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Details emerge in Petaluma police officer's DUI case

Published: Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 1:54 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 1:54 p.m.

City officials broke their silence this week regarding a pending drunken driving case against Petaluma Police Officer Ryan McGreevy, providing insight as to why no blood alcohol test was taken at the scene of the incident but leaving other questions unanswered.

Questions from the public recently surfaced regarding the manner in which the Petaluma Police Department handled the investigation into an officer, McGreevey's, motor scooter crash that occurred on Oct. 5 during the department's annual hostage negotiation team fundraiser at Rooster Run Golf Course. In not responding to certain questions about the incident, Petaluma police and city officials cited the ongoing nature of their own investigation into the matter and the need for privacy around personnel issues.

McGreevy, off-duty at the time, allegedly crashed a scooter owned by a fellow officer on the fairway of the fourth hole. He was transported by Petaluma Fire Department personnel to Petaluma Valley Hospital, and later to Santa Rosa Memorial, for head injuries sustained in the crash.

The Sonoma County District Attorney filed a single misdemeanor DUI charge against McGreevy in February stemming from the crash — months after the initial incident. Community members have since questioned why no arrest was made at the scene and why no field sobriety or blood alcohol tests were taken.

Petaluma Police Lt. Tim Lyons, speaking on behalf of the department at Police Chief Patrick Williams' request, explained that after McGreevy crashed, no on-duty officers were called to the scene. “It was called in (to dispatch) as a medical call, which typically does not trigger a police response,” Lyons said. When asked if on-duty police officers should have been dispatched to the scene, since driving any motorized vehicle while intoxicated constitutes a DUI, Lyons said he couldn't comment, and referred to the ongoing nature of the investigation.

A public records request submitted by the Petaluma Argus-Courier to the city produced documents showing that a Petaluma Fire Department engine and emergency medic transport unit was dispatched to the Rooster Run Golf Course in response to a scooter accident on Oct. 5. No mention of alcohol was listed in the Fire Department's report and fire personnel made no call for police assistance, despite the fact that some witnesses later told the CHP investigator that they saw McGreevy drinking.

Fire Department Chief Larry Anderson said Tuesday that if a crash involving alcohol had occurred on a public roadway and no on-duty police officers had responded, it would have been the responsibility of the medics to alert the police to the crash.

“But if it were a medical call, on private property — which this was — I'm not sure the responding medics would have known that they should report it as a crime,” said Anderson. “Without knowing all the parameters of the call, my guess is that the guys were treating it as a medical call and were focused on getting the injured party the care he needed, not on reporting the incident to officers.”

Anderson added that the responding medics followed the fire department's protocol.

It was originally reported that the police department took one month from when the incident occurred to when they referred the investigation to the CHP, causing some to question the delay. This week, Lyons said those reports are untrue.

“I don't know where everybody got the idea that we didn't contact CHP for an entire month,” Lyons said Tuesday. “Our internal investigation started immediately once we got information about what happened out there. I don't recall the exact date that we first contacted CHP, but it was way before four weeks.”

Lyons said the confusion may stem from the fact that the CHP report was initially dated four weeks after the incident, but emphasized that both departments were communicating well before the one-month mark.

At Monday's City Council meeting, Petaluma resident Dan Drummond, a former police officer and president of the Sonoma County Taxpayer's Association, called the department's actions tantamount to a cover-up. He questioned the ethics of Chief Williams and the officers who were present at the scene of the crash, and called for an independent investigation into the department's handling of the incident and their refusal to provide information to the public.

In response to Drummond's remarks, City Manager John Brown pointed out that while the public may be clamoring for the specifics of the case, city employees are protected by a number of rules, regulations and laws that prevent the city from discussing the investigation.

“With personnel issues, it's a very sensitive situation,” Brown said. “What I can say is that when there is a concern like this, it is taken seriously. It's not always resolved quickly, but it is always taken seriously. That's the process and it will take the time it takes. While that may not be the answer the public is looking for in this case, that's the standard we will adhere to as a public agency.”

Brown, along with several other councilmembers, publicly defended Chief Williams' actions. “If I didn't believe he was a man of integrity, I would not have offered him the position,” Brown added.

“He (Chief Williams) had my support in July (when we hired him) and he has my support today,” said Councilmember Chris Albertson.

Councilmember Teresa Barrett echoed a similar sentiment, but added that because there is a perception in the community that the incident is a criminal matter that should be addressed as such, she hopes the city will release more information at the appropriate time.

When asked why the department chose not to place McGreevy on administrative leave once he had been charged with DUI, Lyons said the department is still conducting an internal investigation, which has been placed on hold pending the outcome of the criminal proceedings, before taking any administrative action.

In the meantime, the prosecuting district attorney has subpoenaed McGreevy's medical records from his treatment at Petaluma Valley Hospital and Santa Rosa memorial Hospital — presumably in the hopes of finding blood alcohol test results — which McGreevy's lawyer is trying to quash. The hearing to decide whether medical records will be released is set for this morning.

(Contact Janelle Wetzstein at janelle.wetzstein@arguscourier.com)

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