Thursday, January 30, 2003

Portland cop, Cape resident, faces OUI charge

Published in the Current

A Cape Elizabeth resident who works for the Portland Police Department is facing OUI charges in connection with an accident after a holiday party in December.

Lt. Ted Ross, 42, a resident of Meadow Way, is expected to be charged early next week with operating under the influence after records were obtained by investigators showing he had a blood alcohol level of 0.253 percent, more than three times the legal limit.

Cape Police Chief Neil Williams said he knows Ross professionally, as the head of the local training district for police, and he has been helpful to police in town.

In addition to “heads-up” information about issues of interest, Ross has “assisted us on at least one occasion,” helping police with a resident who was having mental health problems, Williams told the Current.

“Ted was able to come over and talk to him and help us secure some weapons” from the home, Williams said.

Williams would not comment on Ross’ current situation, except to say, “I feel bad for him. He’s a good officer.”

On Dec. 17, Ross attended an open-bar holiday party hosted by Portland Police Chief Michael Chitwood and then went with a Portland police captain and a deputy chief in the department to a bar on Fore Street, according to court documents.

When Ross left the bar, he walked to the police station to pick up the unmarked car assigned to him. As he left, Ross told Capt. Joseph Loughlin he was “OK to drive,” according to court documents.

Loughlin told investigators he always asks people with whom he has been drinking if they are sober before driving, but had no reason to think Ross was drunk.

Ross told investigators he was driving home when his car collided with a pickup truck waiting for a parallel parking space to open on York Street, near the Casco Bay Bridge. The pickup truck hit a Land Rover pulling out of the parking space.

Ross was not wearing a seatbelt and he injured his head and required medical treatment. The other drivers declined medical treatment at the scene, but later sought medical attention.

One of the drivers told his boss immediately after the accident that he thought Ross had been drinking.

Police officers who responded to the collision did not test Ross for intoxication. Jo Morrissey, the public information officer for the district attorney’s office, said there was “no probable cause” to conduct field sobriety tests, and added that officers were concerned about Ross’s medical condition.

He was “bleeding profusely from the forehead,” Morrissey said.

The Portland police internal affairs department executed a search warrant at Maine Medical Center Jan. 27, which obtained documents showing that Ross’s blood alcohol level was 0.253 percent, more than three times the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

Court documents show the investigating officer, Sgt. Jonathan Goodman, had reason to believe Ross had had “at least five drinks” in four and a half hours, and possibly more.

The accident was originally explained as a result of Ross reaching for a cellular phone. Portland municipal employees, including police officers, are prohibited from using cellular phones while driving.

In December, Chitwood made a public statement that there was no indication that alcohol had played a role in the accident.

Morrissey said no other people are being investigated in connection with the incident, either drivers or people who provided alcohol to Ross. “It’s not illegal for a licensed establishment to serve alcohol,” she said. It is illegal to serve visibly intoxicated people, but she said Ross displayed no evidence of intoxication.

Bartenders and wait staff who served Ross alcohol that night told police they did not think he was intoxicated. Court documents show that other police officers, who were not called to the accident, suspected Ross might have been drunk and said so to the officers who did respond to the crash scene.

Morrissey said Ross will be charged “early next week” and is now on paid administrative leave. Ross’ attorney, Michael Cunniff, could not be reached for comment. Cunniff is a former Drug Enforcement Agency officer, who has represented a number of Portland police officers in legal proceedings, including recent allegations of official misconduct.