AURORA, Colo. —
The Aurora Police Department (APD) released new documents Thursday that offer more details about what happened after an officer was found drunk and unresponsive in the driver’s seat of his unmarked patrol car earlier this year.
Officer Nate Meier, 48, has not been charged with a DUI and is still on the job in wake of the March 29 incident. The then-agent has been demoted to officer and “received a significant unpaid suspension,” according to a statement released by APD earlier this week.
An internal affairs investigation concluded that Meier violated four police policies, including neglect of duty and alcohol impairment.
Meier was first found after a woman called 911 and told the dispatcher there was an unconscious man in the driver’s seat of a vehicle that was stopped in the middle of East Mississippi Avenue near Buckley Air Force Base.
According to the police report, the Ford Taurus’ engine was running, the car was in gear and Meier’s foot was on the brake. Responding officers said he was still wearing his uniform and had his service weapon on him.
First responders could not wake Meier and had to break a window to get the officer out of the vehicle, the report says.
Meier was taken to the hospital. According to the documents released on Thursday, three officers reported at least faintly smelling alcohol on his breath.
In its statement, APD said “there was no evidence located in the vehicle indicating this was an incident involving alcohol” and that officers treated it as an emergency medical situation.
Sources told 9Wants to Know that Meier’s blood alcohol level was 0.45 — well above the 0.08 legal limit for a DUI. According to the department’s report, Meier admitted to going home during his shift and drinking “vodka from a bottle.”
He also told the department he was “impaired” and not aware of what happened next until he woke up in the hospital.
Nine officers responded to the scene after Meier was found, according to the documents. The first to arrive is now Aurora’s interim police chief, Paul O’Keefe. In his report, O’Keefe wrote that he was driving home from work when he “heard a call come out via dispatch advising of a vehicle stopped in traffic” and that the driver was wearing an APD jacket.
O’Keefe wrote that he arrived shortly before firefighters did, and that he tried unsuccessfully to wake up Meier by banging on the window. Once firefighters got inside, O’Keefe said he took Meier’s duty weapon from his holster.
“Upon entry to the vehicle I smelled what I thought was the odor of an unknown alcoholic beverage,” O’Keefe wrote. "However, the smell was fleeting and I did not observe any physical evidence of alcohol consumption.”
O’Keefe said he later began to question if Meier was drunk or if there was some other medical episode at play.
“His physical demeanor was not what I thought was consistent with alcohol intoxication,” O’Keefe’s report reads. “It appeared more medical in nature.”
The report says O’Keefe asked for a traffic officer to respond to the hospital.
“However, based on the lack of information, my own observations, the fact the car was stopped (ignition on) with no motor vehicle accident or driving observations, and the lack of any additional evidence (no other noted smells, no bloodshot watery eyes, physical impairment inconsistent with my experience with DUI) it was decided that no testing would be completed at this time,” O’Keefe’s report reads.
According to another officer’s report, paramedics said they ruled out the possibility that Meier had a stroke, and that he was tested for blood sugar issues twice.
In its statement, APD said hospital staff did not share information about Meier’s condition with officers due to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy laws.
“Due to an inability to exclude a medical condition, and absent confirmatory information, a DUI investigation was not conducted,” APD’s statement reads. “No blood test was done since there was no felony committed and a blood draw could not be forced. However, the hospital did draw blood from Officer Meier for examination and diagnosis purposes.”
Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith slammed APD for its handling of the incident in an interview with 9NEWS.
“It just really irritated me because I don’t believe what we’re seeing in this story and the actions I hear described, that doesn’t reflect what the vast majority of law enforcement agencies in the state do on a regular basis,” Smith said.
Specifically, Smith said he didn’t understand why there wasn’t a blood draw done on Meier after he was found.
“You can do both of those things, somebody can be transported to the hospital, and you can still get the blood evidence for that,” Smith said.
“On duty, in an agency vehicle, with a firearm in uniform,” Smith added. “This doesn’t smell right.”
Smith pointed to two Larimer County deputies who no longer work with the agency due to incidents involving driving under the influence.
“It looks to me like there’s a few individuals that are selling out the integrity of the Aurora Police Department and of this profession for some unknown reason,” Smith said.
APD told 9NEWS that it has body camera video of the incident involving Meier but that it likely will not be released until next week.
"I've had clients park their car at a bar, go drink, and then come back to their car, sleep it off instead of drive and then get a DUI because they were asleep in their car," said DUI attorney Danny Luneau.
9NEWS asked Luneau for a case he's defended that had similar circumstances.
He provided the arrest warrant for 2014 case. It involved a man in the driver's seat of his car in an Aurora cul-de-sac, the vehicle was no longer running, there was a strong odor of unknown alcoholic beverage and he had slurred speech and bloodshot eyes, the warrant said.
"A citizen saw him sleeping, the car running, called the police, police came, by the time they came, the car was off," said Luneau.
They took the case to court and his client was charged with a lesser crime.
"The police officer sitting in his vehicle, stopped in traffic and an odor of alcohol is absolutely enough to conduct a DUI investigation," said Luneau.
A DUI traffic offense has a one-year statute of limitations. However, Aurora Police said it cannot use the records from his internal affairs investigation for a criminal DUI case.
"Information gleaned from an internal investigation cannot be used for a criminal case since the officer is being ordered to speak with the investigator and the officer cannot invoke a right to self-incrimination," said Aurora Police Spokesman Officer Tony Comacho. "Officer Meier voluntarily produced his medical records as a part of his internal investigation. Had he not voluntarily produced his records we never would have known what his (blood alcohol content) was that day."
Following the release of these new details, Aurora's newly-elected Mayor Mike Coffman said Friday that he would consider sending in a task force to see if the department needs more thorough monitoring.
In an email to 9NEWS, he wrote:
"While incidents of officer misconduct are extremely rare on our force of more than 700 officers, we recognize the importance of trust between police and our community and the serious nature of incidents like this. We have a great department, but no organization is perfect. I will be reviewing all of our policies, procedures and oversight related to allegations of officer misconduct to make sure that they are all appropriate.
I support the formation of a task force, comprised of both community leaders and law enforcement, to see if we can come up with a better system. Council Member Nicole Johnston is leading this effort and will be taking it before our city council."
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