Sunday, January 23, 2011

Oversight board investigating former Surprise police officer

A former Surprise police officer accused of lying on a police report and to prosecutors may lose his certification to be a police officer.

The Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board is reviewing allegations that Steven R. Celsy, 24, lied about a February traffic stop of a suspected drunken driver. The board, which provides training and oversight to law-enforcement members, said in a case overview that Celsy:

- Lied in his police report.

- Lied to city prosecutor.

- Lied to department officials assigned to investigate the incident.

Celsy, who quit last year after department investigators made the accusations, could not be reached for comment. He had worked for the Surprise police for 2 1/2 years and resigned in October after a department Disciplinary Review Board recommended that he be fired.

A case overview provided by the state board said Celsy pulled over a suspected drunken driver late at night on Feb. 20 after a resident called 911. Celsy asked another officer to arrest the suspect, saying he was not confident doing it himself because did not have enough experience with DUI arrests, the documents said.

The arresting officer said he could smell alcohol coming from the vehicle, and the driver's eyes were bloodshot, according to a Surprise police report. The driver couldn't walk a straight line but refused other field sobriety tests. A blood-alcohol test was not taken, the report says.

Celsy later filed a supplemental police report saying he saw the suspect commit several traffic violations. His claims were contradicted by video footage and data from an automated tracking device in his patrol car, according to records.

A lawyer for the suspect, whose name was not mentioned in board documents, had requested the video footage and notified the city prosecutor of the inconsistency, the board documents said.

"At no time was Officer Celsy behind this car," Curt Milam, a board-compliance specialist, told board members Wednesday.

Celsy met with a city prosecutor in May who questioned him about the inconsistency between his police report and the video footage.

"Officer Celsy maintained that his report was accurate and attempted to explain that he stopped following the suspect vehicle in order to cut the driver off, anticipating that the driver would cut through a parking lot," the board documents said. "This action was determined to be implausible."

Department officials served Celsy in June with a notice of investigation. During an interview, they confronted Celsy with data from his patrol car's automated-tracking device as well the video footage.

"Investigators were hopeful that when confronted with the evidence, Officer Celsy would tell the truth. This did not occur," documents said.

Ian Murton, a Surprise Police Employees Association official assigned to offer advice and other assistance to Celsy, said the board can suspend, revoke or leave in place an officer's certification.

Murton said when an officer's certification is suspended, it's difficult to find work in law enforcement later.

"It's very competitive," he said. "I would say especially right now it would be very difficult to find a job."

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