Clearwater officers disciplined

Clearwater officers disciplined for failure to report fellow officer who drove drunk

    Laura C. MorelLaura C. Morel, Times Staff Writer

Tuesday, April 29, 2014 6:42pm

CLEARWATER — In the early morning hours of Jan. 23, police received three calls about a drunken driver seen stumbling out of a beach bar and later swerving on Clearwater Memorial Causeway.

"I watched a guy who could barely walk get into his car," one caller told a dispatcher.

Moments later, Clearwater police Sgt. David Young stopped the Chevy Camaro at Hercules Avenue and Marilyn Street. Police Sgt. Sean Allaster also responded.

Together, they approached the driver's side of the car and recognized the man behind the wheel.

It was Clearwater Officer Nicholas Capogna.

They didn't conduct a field sobriety test. Instead, the sergeants decided to take him home, according to internal affairs records released to the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday.

After a three-month investigation, Capogna will be suspended for five days, while Allaster and Young will each receive one-day suspensions. Their disciplinary actions are pending final approval from the city's human resources department.

Because of the incident, the Police Department is creating a policy requiring every officer to conduct field sobriety tests if they suspect a driver is intoxicated, Clearwater police Chief Tony Holloway said. The tests are currently up to officers' discretion, and they sometimes have opted to call a taxi for an impaired driver.

The policy also would require officers to report any city employees they stop for impaired driving.

"Our officers made some mistakes in this case," Holloway said in a statement, "and we are taking steps to correct that."

Young and Allaster did not report Capogna's impaired driving to the department. Police internal affairs learned of the traffic stop from a comment posted on the department's Facebook page four days after the incident by one of several witnesses who spotted Capogna drinking and then driving that night.

According to internal affairs documents, Capogna met Officer Chris Livernois at the Brown Boxer Pub & Grille on Mandalay Avenue for drinks about 10:30 p.m. Jan. 22. Both were off duty. Video surveillance at the bar shows Livernois leaving about 1:30 a.m.