SAN DIEGO — The president of the San Diego Police Officers Assn. was stopped in 1984 by two fellow officers who saw him driving erratically and intended to arrest him as a drunk driver. But instead of taking Lt. A. L. (Skip) DiCerchio to jail, they drove him to a coffee shop to sober up, the two officers told The Times on Thursday.
DiCerchio denied Thursday that he was drunk, but said he did accompany an officer to a nearby Denny's restaurant, even though he did not know why he had been stopped.
One of the officers said he was later told by a superior that the matter would be handled "administratively."
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 that on several occasions he has pulled over fellow officers on suspicion of drunk driving and arranged for them to safely return home without being booked.
But Assistant Police Chief Bob Burgreen said officers suspected of drunk driving are prosecuted the same as any average motorist.
"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 internal affairs, said they attempted to investigate the DiCerchio incident on two occasions, but were not able to learn the names of the officers involved. The two administrators were baffled Thursday when a reporter told them that one of the officers had described the incident to an internal affairs investigator recently. Burgreen said he would look into the matter today.
An investigation by The Times 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 officers, friends, family, 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.
But DiCerchio, who heads the narcotics task force, apparently received special treatment in the early morning hours of Feb. 25, 1984, after his car was seen weaving erratically across three southbound lanes of Interstate 5 in downtown San Diego.
DiCerchio confirmed that he was stopped by officers and that he went to Denny's, but said he was not under the influence.
"In retrospect, if those officers had a problem . . . I should have gone downtown, where I had the ability to prove my sobriety . . . they certainly weren't doing me a favor," the lieutenant said. "They were casting a shadow on me that I can't clean up."
DiCerchio said he agreed to get coffee, even though he contended that the officers did not give him any reason for stopping his car.
"They asked me if I would mind having a cup of coffeee before I continue. I simply agreed. The last thing I wanted to do was have an argument with police officers. . . ."
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 force last year, were transporting a drunk driving suspect to jail when they spotted DiCerchio's Ford sedan.
"When we turned the overheads (flashing lights) on . . . the vehicle continued acting as if it didn't even notice us," Sampson recalled Thursday. ". . . It finally pulled over after a couple of siren blasts. . . . We noticed it was a (police) department vehicle. We're going, 'This is not going to be fun' when we found out who it was."
Both officers said DiCerchio berated them.
"He . . . was very irate . . . " Sampson said. "He was yelling and giving (the other officer) a bad time . . . his speech was real slurred. We knew he had been drinking. . . .
The other officer, in a separate interview Thursday, said DiCerchio was ". . . ranting and raving like 'who in the hell are you to stop me?'. . . . He shows me his badge and ID real quick and puts it back in his pocket. He said, 'I work for you people, too. I don't deserve this treatment.'
"I said, 'Lieutenant, we can do this the easy way or the hard way. . . . You obviously have been drinking. You can answer my questions the easy way or I can . . . take you to jail.' "
DiCerchio then became cooperative and conceded he had been drinking, the officers said. It was then decided that Sampson would drive DiCerchio to a nearby restaurant and lock his keys in his car so he would have to find a ride home.
". . . We had decided within a matter of minutes . . . I guess it was more a courtesy to another officer," Sampson said.