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Ex-Pasco deputy fired in DUI incident now reserve officer in Port Richey

PORT RICHEY — Jose Berrios, who was fired from the Pasco County Sheriff's Office last fall after being suspected of driving drunk, has found another gig in law enforcement.

Berrios, 26, is now one of four unpaid auxiliary officers at the Port Richey Police Department. After his 17-week-long training course, he will have the same uniform, badge and gun as the regular officers, and will be dispatched to calls — even though he won't earn any pay.

Auxiliary officers work up to 20 hours a month, handling calls and assisting with emergencies such as hurricanes, city officials said. They eventually hope to get hired on full-time, if there are job openings and enough funding in the police budget.

The department has nine full-time officers and four auxiliary members. Berrios' field training was set to begin Monday night.

On Sept. 21 last year, a Pinellas deputy clocked Berrios driving 98 mph on Keystone Road in Tarpon Springs. It was about 1 a.m. when Sgt. John Daniels spotted Berrios driving a silver Dodge Charger, weaving past other cars in a no-passing zone. Daniels caught up to the Charger at an intersection, where a passenger, Pasco Deputy Kurt Hentschel, was standing in the shoulder urinating.

Daniels wrote in his report that he smelled alcohol on Berrios' breath and his eyes looked glassy.

Berrios, who identified himself and Hentschel as deputies, told Daniels that they had been out drinking and were on their way home.

But instead of having Berrios perform field sobriety tests, Daniels asked him if he would take a portable breath test. He told Berrios that if he failed the test, he would just have to call for a ride home, according to the report.

Berrios declined the test and got a ride home.

Both the Pinellas and Pasco sheriff's offices launched internal investigations into the incident. Daniels received a one-day suspension for failing to conduct a DUI investigation.

Hentschel received a two-day suspension for conduct unbecoming a member of the Sheriff's Office.

And Berrios, who was still on probation as a new deputy, was fired.

Even though he was never investigated for or found guilty of DUI, Sheriff Bob White decided to fire him because of the totality of the events: driving erratically, speeding and weaving through traffic.

Molly Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6245. Camille C. Spencer can be reached at cspencer@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4609.

Ex-Pasco deputy fired in DUI incident now reserve officer in Port Richey 03/23/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 23, 2009 9:26pm]
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