WINTER PARK, Fla. — Police say a now-former Winter Park police detective drove drunk, smashed his city SUV into parked cars, and then left the scene.
He was found a short drive away with his front tire nearly torn off, and 12 empty White Claw Seltzer cans under his seat.
Channel 9 investigative reporter Karla Ray asked whether he was given special treatment by his colleagues, who didn’t arrest him or take him to jail.
By the time Winter Park police officers started searching the SUV in the early morning hours of March 13, they knew it was one of their vehicles and one of their own driving.
Now-former detective Matthew Wright was in court to plead no contest to a misdemeanor DUI citation earlier this month. As part of a plea, prosecutors threw out an additional citation for leaving the scene of a crash.
He was given those tickets, but not taken to jail, despite a dozen empty cans found in his patrol vehicle and the damage to two parked cars he slammed into on a nearby street.
Per a memorandum of understanding, the Maitland Police Department took over the investigation into the crash. An officer visited Wright at the hospital after a police report shows he reported having a headache.
Once inside the hospital, the Maitland officer noted that Wright didn’t have any injuries from the crash itself.
From his hospital bed, a report shows that Wright stated he had, “no recollection of any events prior, during, or after the crash,” and refused a blood draw.
Still, he was not booked into the jail.
“This officer should have been transported to hospital, checked off, and then released from the hospital to the custody of the police department, and then transported,” attorney and former FHP Trooper Jeff Lotter said.
Lotter questions whether an average person would have been given tickets, like Wright, or taken to jail.
“I think that is a fair assessment, that the default position in a DUI is that you’re going to be arrested,” Lotter said. “That’s the default position. And there are very few exceptions to that.”
Maitland police said in a statement:
“Matthew Wright was charged with the highest level of crimes given the evidence, which were misdemeanor driving under the influence (Florida State Statute 316.193(3)(C)(1)) and misdemeanor leaving the scene of a crash with property damage (Florida State Statute 316.063(1)). During the course of our investigation, it was determined by the responding Fire Department that Mr. Wright was in need of medical care and hospital staff subsequently concurred. In lieu of making a physical arrest, our Officer filed criminal charges directly with the Orange County Clerk of Courts through the use of a criminal DUI citation and a criminal traffic citation. Mr. Wright was provided with the court dates for his arraignment on both charges prior to the Officer leaving the hospital. Issuing notices to appear via criminal citations in lieu of making physical arrests is not an uncommon practice when the offender is hospitalized for injuries sustained during the incident and the criminal charges involved are not felony crimes.
With that being said, it is understandable that you may perceive that Mr. Wright was given preferential treatment because he was not physically arrested; however, this was not the case. He was charged with those crimes for which probable cause was developed and our agency cooperated with the State Attorney’s Office to ensure Mr. Wright was successfully prosecuted. The Maitland Police Department strongly believes that law enforcement officers should be held to the highest standard.”
Winter Park police said in a statement:
“The Winter Park Police Department holds our officers to a higher standard of the law and expect them to uphold and honor the laws they enforce. Former Officer Matthew Wright’s actions were not representative of our agency’s core values and undermines the trust between the police department and community we serve.”
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