DUI SuperCops

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on February 17th, 2005

The promotions and accolades heaped on officers by groups like MADD for maintaining high DUI "body counts" has created a growing phenomenon: the over-zealous "SuperCop". As an example, consider the following news story about one of these SuperCops — and one of his victims who is currently suing him in federal court:

To the Palm Beach County chapters of the Traffic Safety Council and Mothers Against Drunk Driving, North Palm Beach police officer Salvatore Mattino is a crackerjack cop. So much so that they've given him awards for the prolific number of drunken driving arrests he has made."I'm always arresting people, you know, I just can't be… you know, chilled," Mattino told a superior officer 11 months ago, according to an internal affairs report.

 That attitude troubles some of Mattino's fellow officers, not to mention the motorists ' a good number of them never prosecuted ' whom he has busted. Indeed, during one of Mattino's DUI arrests 13 months ago, a fellow North Palm Beach police officer had a heated argument with him over what he said was a bogus DUI bust, and threatened to arrest Mattino if he went through with it. Mattino made the arrest anyway. A few days later, according to the report, a sergeant in the department asked Mattino about the incident, explaining, "I'm tired of officers complaining about you and your DUI arrests."

Now Mattino's ardent pursuit of drunken drivers has put him and the village of North Palm Beach on the receiving end of a federal lawsuit filed in December, claiming that the village and the officer have systematically made bad DUI arrests and maliciously prosecuted them.

The citizen bringing the federal action, Elliot Schecter, was pulled over by Mattino for speeding:

Mattino asked Schecter, 35, to submit to a series of roadside sobriety tests, which Mattino said he performed badly. Schecter was then arrested and taken to the Palm Beach County Jail. Once there, he agreed to a breath test. The result: 0.00 ' no sign of alcohol. That might have ended Schecter's long night, except Mattino then asked him to give a urine sample. He eventually tested negative for drugs. The state attorney's office later dropped the case…..

Schecter wasn't the only legally sober motorist to be given a roadside sobriety test by Mattino, then taken to jail, only to pass the breath and urine tests. (Attorney Val) Rodriguez says he's found at least 10 others out of 71 DUI arrests by Mattino between November 2001 and May 2004, including five drivers he jailed who blew a 0.00 on the breath test….

"Sal Mattino's car stops were very questionable," said Ira Peskowitz, a former colleague who now works as a Palm Beach County sheriff's deputy. "He's a good person. But just because you're a good person doesn't make you a good tactical police officer."

In August, Peskowitz sued North Palm Beach, the village's former police chief and a captain in the department. In his suit, Peskowitz complained about the propriety of some of Mattino's arrests. He also alleged improper actions by other officers and contended the department retaliated by suspending him and in effect forcing him to resign last year. The case is pending.

Be assured, North Palm Beach is not the only place where "body counts", quotas and MADD awards encourage questionable or blatantly false DUI arrests. (Thanks to William C. Head of Atlanta.)

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