Let me start out by telling you that Hoffman, age 35, is no RoboCop. He's a knucklehead. He's a problem drinker who, like many drunks I know, picks fights when he drinks. It's usually with other cops or bouncers.
The DUI Incident
The incident that got Hoffman into this jam was an off-duty drunk driving accident on August 8, 2013, smack dab in the middle of Musikfest. Hoffman had gone to a "Godsmack" concert earlier that day, where he acknowledged he had a few beers. From there he went to the FOP, located next to Ripper's Pub.
Hoffman drank at the FOP and at Rippers with friends, mostly other police officers. At times there were 15 off-duty officers there, blowing off steam. One of them, Officer Bill Audello, was celebrating his birthday.
He told City Council that Hoffman at one point snuck up behind him and gave him a wedgie, after which he said they engaged in "horseplay" and fought in a "brotherly way." But when Audello, who is both a Marine and martial arts expert, took Hoffman down, he said Hoffman became agitated because he was embarrassed. The place was loaded with cops and they just separated the two.
Audello could not be sure whether Hoffman was drunk. "To be honest, I was under the influence of alcohol myself," he admitted. Hopefully, he won't be fired for admitting he had a few on his birthday.
Another officer who was at the FOP that evening was Hoffman's closest friend on the force, Jon Desiderio. He corroborated Audello, adding that he walked Hoffman to his car. He saw no evidence of impairment. Hoffman did not slur words or sway. And when he got into his car, he did a permitted U-turn so that he'd be headed in the right direction to go home.
Karen Dolan attempted to attack Desiderio, suggesting he was drunk, too. "Is it possible you don't remember how much you drank because you drank so much?"
I think she must have forgotten who was on trial. Maybe she was drinking herself.
After Dolan's cross-examination, an internal affairs investigator testified that he spoke to seven police officers who were at the FOP that evening, and none of them believed that Hoffman was intoxicated.
Shortly after he left and was headed home on East Broad, Hoffman got a text message from a dispatcher who was with the FOP group. "Are you OK?' she asked. Hoffman looked at that text, and while doing so, thought he saw someone in the road in front of him. He swerved and rammed two parked cars.
Officer Michelle Dologite, who was on patrol, was waiting to enter Broad Street as Hoffman drove by. She said his speed was "a little bit higher than you'd expect to see," but could not say whether he was exceeding the 35 mph speed limit. She went to him to make sure he was OK from where he was trapped inside his vehicle. She noticed he did not slur his words, and told Council it would be improper to administer a breathalyzer because of a possible head injury.
At the hospital, Hoffman consented to a blood test, which eventually came back at 0.16 BAC, twice the legal limit. Sergeant Ronald Burzynski, who ultimately filed DUI charges against Hoffman, noted that his eyes were bloodshot and glazed. But he added that Hoffman remained well-spoken.
Hoffman, who accepted complete responsibility for the accident and said he was at a "low point" in his life, was ultimately placed on ARD, a special program for first offenders. Charges are dismissed and expunged after a successful probationary period.
Obviously, this is not enough to get anyone fired. So testimony was presented of aggravating factors that would warrant termination. I don't think it's enough.
Craig Finnerty, who was Chief at the time of this DUI, was "shocked" to open Hoffman's personnel file to see a record of a 2005 incident at a bar in Philadelphia, which Hoffman was visiting with a wedding party. He got involved in an argument and shoving match with a Philadelphia police officer, during which Hoffman threatened to come back with 20 guys to get this Philly cop.
Philadelphia police locked him up and called Bethlehem, where a Lieutenant had to come down and pick Hoffman up. Hoffman apologized, explaining that what he did was "very serious," that he has a problem when he drinks too much and had been drinking the hard stuff that day. He was formally reprimanded and told that a repetition of this conduct would result in termination. He said he would seek help for drinking, and agreed to apologize in writing to the Philly police officer.
This incident, boys and girls, occurred nine years ago.
In July 2013, one month before the DUI, Hoffman was with a group of Bethlehem police officers who were kicked out of a Revel's Casino restaurant for being too boisterous. Audello, who was also with that group, said the restaurant even packed their food for them and there was no issue after they were asked to leave.
This matter was investigated. There was no incident report at the casino, and the officers on duty at the casino that day say the Bethlehem group was a little too loud for a little too long.
This is a weird one. Chaz Patrick, the owner of Molly's Grille on the Southside, complained to the City after a March 16 incident last year in which Hoffman was bounced from the bar. He tried talking to Hoffman outside, after bouncer Scott Hunsicker bragged about putting a hold on Hoffman and carting him off. According to Patrick, Hoffman threatened to cause him problems, and that made him concerned about his livelihood.
The bouncer said that twelve hours after this incident, Bethlehem police were on the scene for yet another fight at the bar. They told the bouncer that some of the moves he uses are inappropriate.
Patrick and Hunsicker also mentioned a subsequent visit from the fire department for being over capacity. But Hunsicker admitted that the fire official was jovial and told him, "It's all good."
Patrick also conceded that many of his customers are Bethlehem police officers.
The bouncer was basically bragging to Council that he managed to take down a police officer. I did not attach much weight to his testimony, or the inferences that he and the owner wanted everyone to draw. But Dolan, who attacked the testimony of police officers and accused one of being drunk, was quite complimentary to the bouncer.
"You should have gotten [sic] some kind of raise or bonus," she told him. "That was quite heroic."
Hoffman was also nailed for improper use of the MDT on April 11, 2013. This is a mobile data terminal, which allows officers to text messages back and forth to dispatch and each other. As explained by Lt. Jeremy Alshouse, officers are expected to confine comments to official business. Profanity is obviously prohibited. But Alshouse acknowledged it is sometimes used improperly, "even by myself back in the day."
Hoffman and a dispatcher essentially were clowning around with each other. He used some cure words, and occasionally disparaged the traffic department. He even said he was out of shape because he's been drinking too much.
Both Hoffman and the dispatcher were reprimanded.
In December 2010, Hoffman and a probationary officer arrested someone who was turned over to deputies for incarceration. Several days later, while in jail, corrections officers noticed that this inmate had a gun which was missed during the search.
Hoffman thought the probationary officer had conducted the search and the probationary officer thought Hoffman had done it.
They both were suspended for ten days.
Chief Mark DiLuzio is a cop, not a chemist. yet was allowed to testify that the rate of alcohol dissipation is 0.015 per hour. This means that Hoffman would have reported to work drink that day. This rate is based on a 140 lb man, and DiLuzio himself acknowledged that the rate differs, based on numerous factors, including an individual's metabolism. So basically, DiLuzio testified that he had no idea whether Hoffman would be drunk or sober, assuming that he would come to work that day.
Cops Have to Be Better
The basic argument for terminating Hoffman is that officers have to be better than the rest of us because they are a very visible symbol of our government. I agree completely when it comes to matters of integrity and honesty or official oppression. But the evidence I see convinces me that Hoffman, like all of us, is a knucklehead with a drinking problem. He needs some time off, and should not be permitted to work until he has control over his drinking.
FOP President Wade Haupert reminded Council, "This is a human being. No one in this room is without flaws.” In fact, if Hoffman can overcome his drinking demons, he probably would be one of the department's finest officers.
If you want perfection, watch RoboCop.