The president of the San Diego Police Officers Assn. was stopped in February, 1984, by two fellow officers who saw him weaving across three lanes of the freeway. They intended to arrest him because they thought he was a drunk driver.
Instead of taking Lt. A.L. (Skip) DiCerchio to jail, however, the officers drove him to a restaurant for coffee, the two officers told The Times in separate interviews Thursday.
DiCerchio denied that he was drunk but said he went to the nearby Denny's even though he didn't know why he had been stopped. He was neither taken to a police station for a sobriety test nor charged with a crime.
"What these officers are telling you independently is just absolutely untrue," DiCerchio said. "These guys are flat lying."
The officer who made the stop said he later consulted with his supervising lieutenant, who told him not to write a report because the matter would be handled "administratively." No report was ever filed, police officials confirmed.
Several police sources told The Times that the DiCerchio incident is indicative of the way the Police Department treats fellow officers who are stopped on any traffic violations. Former reserve officer Robert Sampson, one of the officers who stopped DiCerchio, said on several occasions he has pulled over fellow officers on suspicion of drunk driving and arranged for them to return home safely.
Assistant Police Chief Bob Burgreen said San Diego officers suspected of drunk driving are prosecuted the same as an average motorist, who faces at least a $675 fine for a first offense.
"There's no favoritism," Burgreen insisted. "If an officer is spotted driving drunk, he is treated the same as Joe Blow on the street. That is what we have been doing."
Burgreen and Cmdr. Calvin Krosch, head of the police internal affairs unit, said they attempted to investigate the DiCerchio incident on two occasions but were unable to learn the names of the officers involved. The two administrators expressed surprise Thursday when The Times told them one of the officers said he had described the entire incident to an internal affairs investigator recently.
Burgreen said he would look into the case today.
A Times investigation revealed this week that Police Chief Bill Kolender and his top aides sometimes fabricated excuses when dismissing thousands of parking tickets and at least 30 moving violations, many for fellow police officers, friends, family members, influential businessmen and the media.
On Wednesday, DiCerchio gave Kolender a strong vote of confidence and said he was not aware of any examples in which police administrators doled out favors for friends who had their tickets dismissed.
But DiCerchio, who is head of the police narcotics task force, apparently received special treatment in the early morning hours of Feb. 25, 1984, after his vehicle was seen weaving erratically across three lanes on southbound Interstate 5 in downtown San Diego.
DiCerchio confirmed that he was stopped by officers and that he went to Denny's, but said he denied he was under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
"In retrospect, if those officers had a problem . . . I should have gone downtown where I had the ability to prove my sobriety . . . they weren't certainly doing me a favor. They were casting a shadow on me that I can't clean up."
DiCerchio, who was vice president of the Police Officers Assn. at the time, said he agreed to get coffee even though he contended the officers did not give him any reason for stopping his car.
"They asked me if I would mind having a cup of coffee before I continue. I simply agreed. The last thing I wanted to do was have an argument with police officers on the freeway . . .
"Any request is going to get my immediate compliance. I'm not going to ask questions, I'm not going to talk about my rights. I have to work with these people and it's just not prudent. I'm cooperative with whatever they want me to do."
The officers tell a different story.
One officer, who remains on the police force and asked not to be named, and Sampson, a seven-year reservist who left the Police Department last year, were transporting a man suspected of drunken driving to jail when they spotted a Ford sedan weaving in and out of lanes at Interstate 5 and Washington Street.
"When we turned the overheads (flashing lights) on and turned the high beams on, the vehicle continued acting as if it didn't even notice us," recalled Sampson, who is now a service adviser for a San Diego car dealership. "It continued and continued until it finally pulled over after a couple of siren blasts.
"When it did yield, we noticed it was a department vehicle. We're going, 'This is not going to be fun' when we found out who it was."
Both officers said DiCerchio jumped out of his car and berated them.
"He came out of the car and was very irate . . . " Sampson said. "He was yelling and giving (the other officer) a real bad time . . . his speech was real slurred. We knew he had been drinking . . .