Most motorists who have gotten a speeding ticket wish the officer had shown a little leniency. Then there is the leniency Pinellas Sheriff's Sgt. John Daniels showed early on Sept. 21, when he pulled over a Dodge Charger that had been weaving in and out of traffic at 98 mph in a no-passing zone on Keystone Road before being stopped near the intersection with McMullen-Booth Road.
The occupants of the Charger were Pasco County sheriff's deputies Jose Berrios, the 25-year-old driver, and passenger Kurt Hentschel, 24. According to Daniels' report, Berrios reeked of alcohol, had glassy eyes, admitted he had been drinking and refused to take a breath test. Hentschel stood outside the car door, urinating. Daniels notified a Pasco sheriff's lieutenant, who advised him to write a report, and cleared the incident as "case closed, solved non-criminal." No arrest, no ticket, no nothing.
This is professional courtesy at its most offensive. Berrios and Hentschel knew how it works; they identified themselves as sheriff's deputies almost immediately after they were stopped. How many ordinary motorists would have received the same leniency under similar circumstances, after speeding excessively, weaving in and out of traffic, smelling of alcohol and urinating in public? No one deserves the benefit of the doubt in that situation.
Pinellas sheriff's officials are investigating. Sheriff Jim Coats said this week that law enforcement officers should be treated no differently than other drivers unless they are engaged in law enforcement activities and, for instance, are committing driving infractions. If the allegations in this case are accurate, he said, "it is totally wrong. … It doesn't sit well with the public, and it doesn't sit well with me.''
That is the correct response, and it needs to be reinforced. While officers are permitted to use some discretion, it should not be based on whether the next driver they pull over pulls out a badge.