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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Cop Resigns After Failing to Report Fiancee's Crash

Hollywood officer resigns after failing to file report in crash involving fiancee
The Sun Sentinel by Tonya Alanez - January 4, 2012

Hollywood, FL - A police officer who failed to complete a traffic-crash report about a possible DUI collision involving his fiancee has resigned in lieu of termination. Derek Albers, 29, was off duty when he responded to the scene of the Sept. 26 crash and struck a deal with the other driver to settle damages among themselves, according to an internal affairs investigation report. Albers' fiancee, Serena Russo, 25, appeared intoxicated and was driving a red 2008 Toyota pick-up truck registered to Albers, the report said. He also failed to conduct a roadside field sobriety test, according to the report. Albers resigned Dec. 6. During his eight-year tenure with the agency, Albers had never before been the subject of an internal affairs investigation. Over the years he had received six commendations touting his teamwork, initiative, investigative and tactical skills, including Officer of the Month in March 2009. Albers could not be reached for comment for this article. According to an internal affairs investigation report obtained by the Sun Sentinel, Albers violated half a dozen department rules, regulations, policies and procedures. The "sustained" violations included misuse of in-car technology, improperly conducting a DUI crash investigation and breaking the rules of professional conduct, according to the Nov. 20 report. "The internal affairs investigation recommended termination," said city spokeswoman Raelin Storey. "We were in the process of terminating him and he resigned." Storey declined to speak specifically about Albers misconduct but said: "The police department adheres to very high standards for its officers and won't hesitate to investigate and take the appropriate action if those standards appear to be violated."

When the driver of the vehicle that Russo crashed into called 911 about 8 p.m., he advised that Russo appeared "to be under the influence" of alcohol or drugs. He described her as looking dizzy, having droopy eyelids, talking slowly and repeating herself. His passenger corroborated those observations, according to the report. A community service officer and Albers' supervisor later reported similar observations. According to the report, Albers responded to the crash at North 56th Avenue and McKinley Street in his marked police vehicle, armed and in uniform. He conferred with his fiancee before speaking to the driver of the other vehicle. Albers called Community Service Officer Tina-Marie Gurdak about 8:30 p.m. on her cellphone and told her he had reached an agreement with the other driver to "settle amongst themselves." He told Gurdak to "no report" the call, the report said. The report did not detail the extent of damages. Contrary to department policy, Albers failed to enter license plate numbers of all involved vehicles into a police computer system and failed to obtain a supervisor's approval to not report the incident. Under oath, Gurdak said "she was uncomfortable with Officer Albers' request, especially knowing it was against procedure/policy" and immediately called her supervisor Sgt. Stephanie Szeto. Szeto instructed Gurdak to begin a traffic-crash report. When Szeto met Russo at the apartment she shared with Albers at 9:30 p.m., Russo smelled heavily of mouthwash and perfume, was unsteady on her feet, stuttered and repeated herself and had jittery eyes, Szeto said. Szeto later concluded: "I was pretty confident that she was impaired that night." The next day Russo was ticketed for failing to yield right of way while making a left turn. She was fined $165. Russo's eventual sworn statement "drastically conflicts" with statements made by Szeto, Gurdak, the other driver, his passenger and Albers, the report said. "I feel I have a complete understanding of the seriousness and consequences of the action I feel compelled to take in this matter," Police Chief Chad Wagner wrote in a Dec. 5 letter. "It is my decision to terminate your employment from the City of Hollywood Police Department." Albers resigned the next day. By resigning, Albers gave up his rights to formally dispute the termination and try to regain his job through arbitration. Among Albers commendations was a nod for spending his own money to help an elderly woman who had run out of gas and praise for helping to save a life when he quickly responded to a house fire where an elderly man was trapped inside. or 954-356-4542

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