SCHENECTADY Suspended Schenectady police Sgt. William Fennell pleaded guilty this morning in Bethlehem Town Court to misdemeanor driving while intoxicated, court officials said.
The plea includes no probation time for the first-time drunk driving offender, but it does carry a one-year revocation of his driver's license and the requirement that he install an ignition interlock device on any car he has access to for one year.
Fennell, 38, had already had his license officially revoked in December after a hearing officer found enough evidence to determine that he refused a breath test in the drunk driving case.
Still open is the city police department's investigation into Fennell. Mayor Gary McCarthy has indicated that the allegations, which included leaving the scene of an accident and refusing the breath test, mean that Fennell may be terminated.
City Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett said this morning that he wanted to wait until he saw the formal court paperwork on Fennell's plea. But he also said the internal investigation continues.
Also, Bennett said, as long as Fennell can't drive, he can't be a police officer, or be paid. He will be without pay until at least then with the final disposition on his employment at the department to be determined.
Fennell admitted in court that he drove drunk Nov. 6 in the town of Bethlehem. The plea was in satisfaction of other charges, including leaving the scene of an accident.
Fennell was accused of crashing into another motorist, fleeing the scene, then running off the road and crashing his car.
In addition to the license revocation, Fennell must attend the state Department of Motor Vehicles' drinking and driving program, along with a victim impact panel.
Though Fennell can't drive, the interlock device will have to be installed on any car he has access to. The device requires the driver to blow into it to ensure the driver isn't drunk before the car can be started.
The sentence is officially referred to as a conditional discharge. The drunk driving conviction will stay on Fennell's criminal record.
Fennell is an 11-year veteran of the Schenectady Police Department. The Selkirk resident was one of three officers to open fire in August on a man police said had a gun. They fired a total of 14 shots, killing Luis Rivera, 33. Authorities have said the shooting appeared to be justified under department policies. That case, though, is still awaiting a final grand jury determination.
Bethlehem police were first alerted to Fennell the day of his arrest by an employee at KT's Barnside Eatery on Route 9W. He had come in around 3:45 p.m. to pick up an order and appeared intoxicated, Bethlehem police said.
The officer responding to that call then witnessed the first accident, as Fennell rear-ended a car at the intersection of routes 9W and 396, police said, only a few hundred yards from the restaurant.
The officer testified at Fennell's December breath test refusal hearing that the accident he witnessed was actually the second collision Fennell had with the same vehicle. The other driver indicated later that Fennell rear-ended the vehicle, then apparently backed up and hit it again.
The officer also watched as Fennell backed up, drove around the vehicle he'd just rear-ended and fled west down Route 396.
The officer checked on the other driver and then took off after Fennell at high speed, ultimately finding him on Beaver Dam Road, where his car ran across a lawn and crashed into a tree.
The officer testified that he smelled alcohol as soon as the car door opened. Inside the car was an unopened bottle of Jack Daniels. Fennell 's eyes were glassy, his face was red and he was unsteady at points. He also gave no response or little response to Cross' basic questions.
Fennell did indicate, though, that he hadn't been drinking, the officer testified.
He placed Fennell in the back of his patrol car and shut the door to wait for additional officers.
With the second officer arriving on the scene, Fennell refused two field sobriety tests and an on-scene breath test.
At the station, Fennell also refused a more comprehensive breath test, the officer testified. The officer read a standard warning three times. Fennell refused all three times, the second time saying "no, sorry," the officer testified.