Ofﬁcers found guilty of dereliction of duty
Two law enforcement officers were found guilty of dereliction of duty Tuesday for leaving a drunk man at Taco Bell before he was killed when he stumbled into traffic while walking along U.S. 36.
Delaware County Sheriff’s deputy Derek Beggs, 29, and Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper Sean Carpenter, 38, were fined $1,000 plus court fees — a total of $1809.80 for each officer.
The officers’ jobs also remain in jeopardy; ongoing internal investigations by the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office and OSHP will determine what specific disciplinary action will be taken against Beggs and Carpenter, respectively.
“It’s never a good day for law enforcement when someone in the profession is convicted of a criminal offense,” Delaware County Sheriff Russ Martin said Tuesday.
While the defense attorneys said they plan to file an appeal, Martin said the result of that process would have no impact on the internal investigation. The appeal process can take weeks; Martin said he hopes the internal investigation will conclude within 10 days. The deputy will not have to pay fines until the outcome of the appeal is decided.
The eight-person jury deliberated for 11 hours before reaching the unanimous verdict. Jurors could not be reached for comment.
Special Prosecutor Mary Lynn Caswell suspected the recorded evidence presented during the trial was the most damaging — especially the recording in which Beggs is heard saying the driver was drunk.
“I think the videos speak for themselves,” Caswell said. “The deputies were joking and laughing and talking about going home. And they were not taking the job of law enforcement seriously.
“I think the verdicts were just and fair in this case,” she added.
Defense attorneys had argued the officers could not have known for certain that Uriel Juarez Popoca, 22, was drunk when they decided to leave him at a Taco Bell the night of July 28.
Dominic Vitantonio, defending Beggs, said no field sobriety test was conducted and Sam Shamansky, defending Carpenter, said the trooper had not come close enough to Popoca to know his level of intoxication.
Vitantonio also highlighted law enforcement testimony that deputies are allowed to use their discretion when handling suspects. Shamansky also maintained Carpenter was less responsible for the incident because he was last on the scene.
Shamansky said he was disappointed with the verdict.
“I think this is a case where this jury clearly and unequivocally lost its way,” he said. “We’re firmly convinced that these verdicts don’t even remotely comport with the evidence, but it’s the verdict with which we have to live. We’ll appeal and see what happens.”
Vitantonio declined to comment on the verdict.
According to evidence presented during the trial, Beggs was responding to 911 calls of a drunk driver northbound on Interstate 71 when he found Popoca’s truck parked on the median. Deputy Christopher Hughes arrived later, followed by Carpenter, and the three of them had a laugh about finding a translator for Popoca, who spoke little English, at a Taco Bell.
The joke was made after deputies had already called a translator, who, after speaking briefly with Popoca, concluded Popoca would ask a female friend for a ride home. Hughes took Popoca to the Taco Bell without telling a shift supervisor and without waiting for Popoca’s friend to arrive.
The restaurant employees did not speak Spanish, but used a translation device on their phones to hear Popoca say he was dropped off by law enforcement, according to testimony by Taco Bell shift supervisor Stevie Ray.
Ray called the DCSO to request they pick him back up, but Popoca had walked away by the time officers arrived. The documented 911 calls suggest multiple motorists saw him walking along U.S. 36 before he was fatally struck by oncoming traffic.
A toxicology report revealed Popoca had a blood alcohol level of 0.23 percent, nearly triple the legal limit, at the time of his death.
Beggs and Carpenter were found guilty of two second-degree misdemeanor counts, one stemming from how the officers handled the incident at I-71, and the second stemming from thier decision to drop Popoca off at Taco Bell.
No witnesses or evidence was submitted by the defense. Beggs and Carpenter did not testify in their defense and declined to comment before they were sentenced.
Vitantonio had requested Beggs’ sentence be a monetary fine similar to deputy Christopher Hughes, 27, who was fined $20 plus court costs after pleading no contest to a lesser charge last week.
Hughes was convicted of failure to aid a law enforcement officer, a minor misdemeanor, shortly before the trial began on Dec. 13.
Hughes is also part of the DCSO’s internal investigation.
All three officers have been on paid administrative leave since the investigation began.