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Cop's court appearance on DWI charge reveals anomalies

Cop's court appearance on DWI charge reveals anomalies

Officer pleads not guilty to the DWI charged
Cop's court appearance on DWI charge reveals anomalies
Schenectady police Officer Daniel Coppola heads to City Court on Thursday.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

SCHENECTADY -- City police Officer Daniel Coppola had a blood alcohol content of 0.12 percent -- two hours after he was involved in a crash on Sunday, according to court records.

The two-year veteran of the Schenectady Police Department was charged with misdemeanor driving while intoxicated after his car was hit by another vehicle. Police said the other vehicle ran a red light and the driver of that vehicle had a suspended license. The identity of that driver has still not been disclosed by police.

The crash happened at around 4:14 a.m., according to court records. The records were obtained on Thursday after Coppola made a brief appearance in City Court.

Those documents reveal that, when interviewed by Lt. Wesley McGhee, Coppola said he had been at 20 North Broadway Tavern and Union Inn, and that he had consumed two beers over the course of the evening, according to court records.

Coppola had glassy eyes and smelled of alcohol, so he was given field sobriety tests, according to the court documents. He failed two of them -- the horizontal gaze test and standing on one leg -- but he passed the walk and turn test, according to the police report.

Coppola was read his Miranda rights at around 5:20 a.m. and was charged with DWI, the report states.

Dearing said those suspected of driving drunk must be placed under observation for 20 minutes before they are administered a breath test.

The documents obtained by The Daily Gazette on Thursday indicate Coppola was put under observation at 5:41 a.m., nearly an hour and a half after the crash. The subsequent breath test, administered at 6:21 a.m., revealed his blood alcohol level to be 0.12 percent.

The legal threshold for a DWI is 0.08 percent.

Under state law, those charged with driving under the influence must submit to a breath test within two hours. If they do not agree to take the test, they automatically forfeit their driver's licenses.

Approximately an hour passed between the time Coppola was charged and when he took the breath test, according to the police report.

Coppola, 23, pleaded not guilty to the charge Thursday in City Court. He refused to comment on his case afterward.

Typically, a person arrested for a DWI would have their license suspended at their arraignment, pending prosecution. However, City Court Judge Teneka Frost said on Thursday that she couldn’t suspend Coppola's license because a certified copy of the breath test was not included in the court documents presented to her.

Schenectady County Assistant District Attorney Nick McDonald, who was prosecuting the case on Thursday, said he had provided a photocopy of the certified copy.

“[Frost] didn’t find that sufficient,” McDonald said.

McDonald said he wasn’t sure how often such document errors happen, but he said it was the Police Department’s responsibility to include the certified copy in the court documents.

Police Chief Eric Clifford said his department has a checklist of what documents they need to include before submitting a file to the court. He said he was not sure why the original copy of the breath test, or a certified copy of it, was not included.

It’s a matter Clifford said he would be looking into, as it was “a mistake that shouldn’t have been made, period.”

“Especially when it involves another police officer,” Clifford added. “We should double-check everything we do when it involves a police officer because public trust is important, and it shouldn’t be questioned by anybody.”

The information regarding Coppola’s arrest was not included in the Police Department’s arrest log as of Tuesday afternoon -- after that log was checked twice by The Daily Gazette. Mayor Gary McCarthy said that omission was rectified by Wednesday night.

When asked about the court document mistake during Coppolla’s arraignment, McCarthy said he had not yet talked with Clifford about it.

“Sometimes, there’s an explanation of things, but without talking to the chief, it’s unfortunate things aren’t smoother on that side,” McCarthy said.

Coppola has been on desk duty since his arrest, Clifford said.

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 said that law states the officer cannot face discipline, including unpaid suspension, without being given the right to a hearing and a decision made by the city’s public safety commissioner.

Clifford said the department is not treating Coppolla differently from any other DWI suspect, adding there is “no favoritism.”

Attorney Andrew Safranko said his client was apologetic about what occurred, adding he was “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

But Safranko also said Coppola denies he was driving while intoxicated. He would not comment further on the case Thursday.

“He’s sincerely sorry and remorseful for any black eye or negative view of him and especially the Schenectady Police Department,” Safranko said. “He apologizes to any member of that force for causing any negative attention or embarrassment to them.”

Coppola is the stepson of Schenectady County Sheriff Dominic Dagostino, who said Thursday he has had no involvement in Coppola’s case -- and that he doesn’t plan to.

Dagostino said Coppola may have made a bad decision Sunday morning, but he said he believes his stepson will learn from the incident and become a better person for it.

“He’s been raised to know that when he makes a poor choice he has to accept responsibility and be accountable for his actions,” Dagostino said. “As parents, we expect he will do that.”

Clifford indicated Coppola may already have done so. While he noted the DWI charge is still an allegation, he commended Coppola for calling in the crash to the police after it occurred.

“That speaks volumes to owning up to maybe making a mistake,” Clifford said. “His integrity kicked in; he owned up to it and called.”

The Police Department has begun an internal investigation of Coppola's conduct, Clifford added.

Coppola is due back in court on June 7.

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