The first time Brian Simpkins was arrested on a charge of drunken driving — after ramming his Chevy pickup into a tree in Canton — he was just 19.
The second time he was arrested — after he was found passed out in his car with the engine running in September 2012, a half-empty can of Coors Light lying on the floor — he was a state trooper, charged with keeping the roads safe from drunk drivers.
Simpkins, 41, admitted that he started drinking beer after a softball tournament, went to a bar and drank some more, then went to another tavern and kept drinking before heading to the Wendy’s in Stoughton, where he was found asleep at the wheel, according to the arrest report.
He was so groggy that when a state trooper asked him for his driver’s license, he handed over his Visa card instead.
But the Massachusetts State Police kept Simpkins, who earns roughly $130,000 a year, on paid administrative duty even after he lost his license for a year for refusing a breath test and couldn’t go out on patrol. And with no alcohol test results, a judge acquitted him of the criminal charges after tossing much of the other evidence on legal technicalities. Now, he’s back on patrol out of the Boston barracks.
Simpkins is one of at least 30 Massachusetts law enforcement officials who have been charged with drunken driving while off-duty since the start of 2012, a Globe review has found. The crashes collectively killed three people and injured more than a half-dozen others.
Though some officers resigned or were placed on unpaid leave after the charges, a majority kept their jobs, sometimes after a short suspension.
The drunken driving tally is almost certainly low because not every arrest is widely reported and officers sometimes let their peers off the hook, a practice known as “professional courtesy.” Massachusetts police departments have launched internal reviews at least four times in the last three years after learning that an officer or former officer was accused of drunken driving but was not arrested.
The Globe also found the vast majority of officers, like Simpkins, refused to take a breath test, making it harder to prosecute them criminally for drunken driving. And departments frequently went out of their way to accommodate them — keeping officers on the payroll even after they temporarily lost their licenses for refusing the test and could no longer do their regular duties.