SAN JOSE, Calif. (KRON) — A California officer was allegedly intoxicated while he was at a crime scene investigating a baby kidnapping, the police chief announced at a news conference Tuesday, May 3.
“I apologize to the family of 3-month-old Brandon Cuellar. When any officer … tarnishes the badge, we all suffer the consequences,” San Jose Police Chief Anthony Mata said.
Mata said he was “disappointed and dismayed” by the officer’s conduct.
The officer raised the suspicions of an FBI agent who was also at the crime scene where baby Brandon Cuellar was kidnapped from his grandmother’s apartment in San Jose on April 25. The FBI agent reported his suspicions to the police department.
The officer was allegedly drunk while he was assigned to canvass the neighborhood to find witnesses of the kidnapping and evidence. The baby was found safe five miles away the following day, and two suspected kidnappers were arrested.
The San Jose Police Department’s chief and assistant chief were peppered with questions from reporters at Tuesday’s press conference.
“Why did it take an FBI agent to say, ‘This guy is drunk?'” one reporter asked, wondering why a fellow officer didn’t speak up.
“That is a valid question. That’s part of what we need to investigate. We need to find out if there were officers [who] either should have, or could have, recognized something with their colleague and didn’t,” Assistant Chief Paul Joseph said.
The officer’s name was not released. Joseph also declined to release that officer’s rank.
Another officer asked if the officer had been drinking during his shift, or if he was drinking before his shift began.
“I’m not 100% certain,” Joseph said. “He was closer to the beginning (of his shift) than the end.”
Mayor Sam Liccardo joined Chief Mata at the news conference and told reporters, “I found this conduct to be both offensive and dangerous.”
The mayor pointed out that the incident happened just weeks after another SJPD officer, De’Jon Packer, was found dead in his Milpitas home on March 13. A coroner determined that Packer died from a fentanyl drug overdose.
“Combined with what we know of the death of Officer Packard, it’s obvious we need to re-double our efforts. I support the chief’s efforts to ensure appropriate provision of treatment and mental health services to all of the officers. We will include a requirement for random drug and alcohol testing for all of our officers. It’s apparent that this needs to be made universal in the department. Doing so will enable the department to identify those officers who need help, need to get treatment, and critically keep those officers off the street so they are not imposing greater dangers on the public and their fellow officers,” Liccardo said.
Joseph said the police department will have to negotiate with the officers’ union to reverse a current contract provision that prevents officers from being obligated to comply with random drug and alcohol testing.
“We are empathetic to people who are struggling with substance abuse, and we offer many opportunities for the officers and employees to get help. But if they chose not to seek that help … there will be consequences,” Joseph said.
Sean Pritchard, president of the San Jose Police Officers Association, issued a written statement to Nexstar’s KRON, which read in part:
“There are no words to express our utter disappointment with the indefensible actions of this officer that have dishonored our profession by his irresponsible and dangerous disregard for his duty, he should be held accountable.”
Pritchard apologized to the family of the kidnapping victim on behalf of the association.
The SJPD launched an internal affairs investigation on April 26 and the officer was placed on administrative leave. Chief Mata pledged to conduct a full investigation into the officer’s actions before, during, and after the baby kidnapping incident.
Mata said on Sunday that police officers are not immune to issues that plague society as a whole, including substance abuse. Studies have shown that on average, a police officer deals with or is exposed to a traumatic experience three times for every six months of service.
Meanwhile, a third San Jose Police Department officer is currently being investigated for sexual misconduct. Joseph was asked by a reporter on Tuesday about the sexual misconduct allegations, however, he declined to release any details.
The three incidents were not connected to each other, he said.