DENVER - A Denver Police officer's bizarre DUI arrest and his sentence resulting in two years of desk duty has Police Chief Robert White advocating for a change in departmental disciplinary rules.
The chief's concerns were highlighted by the 2013 DUI arrest of Denver Police Officer Aaron Wade Egger, who told a Thornton Police officer that a friend he only identified as "Good buddy" was driving and took off after the car crashed.
A witness called 911 in the early-morning hours of July 4 last year to report that a man driving a Black Nissan Maxima had driven up on the curb and almost hit a fence and then veered across the roadway and slammed into the other curb, according to a police report. The impact blew out the front right tire and bent back the front right fender until it was blocking the passenger door, police said.
A Thornton patrol officer arrived to find the Maxima straddling two northbound lanes of Holly Street at East 118th Avenue.
A man wearing a red shirt and shorts, later identified as Egger, was leaning on a fence on the side of the road.
The officer asked what happened and Egger replied, "Somebody hit us."
Seeing no one else around, the officer asked who was in the Maxima, and Egger replied, "Me and my buddy." Asked where his buddy was, Egger said, "He took off" and took the keys to Egger's car with him.
Yet, when the officer asked the 32-year-old Egger where he wrecked, he replied, "I hit something over there," pointing toward East 120th Avenue.
"I asked Aaron what his good buddy's name was. Aaron said, 'Good buddy,'" the police report stated.
The witness, however, said the driver was the only person in the car.
The Thornton officer's report said Egger had a strong odor of alcohol, slurred speech, bloodshot eyes and he was so unsteady on his feet that he almost fell over during the field sobriety test. When the officer asked for his driver's license, Egger dug around in his wallet and handed him a credit card.
The officer twice noted that Egger was "acting strange." He kept rigidly standing at attention "like someone in the military," despite the officer repeatedly telling him he could relax.
When the officer asked if Egger had been in the military, he replied, "Yes sir. 82nd Airborne sir."
The officer arrested Egger for DUI and patted him down, finding the Maxima keys in his pocket. Police also recovered a 12-gauge pump shotgun with 44 rounds of ammunition from Egger's car.
A breath test showed Egger had a blood-alcohol level of .201 -- more than twice the .08 threshold for being driving under the influence under state law.
In November, Egger pleaded guilty to DUI and prosecutors dismissed a careless driving charge, court records show.
With his high intoxication level, Egger was deemed a persistent drunk driver under state law.
A judge ordered Egger to use an ignition-interlock device on his car for two years, said Denver Police spokesman Cmdr. Matt Murray. A driver has to blow into the device to ensure he doesn't have an elevated alcohol level. If he does, the car won't start.
Egger was also sentenced to one year in jail, which the judge suspended, and ordered to serve one year of probation and 48 hours of community service.
After his criminal case was resolved, the police department gave Egger a 6-day suspension earlier this year.
However, the ignition-interlock requirement posed a new challenge for the police department. Officials said they would not install the device on patrol cars.
Instead, Egger had been assigned to desk duty for two years, Murray said.
"The chief is concerned about the current [discipline] system when an officer can't drive for two years and the impact that that has on the community and the police department," Murray said.
However, the department's disciplinary matrix, enacted in 2008, requires consistent punishment. So an officer can't face a more severe penalty for the same violation that officers were given in the past.
Chief White, who has long been concerned about officers who commit DUI offenses, began advocating earlier this year for a change in the disciplinary matrix, to allow the department to deal with things like ignition-interlock requirements and other changes in the law.
"It’s a bigger picture" issue than one cop's DUI, Murray said. "What's the right thing to do for the city, for the community, for the officers? We have to come up with a reasonable standard that meets the new rules and be adaptable," Murray said.