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Originally published Tuesday, October 11, 2011 at 1:44 PM

Rubber-stamp DUIs: Sergeant left work early, on medication

A Seattle police internal investigation into the rubber-stamping of drunken-driving arrests revealed that a sergeant who oversaw the cases left work early on many occasions, and when on duty was sometimes under the influence of medications that made him feel "whacky."

Seattle Times staff reporter

SPD internal documents

quotes The person who approved his overtime needs to be let go as well. Read more
quotes What a sweet deal this Sergeant had. And it seemed to last FOREVER. When were his... Read more
quotes How whacky was he feeling when this hypocrite drove home? Read more

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A Seattle police internal investigation into the rubber-stamping of drunken-driving arrests revealed that the sergeant who oversaw the cases left work early on many occasions, and when on duty was sometimes under the influence of medications that made him feel "whacky."

Sgt. David Abe, 57, who retired Sept. 8 after being told the department planned to demote and fire him, is described in police documents as undergoing a dramatic downward spiral at the end of a nearly 33-year career in which he apparently didn't take a sick day for the first 30 years.

Abe was dealing with the painful arthritic condition gout when the problems arose, as well as a family illness, according to the documents released Tuesday to The Seattle Times under a public-disclosure request.

The documents contain new details, including Abe's admission that he took up to four different prescription medications without notifying commanders that he shouldn't be working or driving a vehicle.

Abe told the department's Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) he had taken the narcotic painkiller hydrocodone over the years and that his medications made him feel wacky, which is spelled "whacky" in the documents. He acknowledged there were times he shouldn't have come to work.

In a Sept. 14 memorandum placed in Abe's file, Police Chief John Diaz found that Abe had violated department policies and procedures related to honesty, insubordination, supervisory responsibilities, absence from duty, illness and injury, and medication on duty.

His car hadn't moved

Abe's actions led to abdication of nearly all of his supervisory duties in the unit that enforces driving-under-the-influence (DUI) laws, the department concluded.

"The named employee, on the days he was working as the DUI Squad sergeant, was often unable to be located by his officers," a summary report found. "He was never seen in the field and never heard on the radio by officers."

At one point, a captain determined Abe's police car wasn't moved, and often the battery was dead from the police radio being left on.

The internal investigation began in March, focused on allegations that DUI cases had been mishandled.

In a June report, the department found that two officers in the DUI unit routinely used a signature stamp without having a sergeant approve their arrests, as required by department policy. A third officer put written statements in his reports attesting that his arrests had been approved by a sergeant even though no review had occurred, the report said.

The three officers were cleared of misconduct allegations after the OPA found that the practice of preapproving arrests had been going on for 20 to 25 years under other supervisors. But the officers were ordered to undergo supervisory counseling and training for violating department policy.

Abe provided officers his signature stamp to approve DUI arrests, according to the newly released documents.

Under scrutiny

Even before the internal investigation, department commanders had concerns about Abe's work habits. In May 2010, he was ordered to improve his performance after a member of his unit complained about his work ethic and lack of supervision.

Abe was admonished again in January 2011 over the same issues.

The following month, a captain and lieutenant watched Abe leave work and drive to a bar and grill, where he spent two hours before going home. Abe marked his time sheet as working for five hours and using four hours of compensatory time, when he actually worked 45 minutes, according to the documents.

Between March 17, 2010, and March 1, 2011, the department found no evidence that Abe worked past midnight of his 7:30 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. shift, and found that he would "come and go from his work station at his leisure."

Abe also abused sick time, regularly taking days off to "rest up" before working overtime hours at special events on weekends.

Last year, Abe earned $108,034 in regular pay and $49,691 in overtime.

Contested transfer

A case summary noted that Abe contested a late-career transfer to the DUI unit, where he had worked before.

In addition to his medical problem, Abe was taking care of a seriously ill brother, who died during the internal investigation.

The internal investigation prompted defense attorneys in one DUI case to seek dismissal of the charge or suppression of the officer's testimony. A Seattle Municipal Court judge declined the request Sept. 1, but said the officer could be cross-examined by the defense about his false statement that a sergeant had approved the arrest.

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this story.

Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or smiletich@seattletimes.com

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