A deputy from the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office in Florida has become the centre of controversy after being turned away from a Mothers Against Drunk Driving event for being too drunk.
According to NBC affiliate WFLA, Det. Michael Szeliga was supposed to receive an award from MADD last July for conducting over 100 DUI arrests.
But when Gulfport police chief Robert Vincent, who was also attending the MADD conference in Ft. Lauderdale, bumped into Szeliga in the hallway, Vincent says he stopped him because he appeared inebriated.
“I approached him and said, ‘You probably don’t want to be here. This isn’t appropriate,’” said Vincent. “He didn’t agree.”
According to documents from an internal investigation into the incident, Szeliga addressed Vincent as “dude” and said he didn’t have to listen to Vincent because Szeliga didn’t work for him.
Eventually, Szeliga’s supervisor intervened and he was barred from entering the dinner and awards ceremony.
The investigation also found that Szeliga went to Ft. Lauderdale intending to party instead of attending the DUI law enforcement training sessions hosted by MADD. Szeliga was required to go to those sessions in exchange for MADD covering his expenses to attend the conference.
Szeliga admitted that he and two other deputies skipped the training to drink by the hotel pool and play games.
A sergeant from another police unit said he saw Szeliga in the hotel with glassy eyes and slurring his speech. But Szeliga denied those claims and said he had only consumed two or three drinks and was not drunk.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said he couldn’t believe it.
“It was wrong, and again, one of the most ridiculous things I’ve heard of,” he said. “When I first heard about it that was my reaction: come on, you’ve got to be kidding me. Really?”
Gualtieri suspended Szeliga for one day without pay and ordered him to write an apology letter to Vincent.
According to WFLA, the consequences of Szeliga’s actions could have ranged from a reprimand to three unpaid days of suspension.