Michael Szeliga, a deputy for the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department, was slated to receive a MADD award in July for making more than 100 DUI arrests. But when Gulfport Police Chief Robert Vincent saw him staggering around outside the awards venue, he told Szeliga he seemed too drunk to go inside, according to documents from an internal affairs investigation obtained by news station WFLA.
“I said, ‘You don’t want to embarrass the sheriff here — that’s probably not too wise,” Vincent told ABC Action News. “Apparently, he did.”
Szeliga responded to Vincent’s warning with “disrespectful” comments, according to the documents, and Vincent subsequently informed the deputy’s supervisors that Szeliga was “wasted.” They ordered him to go back to his hotel room, and he never received his award.
The deputy was never accused of any crime — unlike David Griffin, a MADD chapter president who stepped down after facing an impaired driving charge earlier this year.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told WFLA that Szeliga was a good deputy but noted the irony of the situation. “When I first heard about it, that was [what] my reaction was. ‘Come on, you’ve got to be kidding me. Really?'”
Szeliga was disciplined last month, WFLA reported. The department slapped him with a day of paid suspension, and mandated that he write an apology letter to Vincent.
MADD gives annual awards to law enforcement officers who make a high number of DUI arrests, but not everyone thinks this is a great idea. Defense attorney Jon Ibanez argued in a blog post in August that doling out awards for DUI arrests doesn’t really make sense, since not all of the arrests are justified.
“We’re rewarding the wrong action by the officer because many (and I mean many) DUI arrests are illegal arrests and many do not result in convictions,” Ibanez wrote. “Not all people who are arrested for drunk driving are actually driving drunk.”
Punishment was a paid day off? Seriously?