Sheriff fires deputies in Taco Bell case
A nearly seven-month long investigation ended with the termination of the Delaware County Sheriff deputies who left a drunk man at a Taco Bell before he was killed walking along U.S. 36.
Deputies Derek Beggs, 30, and Christopher Hughes, 27, were fired Thursday evening, the DCSO reported Friday.
Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper Sean Carpenter, 38, who also was involved in the incident, is likely to be fired as well, OSHP spokesperson Lt. Anne Ralston said. The OHSP’s internal investigation concluded with a recommendation for Carpenter’s termination, although an official decision has not yet been made.
In the deputies’ termination letters, Delaware County Sheriff Russ Martin cited a “lack of judgment and common sense,” among other criticisms.
Beggs’ letter suggests an attempt to shadow details leading up to the death of 22-year-old Uriel Juarez Popoca last summer, and Hughes’ letter suggests an unconvincing attempt to separate his actions from those of his partner.
“I do not reach this decision lightly,” Martin wrote in both deputies’ letters. “A fundamental duty as a law enforcement officer should be the preservation of life, and inherent in that is the obligation to put a citizen in a better place than where he or she was found — even if that place is in custody for their own safety and/or the safety of others.”
Martin stated Beggs “failed to thoroughly investigate a criminal offense, minimized facts, and showed a lack of maturity and professionalism.”
Martin also accused Beggs of insubordination, writing that he was “deceptive and not forthcoming when questioned about the events at issue” and even “provided false information in the (Computer Aided Dispatch) system.”
The letter also acknowledged racial slurs were revealed in video footage recovered from Carpenter’s dashboard camera during the incident.
“The comments you made regarding the ethnicity of the subject, spraying on him of deodorant, and dropping the subject off at Taco Bell because ‘someone there should be able to translate’ is irresponsible at best,” Martin wrote to Beggs.
The letter directed to Hughes also contained criticisms specific to that deputy.
Martin wrote Hughes conveyed a “lack of maturity and professionalism” and that his “lack of common sense was undeniable.”
The letter suggested Hughes, during the internal investigation, had said he had “simply witnessed others’ misconduct.”
In response to this defense, Martin agreed “there are varying levels of culpability and misconduct,” but he held Hughes responsible for not speaking out against “the general direction of the unfortunate behavior on display.”
“You were one of our deputies on the scene, were entrusted with handling a suspect responsibly and safely and did not meet the expectations I have for this office,” Martin wrote. “After being part of a scene where comments were made regarding the ethnicity of a subject and then you dropping the subject off at Taco Bell because, as you stated, ‘Deputy Beggs was being funny’ is irresponsible at best.”
“It is far too easy, and not very persuasive, to state your objections to how the scene was handled ‘after the fact’ in an internal investigation when you did nothing to demonstrate your objections at the time of the incident,” Martin wrote.
He also reprimanded Hughes for not identifying the subject and failing to “perform many of the basic requirements of investigation of the underlying criminal offense.”
And had Hughes needed guidance that night, Martin criticized him for not seeking a supervisor’s feedback.
In both letters, Martin accusing the deputies of bringing “negative publicity to not only our office, but the law enforcement profession.”
“Your actions exhibited a lack of judgment and common sense that is unacceptable for a professional law enforcement officer,” he wrote to both.
The DCSO charged both deputies with violating the standard operating procedure’s code of conduct, attention to duty, patrol division, and uniform and appearance. Beggs additionally was charged with violations regarding traffic crashes, offense reports and CAD entries.
OSHP charged Carpenter with conduct unbecoming of an officer, performance of duty and untruthfulness.
The incident leading to the deputies’ termination began July 28, when Beggs found a man parked along the median of Interstate-71 after receiving multiple 911 calls of a drunk driver. Hughes and Carpenter arrived later and debated how to handle the apparently intoxicated man who spoke little English. They joked about finding him a translator at Taco Bell, then agreed to do just that.
Hughes dropped the then-unidentified man at the fast food restaurant near U.S. 36, unsupervised, with instructions to find a ride home.
Later that night, the intoxicated man walked onto the highway, where he was fatally struck by a motorist.
A toxicology report later revealed Popoca had a blood alcohol content triple the legal limit and, even though the officers did not find Popoca driving, DSCO reported the deputies still had the authority to arrest him for operating a vehicle while intoxicated.
All three officers were charged with dereliction of duty, a second degree misdemeanor. The case went to trial in December at the Delaware City Municipal Court.
Hughes accepted a no contest plea negotiation hours before jury selection began and convicted of the lesser charge of failure to aid a law enforcement officer, a minor misdemeanor. He was fined $20 plus court costs, a total of $183.
After four days of court proceedings, a jury found Beggs and Carpenter guilty of two counts of dereliction of duty. They were fined $1,000 plus court fees, a total of $1,809.80 for each officer.
All three officers had been placed on paid administrative leave since August.
The motorist who struck Popoca was not charged.