Monday, August 20, 2012

Mooseherd owner cleared; officers reprimanded

Underage drinking charges against a local business owner and two minors have been dropped.
Also, the two citing police officers in the case have been assigned more training by the police chief after not following procedure.

"The punishment for the officers is weak and they should suffer worse consequences like suspension, classes and all information being added to their permanent files so future law agencies know that they have a flaw as an officer," Frank Mucerino Jr. released in a statement to The Herald.

Dickson police cited Mucerino, Mooseherd Airsoft owner, in July with two counts contributing to underage drinking.

"(The officers) put my personal name and character on a citation and incident report full of lies and inaccurate information to which I would have been accountable for," Mucerino stated, "yet they do not have to be accountable for their mistakes and actions."

The patrol officers also charged William Hall, 18, of Burns, and Steven C. Smith, 19, of White Bluff, with underage consumption from the same incident.

The district attorney’s office dropped all those charges, however, after Mucerino filed a complaint against the citing officers for improper procedure and lying on their reports.

The district attorney’s office did not return calls about the dropped charges by press time.
Dickson Police Chief Rick Chandler also ruled the patrol officers, Val Duran and Rob Peeler, did not "properly follow procedure" during the July 8 encounter at Mooseherd Airsoft at 281 Dickson Plaza Drive.

"In my opinion the officers involved made terrible decisions on the scene and made many mistakes, some of which were not addressed or captured on audio," Mucerino continued. "They are a liability on the streets and are incapable as officers to make the right decisions when needed.

Chandler explained the officers coerced Mucerino into granting permission to search his business; omitted information from the incident report; found no evidence of underage drinking at the business; and that Mucerino wasn’t present at Mooseherd during the underage party.
Dickson Police Detective Don Arnold investigated Mucerino’s complaint about the officers’ misconduct, which culminated in an "internal hearing" Thursday. Chandler presided over the hearing.

Chandler "ruled against" the officers’ conduct during the July 8 incident, and assigned Duran and Peeler additional training on police search and seizure guidelines and "the laws concerning what they dealt with that night."

"They did not get permission to enter the business by free will," Chandler explained. "They used more coercion than what the law requires."

Chandler noted neither officer has received a complaint of this nature before. Peeler has served and protected the city for 13 months, and Duran for 10 months.
"You get complaints all the time on officers for doing different things, but that’s one of the things we stress," he continued. "Everybody has constitutional rights, and you can’t infringe on those, and if I find out you’re doing it we’re going to re-train you, make sure you get properly trained on how to do it."

Chandler explained officers can persuade suspects into granting permission for home and/or vehicle searches, but they can’t "coerce" the suspects into conceding that permission.
"And my opinion after listening to the tape and the testimony, it got to the point where it was not free will that (Mucerino) allowed them to come in," Chandler said.

The underage consumption citation also didn’t match Peeler’s incident report.
"Sometimes officers take shortcuts on doing reports," said Chandler. "They’ll say one thing in the narrative on their affidavit or the citation, and the report doesn’t reflect it that way.

"And that was an issue on this one that I had to deal with too, about proper training," he added.
The citation for Mucerino reported: "(Mucerino) stated that he was with two underage subjects while they were consuming alcohol." The incident report, however, doesn’t mention this allegation. The citation also listed the wrong law.

"He left some things out that he should have put in the report," Chandler explained. "We got a saying in police work, ‘If you don’t put it in writing it didn’t happen,’ because what I put on the affidavit of complaint should be exactly what I put in my report and vice versa."

Chandler, however, didn’t think the report and affidavit discrepancies were intentional.
"Because a lot of time what happens, a lot of officers write out and they do the report a couple of days later and they forget to put stuff in, and then that’s the problem with that," he noted. "I think (Peeler) waited several days to do the report and left some of the stuff out of the report that was in the affidavit."

The officers didn’t find any evidence (beer cans, beer bottles, etc.) of underage drinking at Mooseherd either. Any such evidence isn’t noted in the report or affidavits.

"There was nothing in the evidence, my understanding... that indicated there was drinking going on in the business," Chandler posited.

Mucerino wasn’t at the underage party July 8, but allowed a patron "to borrow his business," Chandler reported. Mucerino told the chief he arrived five minutes before police that night.
Chandler noted two minors had drunk alcohol "somewhere else" prior to the Mooseherd party. The chief said he wasn’t sure if any law regulated whether or not a person can allow someone over 18, but under 21, to drink in his/her presence if he/she didn’t furnish the alcohol or allow the minors to drink.

"To me, I think that’s still the debate whether or not you can actually charge," said Chandler. "I think you’d have a venue issue with the two boys who had been drinking in White Bluff who came here."

Herald article
The Herald published an article July 27 about the citations for underage consumption at Mooseherd and the complaint filed by Mucerino against the officers. Mucerino stated the article was a personal attack by The Herald.

"I think the situation was not handled in a timely manner by the Dickson Police Department, which in turn led to the information of an incident under investigation being released to The Dickson Herald," Mucerino said in the release. "The article that was printed by The Herald was in my opinion a personal attack by a paper lacking real facts and real news, and used my name and my business as a means to make me and my business look like we are in the wrong and have cost us money and business."

Incident reports and affidavits are public information.

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