Crime and Justice

Off-duty Burlington police officer charged with DUI

Burlington Police Officer Leanne Werner. Photo courtesy of the St. Albans Police Department

Burlington Police Officer Leanne Werner. Photo courtesy of the St. Albans Police Department

An off-duty Burlington police officer is on administrative leave after being arrested for drunken driving Sunday. She is the fourth Vermont law enforcement officer to face charges of driving while intoxicated in 2015.

Officer Leanne Werner, 30, was arrested in St. Albans on Sunday evening after she allegedly crossed the yellow line and crashed head-on into another car. Werner had a blood alcohol content of 0.081, according to a roadside test, St. Albans Police Chief Gary Taylor said Monday.

The driver of the other car, Omer Martin, 74, and his wife Jane, 73, were hospitalized with serious injuries. Omer Martin was in serious but stable condition at UVM Medical Center at the time the St. Albans Police Department issued the release Monday.

Omer Martin's vehicle after the collision Sunday. Photo courtesy of the St. Albans Police Department

Omer Martin’s vehicle after the collision Sunday. Photo courtesy of the St. Albans Police Department

In a statement, Burlington Deputy Police Chief Jannine Wright said Monday that Werner had been placed on administrative leave. Werner, who lives in St. Albans, joined the department in 2011.

The Vermont State Police are assisting the St. Albans Police Department in the investigation of the crash, and the Burlington Police Department will conduct a separate internal investigation, officials said.

Werner is the fourth Vermont law enforcement officer this year to be arrested on charges of driving under the influence.

State Trooper Eric Rademacher, based at the Rutland barracks, resigned in mid-April, six weeks after he was arrested on charges that he responded to an accident while intoxicated, the Burlington Free Press reported.

A Rutland probationary officer was dismissed in March after he was arrested for driving drunk, according to the Rutland Herald and a South Burlington police officer was suspended for four weeks in April after he was arrested the previous month on a DUI, according to the Free Press.

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Vermont State Police Lt. Garry Scott, who specializes in traffic operations, crash reconstruction and drugged driving recognition, said Monday that Vermont’s total alcohol-related crashes are on a long-term downward trend.

Overall, Scott thinks that accountability within Vermont law enforcement for drunken driving is improving, citing increased internal scrutiny as well as the involvement of new technologies such as cameras in police vehicles.

“We do not tolerate that type of behavior,” Scott said.

As to the four cases of impaired driving among law enforcement officers, that is a matter of “individual behavior,” Scott said. Within police departments there are many resources available to officers to help manage the stress of the job and to support well-being, he said.

“I think it falls back down on the individuals,” Scott said. “They need to take responsibility for their actions.”

Scott said law enforcement officers charged with criminal offenses undergo an additional level of scrutiny beyond what civilians face. They may be put on suspension, demoted or even dismissed as a result of the case.

Bruce Bovat, Burlington Police Department’s deputy chief of operations, said that, in addition to the criminal investigation, the department will investigate Werner in the context of the department’s rules, directives and code of conduct.

The department undertakes investigations for a range of reasons, from complaints of officer rudeness to criminal charges, and punishment varies from temporary suspension to termination. Criminal charges do not necessarily mean that an officer will leave the department, he said.

“Every internal [review] is different,” Bovat said.

Though some internal investigations begin while criminal investigations are still ongoing, many start after the criminal investigation is over, he said.

Assistant Attorney General John Treadwell is prosecuting the two cases in Rutland. He said that is common in cases involving criminal charges against police officers, as law enforcement often works very closely with county prosecutors.

Treadwell said he has no indication that the Attorney General’s Office will be involved with prosecuting Werner.

“It is obviously concerning whenever we see allegations involving law enforcement officers,” Treadwell said.

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Elizabeth Hewitt

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