that he’s charged, and he’s going to do everything that he can to make it up to his family and his friends in the law enforcement community.”
The case was continued to June 14.