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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > September 2013 > Proper Protocol (Dereliction of Duty): State v. Beggs

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Proper Protocol (Dereliction of Duty): State v. Beggs

Question: Is it a dereliction of an officer’s duty to leave an intoxicated individual unattended after picking him up from the scene of a one-car accident and hearing of various complaints of his reckless driving?
Quick Answer: Yes.

State of Ohio v. Beggs, Fifth Appellate District, Delaware County, Aug. 6, 2013
Facts: Several motorists called law enforcement about the erratic driving of Uriel Juarez-Popoca. The man had jammed his truck between the guardrail and wires in a median strip, apparently while attempting a U-turn. Upon arrival, deputies found multiple license plates and empty beer cans in Popoca’s truck. Yet they called the case back to dispatch as a disabled vehicle, not as a potential OVI. Popoca spoke little English, so deputies communicated with him through a corrections officer who had minored in Spanish in college. They ultimately dropped off Popoca at a nearby fast-food restaurant to await a ride from a friend. One of the deputies told the corrections officer, “That stupid idiot, he has no idea what’s going on even after you tried to talk to him.” Popoca made a disturbance at the restaurant, prompting the manager to call 911. While awaiting a deputy’s arrival, the manager locked Popoca out of the restaurant, and Popoca walked to another fast-food restaurant. A deputy arrived and remained in the restaurant about 15 minutes before being seen leaving in the direction of the station. That evening, Popoca was struck and killed by a car about a mile from the second restaurant. His blood alcohol level was .23. Both deputies in the case were convicted of dereliction of duty.
Importance: Sometimes you’re almost at the end of your shift, or you’ve already dealt with enough drunks in a given evening, and you find yourself trying to talk to someone drunk out of his mind and incoherent. A language barrier doesn’t help. So you’re going to “cut this guy some slack” and drop him off to get a ride home. But when that guy ends up dead, it’s on you. That’s what “dereliction of duty” means. You didn’t sign up to be anyone’s babysitter, but when you wear the badge, you have a duty to protect people. And sometimes that means protecting them from themselves. Popoca clearly was drunk. The motorists around him reported him driving recklessly before he rammed a guardrail. There were beer cans in his car. One deputy said he was so out of it that he had no idea what was going on. The manager of a fast-food restaurant frequented by late-night revelers locked the doors on him. And his blood-alcohol level — a whopping .23 after being in custody, transported, walking a mile, and dying — was the final testament to his condition. The duty to apprehend an individual means taking the individual into custody until the threat of danger to him and others has passed. When the officers left Popoca at the restaurant, they did so knowing he was intoxicated and could not communicate. The man was still a danger to himself and others. Instead of a fast-food joint, the officers could have dropped the man off at the station or a hospital to sober up. Or they could have just arrested him for drunk driving.