New Jersey State Police Look The Other Way after Fellow Trooper Drinks and Drives
By Chris Megerian/Statehouse Bureau
April 25, 2010, 11:30AM
TRENTON -- It had all the makings of a routine motor vehicle stop. Police officer Ronald Gorneau spotted a silver Toyota swerving and pulled it over. The driver, Sheila McKaig, admitted she had drunk "a lot" before getting behind the wheel, according to the incident report.
Then she told Gorneau she was a state trooper, and the stop in Hamilton Township, Atlantic County, was no longer routine. Instead of being charged, McKaig was driven to the township’s police station, where fellow troopers picked her up.
Trooper Sheila McKaig was stopped 10 times for various offenses over 14 months.
It was not an isolated incident. In fact, it was the third time in three months in early 2008 that an off-duty McKaig was stopped by Hamilton police after drinking, according to a State Police document. Each time no blood-alcohol test was given, no charges were filed and no ticket was written. Today McKaig is still on the road as a state trooper, a position she has held for nine years.
All told, McKaig was stopped 10 times for various offenses over a 14-month period, but she has never received a traffic ticket in New Jersey, according to police records and a spokeswoman for the state judiciary.
The file on McKaig’s motor vehicle stops was part of State Police disciplinary records requested by The Star-Ledger and provided by the Office of Administrative Law. The incident report was obtained from Hamilton Township police under the state’s Open Public Records Act.
Law enforcement experts call it "professional courtesy" when officers give fellow cops a pass they would not give the average driver. At the same time, however, New Jersey has been on a sustained crackdown on drunken driving. In 2008, police arrested 28,705 people for driving under the influence, and 154 people died in accidents involving at least one intoxicated person.
Assemblyman Nelson Albano (D-Cumberland), who has campaigned for tougher laws against driving under the influence, said the McKaig incidents showed disregard for efforts to crack down on drinking and driving.
"Those officers did not do their job," he said of the Hamilton Township police who stopped McKaig. "There should be no favoritism, no special treatment."
State Police officials said McKaig, 41, is a highly respected and decorated trooper who has earned her spot patrolling the Atlantic City Expressway by staying sober the past two years. Although she caught a break from Hamilton police, they said, she used the opportunity to turn her life around.
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