Riverbend officer suspected of being intoxicated placed on leave while blood tested

Riverbend officer suspected of being intoxicated placed on leave while blood tested

June 20th, 2012 by Beth Burger in News

Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd speaks at a Tuesday news conference about Officer Steve Jones being placed on administrative leave.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

Chattanooga Police Officer Steve Jones.

Chattanooga Police Officer Steve Jones.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

It could be three to six weeks before Chattanooga police get the results of a blood test from a traffic officer who is suspected of being intoxicated while on duty at Riverbend.

Officer Steve Jones, 49, has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation and could face a DUI charge, said police Chief Bobby Dodd at a news conference Tuesday.

The blood sample was sent to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and "once we get those [results] back, there will be further action taken," Dodd said.

Jones, who was riding a patrol motorcycle at Riverbend, began work about 6 p.m. Saturday in a group of about six traffic investigators. The group was in charge of patrolling the Olgiati Bridge to make sure motorists did not stop to watch fireworks at the end of Riverbend, Dodd said. A fellow officer smelled alcohol on him and reported him by 10:30 p.m.

Jones could not be reached for comment.

On July 19, Jones will have 25 years with the department, Dodd said. His personnel file was not made available Tuesday for review.

"He's a great traffic investigator. Good friend. I've known him for 25 years," Dodd said.

It's possible Jones will retire before the results come back, but it won't change whether he is charged criminally, Dodd said. If he doesn't retire, he could face termination, the chief said.

"Zero percent alcohol is what you should have while you're operating a city vehicle," he said. "Our policy says you can't have anything to drink within the previous eight hours of your shift."

Dodd said he was notified about Jones within an hour of officers reporting him and a supervisor was present during the tests.

"It was all handled as a DUI," Dodd said.

An officer asked him to comply with tests and the police department's internal affairs office was notified afterward, he said.

Officers who sometimes incriminate themselves during interviews for internal investigations are protected by federal law known as Garrity, which does not allow the statements to be used in court. However, case law in 2008's Illinois v. Kevin Carey, and in other federal cases, says physical evidence is excluded from protection under Garrity, according to a website set up by Don Taylor, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin School for Workers.

"For internal purposes, he does not have the right to refuse to consent or to answer questions," Dodd said. "But as far as [the] criminal aspect, he has the same remedies as any other citizen; he could refuse that, as well."

Dodd said an internal investigation also will encompass officers who learned of Jones' alleged intoxication.

"I do have concerns with that," he said. "I want to know who knew what and at what time and what actions were taken."