SUNSET CITY — A Utah appellate court on Thursday upheld the firing of Stewart Becker from the Sunset City Police Department after he reported for duty under the influence of alcohol.
According to court documents, Becker was fired from the police department in 2007 for reporting to duty with a blood alcohol level of 0.045 percent. His termination was previously upheld by the Sunset City Appeal Board, but Becker contested that ruling, arguing that the board had based its decision on the inadmissible results of a portable breathalyzer.
Becker claimed that without the results of that breathalyzer there was not sufficient evidence to support his termination and requested reinstatement with back pay and benefits.
In its decision, the court stated that there was substantial evidence to justify Becker's termination and that the appeal board had not exceeded its authority in upholding the city's decision.
According to court documents, Becker's supervisor could smell a strong odor of alcohol coming from Becker when he reported for duty on April 1, 2007. His supervisor asked him to take a breath test and Becker consented by using his own breathalyzer, which registered a 0.045 percent. Two highway patrol officers also reported smelling alcohol coming from Becker's vehicle and seeing Becker eating mints and applying hand sanitizer in an effort to conceal the scent of alcohol.
Becker first appealed his termination in 2007, according to court documents, but was unable to obtain counsel and represented himself. He was later granted a new hearing in December of 2009 in order to be represented by an attorney.
During his hearing at the appellate court, Becker admitted that he reported for duty with alcohol in his system, but contested the city's determination that he was under the influence of alcohol — specified in Sunset City Police policy as 0.04 percent or greater. He argued that his breathalyzer results were unreliable and that the city did follow its internal policy for drug and alcohol testing.
The court found that the breathalyzer results were relevant in the case for a number of reasons, including the presence of officers trained in performing portable breath tests and because Becker acknowledges that his breathalyzer registered a level of 0.045 percent.
According to testimony, Becker told his supervisor that he wanted to use his own breathalyzer because he knew it to be accurate. The court also found that because of the reliability of those results, the city was justified in its decision to not perform a urine test because doing so would have left the community without appropriate police protection.