APD officer indefinitely suspended after breath test

An APD officer is indefinitely suspended after a breathalyzer test indicated he may have come to work intoxicated. It is one of three suspensions issued in less than a week. The officer's blood-alcohol level was a .064. But, APD internal affairs believes the officer was likely legally drunk when he drove to work that morning.

Three Austin Police officers suspended in less than a week. Interim Chief Brian Manley held a meeting Tuesday to address each situation.

"You know, we recruit from the same population as the community that we serve. Our officers sometimes deal with the same challenges that members of our community do, but we have to come forward when we have a problem. We have to seek the help that's available," says Interim Chief Brian Manley, Austin Police Department.

In the first situation, Officer Michael Cuellar has been indefinitely suspended. He worked at the Travis County Jail administering breathalyzer tests. In October of last year, he took a breath test himself as a requirement to maintain certification. The APD memo shows his BAC was a .064 at the time of the test, which was around 7:30 a.m. He had driven to work two hours earlier. Scientists believe at that time he would have had a higher BAC, between a .084 to .12. That level is considered legally drunk in Texas.

"We have a zero tolerance policy with the Austin Police Department for DWI. We have zero policy for showing up to work under the influence of alcohol or drugs. We are zero tolerance in the workplace," says Interim Chief Manley.  

It's expected that Officer Cuellar will appeal his suspension. He will not face criminal charges but APD will treat this internally as if it were a DWI. We asked Defense Attorney Sam Bassett for his thoughts.

"There's a lot of assumptions made on when his last drink was, what he had to eat, did anybody actually see him driving? Those sorts of hurdles would be difficult, if not impossible, to overcome in proving him guilty in a criminal court. Versus evaluating it as a personnel matter, the standard of proof is not as high," says Sam Bassett, defense attorney.

His supervisor Sgt. Steve Urias was also suspended 60 days for not following specific policy in regards to the incident.

The third suspension is Officer Christopher Williams, who APD says was involved in a road rage incident. According to a disciplinary memo, he followed another driver to his home in Round Rock while off-duty. The driver went into his house and came out with a shotgun. After Williams and the man argued, Williams went home. Shortly after, the man went to William's gated community, where they continued arguing. Round Rock police were eventually called, and officers issued criminal trespass warnings to Officer Williams and the other man. He is suspended for 15 days.

READ: Road rage leads to suspension for Austin officer

"They're the ones actually on the streets enforcing the laws against the average citizen, so I think they are held to a higher standard in terms of tolerance toward illegal conduct, or they at least should be," says Bassett.

An appeal can be made in all of these suspensions but, it's expected that only Officer Cuellar will be doing that.

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