Great Barrington — Four weeks after an off-duty Great Barrington Police Department (GBPD) officer was pulled over by a Sheffield Police Officer for allegedly drinking and driving, the town says its investigation into the incident is done, and on the advice of attorneys, will not comment on whether disciplinary measures were taken against the officer.
In a statement read over the phone Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin Thursday (September 22) told the Edge that “privacy and union rules” prevent her from commenting on what consequences GBPD Officer Daniel Bartini might face, if any.
Bartini, 24, was not given sobriety tests nor cited, and was picked up and driven home by another GBPD officer.
Tabakin, noting that this has been a “troubling time” for her and GBPD Chief William Walsh, said she was advised by the town’s newly hired legal counsel to keep quiet. The Boston-based firm Deutsch, Williams, Brooks, Derensis & Holland was hired earlier this month “to work for the town on police issues.”
“The town takes all allegations of misconduct very seriously, including the operation of a motor vehicle under the influence,” she said.
Tabakin said there had been a “thorough and complete investigation and consultation with labor relations counsel.”
Bartini is officially a part-time officer, but works full-time due to department staffing needs. It is unclear what, if anything, has changed.
“The issue of driving under the influence is very serious,” Tabakin said, “and citizens rightfully expect police officers to be held to high standards…and have trust in public officials.”
Tabakin said the entire police department would undergo a 2-hour mandatory alcohol awareness seminar in the next few weeks.
Also, she said the town and its attorneys had reviewed all policies about police officer behavior, particularly “pertaining to off-duty behavior, and what is the definition of behavior unbecoming of an officer.”
She further said new drafts of these policies had been rewritten, and are awaiting attorney approval, and that the GBPD’s policy is to “only pull over vehicles when there is a violation of a rule,” or another critical reason. Drunk drivers are required to undergo sobriety testing, and there is “no policy that permits a driver too impaired to drive to seek a ride home,” after being pulled over.
Sheffield Officer Brennan Polidoro stopped Bartini in the early hours of Saturday, August 20, and reported that Bartini and his passenger were “intoxicated.” Bartini had spent the evening with other officers at the Great Barrington VFW after a golf tournament, and some officers went to a home in Ashley Falls later that evening. Polidoro logged the stop and called the department for guidance. After notifying SPD Sergeant Ryan Kryziak and Chief Eric Munson III that he had stopped an off-duty officer, Polidoro allowed Bartini to call an on-duty GBPD officer for a ride home.
Officer Polidoro wrote the following in his log: “Vehicle straddling center line, drifting between marked lanes, and driving on center and white fog lines.” Polidoro said, while he stopped Bartini before the Berkshire GMC dealership, he didn’t come to a complete stop until he had crossed the town line into Great Barrington in front of the former Route 7 Grill property. “Operator…emitting a strong odor of alcoholic beverage, bloodshot glassy eyes, and thick tongued speech. Bartini stating he is coming from a residence in Ashley Falls and had a couple beers. Sobriety in question…”
Polidoro wrote that Bartini’s passenger “was also intoxicated.”
Tabakin had also recently declined to answer questions about whether Bartini had been on temporary suspension until the investigation was complete. GBPD Chief William Walsh has also declined public comment throughout the investigation.
The incident sparked outrage in South Berkshire County over what appeared to be an act of “professional courtesy” by Polidoro, who was subsequently attacked in newspapers and social media for letting Bartini off the hook. According to confidential sources close to both police departments, Polidoro was likely instructed to do so by his supervisors, whom he had contacted after stopping Bartini.
Immediately after, public relations efforts by the Sheffield Police Department went awry, silencing both towns and police departments for a time after Munson told another newspaper that the Bartini incident was not professional courtesy, and that it is common for his officers not to arrest impaired drivers and allow them to call for a ride.
More indignation was stoked after The Edge had a face-to-face meeting with those sources who said alcohol use — and drinking and driving — was a rampant problem among a handful of officers, including one ranking officer, within the GBPD. The sources described other officers as feeling tarnished by the GBPD’s reputation in this regard and praised Polidoro for doing his job properly and without hypocrisy.
The sources began contacting the Edge with encrypted emails that had also been sent to Tabakin and Walsh. Neither responded to the emails and those allegations of a drinking culture within the department, which the sources said they were inspired to reveal after the death last May of 22-year-old GBPD Officer Ryan Storti, who crashed the car he was driving into a tree after a night of drinking at the Olde Heritage Tavern in Lenox.
The Town of Sheffield had also begun an internal investigation, according to town administrator Rhonda LaBombard. “We’re hoping to take a look at exactly what happened that night,” she said.
“We certainly don’t think our officer did anything wrong,” said Sheffield Selectboard Chair Nadine Hawver. “It is important…to take the opportunity to review procedures and policies when an issue occurs.”