KEY LARGO -- Internal affairs investigations into a January on-duty drunk driving offense by Deputy Donald Dalton led to Dalton's dismissal from the Monroe County Sheriff's Office and to a fiery letter of reprimand directed toward his supervisor that January morning, Sheriff candidate Matt Koval.
But Dalton, who by Jan. 9 had already racked up a history of alcohol-related misdeeds with the Sheriff's Office, including a previous allegation of drunk driving while on patrol, was never arrested for the alleged DUI that day and has not been charged with a crime.
"We didn't have a criminal case against him," explained Sheriff's Office Chief Lou Caputo in an interview earlier this month. "This was an administrative case."
Dalton blew 0.155 and 0.151, both almost twice the legal limit of 0.08, in two Breathalyzer tests shortly after he was ordered off the road on Jan. 9, Sheriff's Office documents says.
The incident made its way into the public eye several weeks ago after the Sheriff's Office disciplined Koval for allowing Dalton to go on road patrol drunk. Though a deputy and Dalton's equal by rank, Koval was the acting supervisor at the department's Key Largo station that morning when Dalton was brought to work by Deputy David Campbell. At the time, Dalton was already under investigation and had been prohibited from driving his patrol car home or taking his weapon home.
Assertions of what happened that morning differ, but the Sheriff's Office found that Koval was guilty of neglect for allowing Dalton on the road in the first place. Further, the Sheriff's Office came down on Koval for not immediately ordering Dalton to park and wait once Campbell and another deputy told him of their concern that Dalton might be patrolling while drunk.
Instead Koval went to look for Dalton, allowing him to stay on the road for approximately 45 more minutes.
As reported in a June 6 Free Press story, Koval says the case against him was trumped up for political reasons. Though the investigation began in January, Koval says the charges were treated with more gravity after his late February entry in the Sheriff's race against a crowded field that includes Undersheriff Rick Ramsay, who enjoys the support of the Sheriff's Office establishment.
Sheriff's Office leaders, including Sheriff Bob Peryam and Caputo, have dismissed Koval's assertion.
As for Dalton, Caputo told the Free Press that the Sheriff's Office would have liked to have arrested him on DUI charges for the Jan. 9 incident. But, he said, Koval's failure to track down Dalton while he was on the road ruled out such a course of action. As a result, Dalton wasn't subjected to traditional road sobriety tests, such as walking a line, and officers were not able to take any video of him.
"Nobody actually had eyes on Deputy Dalton driving," Caputo said. "We would have arrested him on the spot had Matt done his job."
The incident, however, wasn't the first time Dalton was drunk on patrol, according to the Sheriff's Office. On March 11, 2007, Dalton was breath-tested due to concerns that he smelled strongly of alcohol while on duty. The tests, which were administered at 12:30 that afternoon, showed a breath alcohol of 0.02, below the legal limit of 0.08. But the Sheriff's Office concluded that before 9 o'clock that morning, when a co-worker first complained that Dalton smelled of alcohol, he had been driving with a breath alcohol level slightly above 0.1, higher than the limit.
For that offense Dalton was suspended for two weeks and given a year of probation. He wasn't charged criminally, court records show.
Even in the absence of direct observation, the Sheriff's Office could have charged Dalton with drunk driving in the incident this January, according to George Kirkham, a former Florida State University criminology professor who also served part-time for 18 years on the Tallahassee Police Department. Kirkham now works as an expert witness in law enforcement cases.
"They could have placed him behind the wheel of the car," Kirkham said, explaining that Dalton's radio communications and the observations of officers who saw him immediately before he left the station as well as immediately after he returned could both be used as evidence.
Also useful according to Kirkham, records showing that Dalton conducted two community watches as well as a documented contact with a civilian while on patrol that morning.
"You and I, I guarantee, would have been cited for DUI under similar circumstances," Kirkham said.
Caputo, though, said that given the circumstances, the Sheriff's Office handled Dalton the best way it could. He was investigated promptly and then fired under official orders by Ramsay on Jan. 19, just 10 days after the incident.
"We think that we acted properly, quickly and at the same time did everything by the books," Caputo said.